This year’s training for the coveted Badwater 135 left me with less confidence than previous training cycles. In September of 2021, I moved into a new home (which I love by the way) – but one which no longer has a sunroom capable of being heated to over 130 degrees. The highest room temperature I was able to attain was 96 degrees. Yikes. So I tried compensating by wearing more layers, yet it was not the same. Anytime I attempted to use more than one heater simultaneously with my treadmill, I would blow the fuse. My kids were getting quite annoyed with me so I stopped attempting and settled for one heater blowing right on my face.
I should add that I’m very proud of my kids for tolerating the craziness of Badwater training; More treadmill runs with my annoying 80’s music blaring, thermostat turned up to 80 (until they sneak it back down to 72 again), hot, sticky car rides, and periodic blackouts from my attempts at plugging in too many heaters. When my kids have friends over and this occurs they just explain, “Don’t worry, my mom’s just training for another one of her crazy runs.”
This year I wanted to address the areas that caused me the most trouble in my previous two races, mainly GI distress. Last year in particular I had non-stop bathroom issues from start to finish, and I’m talking like 50 or more stops. It was insanely ridiculous and infuriating. It led me almost to completely retire from running. But instead I was motivated with Coach Stephanie to find a solution. We know that my autoimmune issues lead to high inflammation so assumed this was part of the issue. But Stephanie did some research and came across something called Histamine Intolerance.
Reading all the symptoms of this syndrome, it looked like a good chance this could be a major cause. Headaches, chronic hives, digestive problems including diarrhea, and several other symptoms listed described me perfectly. So we embarked on a new diet that entailed avoiding high histamine foods. Some of these foods included chocolate (how cruel), avocados, citrus fruits, gluten, dairy, tomatoes, meats that were not freshly cooked (no lunch meat or processed meats), and nothing fermented (olives, pickles, etc.). I also began taking some D-Hist supplements on top of my Claritin.
Early results seemed promising. I ran the Flying Pig Marathon in May as a training run (3:31) and had ZERO stops (besides one pee stop early on because I couldn’t get to a port-a-pot before the race started). I was also slowed by dropping my water bottle in a trash can and had to dig it out. Oops. At any rate, I was ecstatic. I had never gone an entire marathon with no #2 bathroom stops.
My long runs also seemed to be improving. I would still go periodically, but seemed to be less. One run after a cheat day where I ate quite a bit of chocolate I ended up going over 6 times. This seemed to be good confirmation that we were on the right track. So I went back to being good and avoiding chocolate.
With about 6 weeks to go before the race, I was feeling very lethargic and lacking energy. This was worrying me. I decided to add one more change to my diet and hit keto hard. I had not followed a low carb diet in two years! This was a huge shock to my system, but I knew the more fat adapted I could become the better. It is very hard to get in calories in a 120-130 degree race. Being keto would allow me to burn body fat when unable to eat. The first month of this adaptation was pretty rough with feeling the bonk on every run, put I pushed through with the hope it would pass and I would be well adapted by the start of the race.
I would be having the same crew as last year. Stephanie, Garett, Todd and Jeff. We were a great team last year and had so much fun. The various personalities balanced out and everyone had their own special qualities that added to the overall strength of the team. We all knew how to work together and we had the experience which helped everyone remain calm and confident.
I wrote out a detailed pacing plan with my main goal to run strong from miles 90-122, Darwin to Lone Pine. This is the most runable section of the entire race yet the most difficult mentally. I struggled here the most the first two attempts with major sleep deprivation and last year the added issue of constant bathroom stops. I was unable to run 20 feet before it triggered a forced bathroom stop. I hoped by being more conservative early on along with my low histamine diet I could avoid these issues this year.
The plan seemed to work pretty well. It kept me disciplined early on rather than getting caught up in the adrenaline-fueled lead runners. I would save my legs for when it mattered. I even scheduled timed three minute walk breaks allowing myself to recover every 1.5 – 2 miles.
I again was assigned the last wave at 11:00pm. I am not a fan of this night start as I am never able to get sleep during the day leading up to the start. And again I struggled to get much sleep the few days before. I went into the start feeling sleepy and discouraged by that. But at 10:50pm I lined up with the other runners in the third and final wave who I assumed might be feeling the same as me. It was 111 degrees but unlike last year’s 40mph winds, this year it was relatively calm. The lack of air movement left a suffocating feeling at times, but I was ok with this over the high winds.
The race began at exactly 11:00 with the bright, nearly full moon watching over the horizon. I easily kept to my running pace plan arriving at Furnace Creek, 17.4 miles, in 2 hours and 50 minutes. Before the race I asked my good friend, Troy, (pacer Garett’s son), to give me a couple words to focus on throughout the race. He gave me “happy” and “steady.” These were absolutely perfect. At one crew stop someone told me to “be happy” and I yelled back “I AM happy!” And I was for the most part. I did have a couple of moments of grouchiness because I felt like I was taking too long at a few of the crew stops, but as the race went on I let go of this anxiety and tried to smile and have fun.
This first night is a lot harder than you’d expect with it being the beginning of the race and a supposedly “flat” section. It was nothing close to flat. It was rolling hills all the way to mile 42. From miles 31-33 there was a long two mile climb. Year one I ran most of this. Year two with the hard headwind I walked the entire thing. This year I mixed a run walk up the hill and that worked perfectly. The other part of this first night making it difficult is it feels very lonely out there. And dark. Last year I was extremely unhappy and discouraged during the entire night as it felt much harder than it should (due to the wind). It felt like the night would never end. But this year was so much different. It never felt hard and the night went quickly. Before I knew it, the sky was turning pink and orange and the mountains ahead of me and to my left were turning golden as the sun climbed over the mountains to my right. I was approaching Stovepipe, the second time station and where I could have my first pacer. I arrived at mile 42 in 7 hours and 6 minutes (2 minutes ahead of pace schedule).
Up to this point the bathroom stops were not perfect, but better than the previous two years. I think I had three stops before mile 17 and several more between 17 and 42. I was leap frogging with elite runner and last year’s champion, Sally McRae and at one point we walked part of an incline together. We shared our intestinal woes, comforting each other before I told her I’d catch her later and dashed off the road to find a place to go. I caught up to her a few miles later. Sally is an amazing badass and it was an honor to have those few minutes to chat with her.
At the Stovepipe timing station I ran into the bathroom with more gastrointestinal distress. After that I think I was pretty good until after mile 58.
I started the 17 mile climb up to Towne Pass with Garett as my pacer. I was able to run some of the first part of the climb as there were some flatter sections as well as a couple downhills. But then it heads up to over 4000 feet where I would hike with purpose maintaining a 16-17 minute pace. Last year I was so beat up by the wind that I walked the entire section. I was feeling more and more confident as the race went on.
At the timing station at Townes Pass, mile 58, we planned a five minute break in the chair so I could roll out my legs. After 17 miles up the mountain my hip flexors and calves were protesting loudly. I had a fear that I wouldn’t be able to find my running legs again. We arrived at Townes Pass and I sat down for about 3 seconds before we were all attacked by a swarm of bees! So we high tailed it out of there and decided to run a mile down and we could stop there to roll. As soon as I began running, I was rewarded with legs that felt relatively fresh and ready to run. I can’t remember now if I actually ever stopped to roll them.
Townes Pass to the Panamint Valley was a very steep, quad thrashing nine miles. I planned to continue periodic three minute walk breaks on the downhill every 12 minutes in order to keep my digestive system calm. I ended up running about two miles between crew stops and quick walk breaks. My running pace felt very controlled around 8-8:30, slipping into the 7’s at times. I intended to use gravity and let my legs go in order to protect my quads from the stress of breaking. Todd jumped in to pace me and he was great reminding me to keep my stride smooth.
The closer we came to the bottom the hotter it became. We were approaching Panamint Valley which is typically the hottest part of the race. The earlier waves have an advantage here as they traverse this section in the cooler morning.
I needed a quick shorts change (2nd so far of the race), and another sit on the bucket before taking on the brutally hot 4.5 mile leg. As I re-entered the road, I was immediately struck with blazing hot heat simmering off the asphalt onto my legs. Turns out it was 131 degrees and the asphalt a blistering 170.
This is where we made the biggest mistake of the race. I did not do enough to keep my body cool. I was so focused on my pace schedule (running 5 minutes, walking 2 through this section), that I wasn’t being cognizant of the symptoms building in my body. I felt excruciatingly hot, but did not allow much time for icing or being sprayed down. This would cost me a lot later on.
The last mile leading up to Panamint Springs was on another incline. Looking at my time, I was well ahead of pace. I could walk this section in and still be where I needed to be. I thought this would be smart in order to continue saving myself for Darwin.
We arrived at the Panamint Springs timing station, mile 72, a couple minutes ahead of pace. I was really feeling the heat now and I should’ve taken a couple minutes to ice and spray off, catch up on hydration and prepare for the next 17 mile climb. But instead I kept pushing. Jeff started this section with me. The temperature was still well over 120 which is compounded with the climbing effort. I don’t think it ever fell below 115 here.
I was about three miles into the climb when it hit. Suddenly I became seriously nauseated, bent over trying with all my might not to throw up (I have a strange phobia of puking). My head started pounding and my legs became shaky. Jeff radioed in to the crew that I was having issues. I slowly made it to the van, having to stop and bend over several times with dizziness and nausea. Stephanie immediately identified the signs of heat exhaustion and got me into the air conditioned van. I was on the verge of dangerous heat stroke and I’m so grateful to Stephanie for getting me cooled off quickly and pulling me off the course.
I felt very confused for a while, I wanted to go as the time was clicking and that’s all I could think about. But I couldn’t catch my breath and my heart was pounding and highly elevated. We got ice in my mouth as that’s one of the best ways to cool the brain. Someone gave me an ice cold wash cloth for my head but then I began shivering and shaking. I was cold! This definitely was not a good sign. I tried to slow my breathing and relax. I needed to get back on the course and I was wasting so much time! Surprisingly, I was able to get things back under control in about 30 minutes. Yet it took a few miles to get my legs going again. I was feeling discouraged that I lost so much time and I was sure I was way off my pace schedule now.
We finally arrived at Darwin, mile 90, and my crew tried reassuring me that I was at least ahead of last year’s arrival time. I thought this meant I was way slower than this year’s goal pace so I was somewhat discouraged yet I felt I could at least get a PR. But comparing pace charts now post-race, I was only 2 minutes slower than my goal pace! I wish I had known this at the time as that would have been a huge boost of confidence and motivation. My goal was to arrive at 19:36 and I arrived at 19:38.
At Darwin I decided to take another quick 2-3 minute break in the chair to reset and prepare myself for the long, difficult stretch that gets nearly every runner at Badwater, Darwin to Lone Pine. This is the most runnable section of the race, but most runners don’t have much energy left and running through a second night is grueling. But I was motivated to get a decent finishing time. I had no worries at all as far as what place I was in. The entire race I was focused on my own race plan rather than where the competition was. This is a battle between myself and Mother Nature. I had no clue where I stood in the rankings.
I decided all I needed to do was a run:walk with equal intervals and minimize any stopping. My body at this point was fighting to stay awake and alert. I began requesting more coke for some extra caffeine.
Somewhere early in this stretch I felt a hot spot on the left ball of my foot. I didn’t want to stop so I tried to push through it until it finally gave and felt like the skin was opening up. I got to the van and allowed Todd to do his magic. Strangely, the ball of my foot didn’t look nearly as bad as my toes. I decided against taping the toes and just did the bottom of my foot so I could lose less time. I got back on the road and Todd’s taping did the trick. I was much more comfortable now.
I was happy with my ability to keep running steadily through this entire 32 mile segment. I was running more than walking which is a huge improvement over the last two years. It was late into the second night now and temps were still in the 90’s. It wouldn’t get much cooler until Lone Pine.
My crew kept an eye out for other competitors. I believe we passed two females and a couple men during this section. I was on a mission and like clockwork I hit my run walk cycle persistently and with as much determination as I have ever had. For three years I’ve tried to conquer this stretch and now I was doing it. I think my crew was even happier than me! They were getting closer and closer to a soft bed to collapse into. I could sense the sleep deprivation in everyone as conversation dwindled replaced by silent red blinking lights and sounds of crickets. Yes, somewhere out there were crickets. Also mosquitos!
This was a long phase of the race but I just continued doing the exact same thing until reaching Lone Pine, mile 122. I’d run 200 steps, then walk about a minute. Repeat until I finally came to the left hand turn into Lone Pine, and a re-entry into civilization. The long and lonely desert road was suddenly bustling with cars and trucks, the bright stars fading as the dark sky gave way to the artificial city lights. It was only 3 AM, yet the small city felt awake. Unfortunately, McDonalds was not awake so no McGriddle for me.
The crew stopped at a gas station and Stephanie grabbed me a breakfast burrito as I needed fuel for the steep 13 mile climb to the finish. But the burrito was too heavy and had a texture that made me gag and struggle to swallow. I handed it back to her and settled on more Coke.
I checked into the timing station and I think Todd started off the first couple miles of this climb. Immediately I knew this wasn’t going to be as easy as it felt last year. I had pushed myself to my body’s limit and I was scrounging for any bits of energy and strength I could find. There wasn’t much there. I was falling asleep and becoming confused with a sense of derealization. Some panic hit me and I had this terror that I was just going to fall over and lose all control of my body and my mind and this race. I started filling with emotion and asked Stephanie to hike with me for a while. If anyone can calm me, it’s her. I cried a bit here feeling like I was going to fail my team because I was going so slow up the mountain. Last year I powered up these miles with ease- top five fastest female for this section of all time! This year was much different and I really had to earn this finish. This was the longest and hardest section of the race for me, which I think is how it should be. I wanted to give it all and have nothing left.
One small step at a time, mile after mile, I inched my way to the finish. The sun had finally risen and the mountains lit up. At mile 131.5, the final timing station of the race, I was told I was 4th female and 12th overall! With the deep women’s field this year, I was absolutely ecstatic with this news. I wasn’t sure I would be top 10 with all the elite women I was running against.
I didn’t truly believe I was going to make it until about two miles to go. The end was so close I could smell the pancakes. With less than half a mile to go I reunited with the rest of the crew on foot, changed into our matching team finishing shirts (sans Todd who lost his in the van in the chaos) and we walked together across the finish line. 32:33 was my official time. Nearly two hours faster than both previous races. There is nothing more satisfying than the finish of the Toughest Footrace in the World.
I don’t have the words to express my gratitude toward my crew. Each one of them put all of their effort into this race. This is a race like no other where the crew is working as hard as the runner. Everyone has to train for the heat, the climbs and the distance. Todd and Garett each ran over 30 miles with me. Jeff ran 25. In brutal heat and grueling climbs on hot as hell asphalt.
Stephanie hiked up some of Mt Whitney and provided the calming reassurance that I needed to get to the finish. She is my coach, my best friend, my Sister. Without her knowledge and expertise with all of my nutritional and health needs, I would not be here today. She possibly saved my race or even my life by early recognition of the heat exhaustion and her quick reaction to get me cooled. She adds the seriousness aspect that our team needs. She is always on top of my hydration, electrolytes and nutrition. And her singing out the window as the crew van passed me was the best thing I’d ever heard. You are the BEST, Sis.
Jeff added the humor, the lightheartedness, the distractions and energy that I needed. Yes, at times I was way too exhausted to understand his jokes, but I just laughed anyway. But his enthusiasm out there was contagious. His organizational skills also was a huge asset for the team. I’m thinking he was a pro Tetris player at one time in his life. He made all the coolers and supplies fit to perfection.
Todd and Garett both have so much ultra experience and knew the right things to say at the right times. Todd likely saved a lot of time with his tape job on my foot. I was forced to a hobble until he taped it up allowing me to continue my strong running to Lone Pine. Todd has been part of my ultra career from the very beginning. He knows me as a runner better than most. I felt so comforted and secure with him running along with me through that second night… it also helped that he’s a professional highest ranked karate sensei (whatever his actual title is) as we ran through the tiny town of Keeler. It’s a bit sketchy there.
And Garett, who is one of the kindest souls I’ve ever known. His calming, reassuring demeaner was exactly what I needed during my hardest stretches. At the start of the Darwin segment, he got out the note that his son, Troy, had written for me and read it.
Garett, Karen and Troy have accepted me as part of their family and the love I felt from all of them is indescribable. I so wished we could have a fifth crew member so Karen could be there. I am blessed to have such good, caring friends in my life who put up with me and support the crazy things I do.
It is this team aspect of Badwater 135 that draws me back year after year. Doing hard things for yourself is nowhere near as satisfying as doing hard things for others. To accomplish Badwater, without a doubt the Toughest Footrace in the World, together with my best friends is the most fantastic feeling in the world. I am sure I will be back to do it all over again with even loftier goals.
2022 – 13th overall (4th female)
Furnace Creek – 2:50 (goal 2:51)
Stovepipe – 7:06 (goal 7:07)
Towne Pass – 11:55 (goal 11:55)
Panamint – 14:41 (goal 14:43)
Darwin – 19:38 (goal 19:36)
Keeler – 25:00 (goal 23:50)
Lone Pine – 28:29 (goal 27:06)
Portal Road – 31:20
Finish – 32:33 (goal 30:36)
2021 – 20th overall (3rd female)
Furnace Creek – 2:54
Stovepipe – 7:40
Panamint – 15:26
Darwin – 20:45
Lone Pine – 30:39
Portal Road – 33:14
Finish – 34:24
2019 – 26th overall (6th female)
Furnace Creek – 2:51
Stovepipe – 7:08
Panamint – 14:36
Darwin – 19:57
Lone Pine – 29:55
Portal Road – 32:47
Finish – 34:16