Badwater: Salton Sea (Team Race) Reader discretion advised.
Badwater Salton Sea
April 30 – May 1, 2017
Confidence. I had tons of this going into the race knowing I had done my homework. I’ve used this term frequently over my last few races. It sounds silly but indeed I had been preparing well. After Tahoe 200 last fall, I only took a couple weeks easy. I’ve been very consistent with my high intensity training, occasional long runs and occasional very, very, very long runs. Also, I have been paying close attention to stretching and spine health, getting occasional massages and paying particular attention to getting plenty of restful sleep. For fun, self defense and to basically mix things up, I also started jiu jitsu. Finally, I’ve added mental skills coaching/mental toughness training to my regime. This last component I’m hoping will put me over the top for the Badwater Ultramarathon this coming July.
Saturday morning, I awoke with good energy. The previous day I had taken the family to the airport to go to San Francisco for the weekend. After doing some last-minute packing and preparation, I had a good meal of scrambled eggs and toast. I then caught a Lyft ride to go pick up the minivan. Back home I loaded up all my gear and headed over to pick up Coach Tom Atwell and his wife Utahna. Just one week prior, we found out she would be available to crew us in this three-person team race. Badwater: Salton Sea consisted of 81 miles of point to point running from Salton Sea, California to the summit of Palomar Mountain.
Utahna would prove to be a “strong pick up.” I could tell she was a little nervous and intimidated. She felt pressure to perform and to not let us down despite us telling her that she would do great and she would have a really enjoyable time.
We met up with Nate Longcrier, our other runner and Joe Nakamura, our other crew member who came on board within the last few days. Not able to race himself due to an injury, he also was a hugely “strong pick up.” Nate and Joe left their car at the finish line up at Palomar Mountain. This way after the race they could drive straight home and not have to go back to Borrego Springs like in years past.
When I learned that Joe would crew us, I was ecstatic. An absolute beast of an ultra marathoner, I had mad respect for him as both a person and a runner. I always enjoyed his company in the past. I would cherish the time I would spend with him. I was honored that he would give up his time and energy for us.
We all squeezed into the van and headed towards Borrego for the race check-in. We stopped along the way in Ranchita to get some snacks and of course to take the obligatory picture at the silly ”Rancheti”, a Yeti figure outside the general store. This tall figure was made by a local realtor. It’s pretty much the only thing of significance in this unincorporated area.
We checked into the hotel and worked on the van a little bit. We were the first ones in line at the race check-in. We then sat through the prerace meeting and enjoyed some laughs and good times with the race director, other runners and their crew.
For dinner we enjoyed some wood-fired pizza at a cool place on the main drag in Borrego. We retired to our rooms to relax. It was lights out around 9 PM.
Of course, I slept horribly, tossing and turning like I always do the night before a race. At 4:30 AM, the alarm went off. Our team arrived for the weigh-in and last-minute instructions before almost everyone else. After final preparations, Nate led us in a group prayer on the shores of the Salton Sea. We asked for strength and we thanked God for allowing us to be here.
For the start, conditions were ideal. With not a cloud in the sky, the temperature felt to be around 65°. The first eight miles seemed effortless. With a bounce in our step, we progressed to the first stop, meeting our crew briefly to reload our water bottles and grab a quick snack.
From there we moved towards the next stop which was the first time station at around mile 15. We aimed for a big microwave tower that could be seen from miles away. As would be the case throughout the race, we focused on minimizing the length of our stops. Nate emphasized that we should not even sit down on the back bumper of the van. He told us basically just to grab our stuff and keep going. He said that most ultra runners waste a tremendous amount of time throughout a race. I certainly was horribly guilty of this in all my previous races. I told myself to remember this at Badwater in July. If I try not to stop or at least minimize stops, I should be able to shave nearly 2 hours off my finishing time.
From miles 15 to 35, we ran in a very disciplined fashion. Nate insisted that we walk frequently to save ourselves for later in the race. He repeated the mantra,” slow is fast.” The temperature climbed. Still under a cloudless sky, it felt to be at least 90° out there. We ran mostly single file following the white line on the side of the road. When a car came by, we would all move over into the gravel. Along here, Nate started having tightness in the right side of his upper abdomen. He was having trouble taking a deep breath. He said it felt like a constant side stitch. Despite him paying great attention to fluids and electrolytes, he couldn’t shake this annoying problem. It would linger for many hours. He also wasn’t peeing. Amazingly, he would end up peeing only twice during the entire race!
Through these miles, we all were very steady and efficient, which actually was the case throughout the race. We reached the next time station, mile 35, which was the Borrego Springs Resort. Here we took a fairly long break. We stretched, enjoyed the hotel restrooms (which was a nice change from going au naturel), and made a point of getting plenty of calories and liquids. I peeked at the standings to this point and noted that we were in approximately 15th Pl. “Not too bad I told myself.”
We plodded along towards the main drag of Borrego Springs. We stopped again in 2 ½ miles. To me, this stop didn’t seem necessary since we had just had such a long and very worthwhile stop back at the hotel. Anyway, we moved towards the start of the trail section of the course. We knew this would without question be the toughest part of the race. This eight mile section absolutely sucked. It was hot. It was rocky. It was a steep climb. We bumped into cacti thorns. We got poked by branches. We even had to dodge a rattlesnake. (Of course we had to take a picture of it.) I tried to get Coach to hold it up and take a “selfie” but for some reason he just wouldn’t do it. We all got picked up though when we came upon two Big Horn sheep. We thought that was really cool. This section would take us about 3 ½ hours. Interestingly, we ended up passing several teams despite what seemed like very slow progress. Other people must’ve been hurting more than we were.
I had a lot of counterproductive negative energy through here. I knew one thing that would help was to get more calories. I asked Nate and Tom to stop a couple times so we could eat and drink. Despite this, after several near trip and falls, I yelled out a few expletives. It was cathartic.
Finally, we could see the road off to our left. The sound of the cars became louder. Our pace quickened. We hit the road, ending the “suffer-fest” that was the trail section. When I saw the park rangers on the other side of the road, I apologized to them that what I was about to do might offend them: I turned around and double flipped off the trail yelling “I hate that trail! It frickin’ sucks!” I couldn’t tell if their laughing was at the pain that the trail inflicted on me or if it was me making a fool of myself.
Anyway, we were greeted by Joe who ran with us up to the car at the summit. He made us all some turkey, avocado, mustard on flatbread sandwiches which were absolutely delicious. We were then met by Shelly, one of Nate’s old student friends (Yeah, riiiiight, Nate-Dog!) who lived with him and his family while she was in school. Her energy really perked us all up. Some guys have all the luck: I couldn’t believe it when I turned around and saw this pretty, young Filipina run towards Nate and jump into his arms and then yell ”Bam What!?”
We ran 10 minute miles for the next 10 miles or so. Though I didn’t want to, we stopped after just a mile or so in Ranchita to take another team picture with the Rancheti. Back on the road, we resumed what seemed to be another effortless pace. The temperature cooled requiring us all to add a layer at each stop. Around mile 62, we looked off to our right and saw innumerable paired reflections off in the distance. These would be the eyes of a herd of cows checking out us goofballs who were running in the middle of the night.
After a couple turns, we reached our final main turn. This marked the final 13 mile climb/slog up the East Grade Rd. to the summit of Mount Palomar where we would reach the finish line. The first five miles or so were pretty steep such that we walked it entirely. There was a mile marker every 2/10 of a mile. I don’t know if it helped or hurt but I told myself that I had (13 x 5) 65 of these .2 mile markers to go to the finish. I would count them down in my head.
About five miles in, the climb became more gradual allowing us to run periodically. A few miles back, Nate had started to experience nausea and vomiting. Of course we had to get that on film. We couldn’t miss this wonderful opportunity to exploit and embarrass him. It seemed like every time Nate tried to eat or drink something, he would end up puking. I enjoyed the challenge of looking at his gastric contents on the road to try to figure out what he had just eaten. After every time he barfed though, he would soldier on.
The puking was a nice change from Coach’s incessant flatulence. With him having had half his ass carved off because of a soft tissue butt muscle cancer many years ago, the melodies emanating from his anal sphincter were not of very high quality. I was continuously very disappointed. I asked him to try to work on his performances but the music would never improve. Hoping to optimize the audio dynamics, I suggested that he turn his hips to try to aim the farts to one side or the other. He said he would work on it.
Our spirits improved as we became closer and closer to the end. In our heads we calculated that we should be able to finish under 21 ½ hours. We all would be very happy if that happened. We pushed on. I encouraged Nate and Tom to run as much as possible and to minimize our walking. I’m pretty sure I pissed them off because I kept telling them to run to a certain point and then when we got to that point I would ask/tell them “How about a little further?” Admittedly, I must’ve been pretty annoying.
As expected, we cherished the last mile. We all ran a very disciplined, high effort race. It paid off with a gold medal performance. We finished just before 4 AM with a time of just under 21 ½ hours. We hugged and congratulated each other, especially Joe and Utahna. We coined our crew name to be ”Jotahna”. They were awesome. They were essential to our success. They were always upbeat and positive. They were always a step ahead of us. They had to put up with three cranky, always hungry, highly demanding ultra marathoners. They deserved the medals – – not us.
While eating some delicious warm soup, we watched other finishers roll in. We then limped back to our vehicles to recover before the 10:30 AM post race breakfast. I don’t know about the others but I certainly couldn’t find a comfortable position. I twisted and squirmed trying to fall asleep. It sure is hard to rest when your legs and feet ached and when we couldn’t lay flat.
Back at the lodge we all ate a really nice, prepared meal. Of course we shared race stories with other teams and their crew. In my opinion, Team DeSoto enjoyed an absolutely wonderful experience. We did well. We had fun and shared some great laughs. We didn’t encounter any problems. Our crew (“Jotahna”) couldn’t have been better.
Thanks to all for everything. Next year?