Starting my Badwater training

After being the overall women’s winner at Badwater Cape Fear on March 17, 2018 I gained automatic entry into Badwater 135, the race across Death Valley, in July of 2019.

This gives me 16 months to prepare for what is likely to be the most important and challenging race of my life.  I am sure I will need every bit of those 486 days to get ready for this epic event.

It took less than a day to fill my crew of four. I am blessed beyond believe with supportive people in my life who genuinely want to see me succeed. First, there is my coach, Stephanie, who has been by my side the past 18 months supporting me, not just in training, but in life in general. She has crewed for me in three of my past four races (helping me win all three and set course records in two).

Second, there is Stephanie’s husband, Mike, the spectacular race director for the Indiana Trail 100 and GE40, who has more experience and knowledge than any ultra runner I know. What is so humbling to me about Mike jumping into this adventure with me is that he despises the heat. Yet, he is willing to put himself through an oven to pace me. This would be like me pacing him through the arctic! (I may have to do that one day to repay him… and I definitely will!)

Third, there is my friend and coaching client, Katherine, who is a physician as well as a badass ultrarunner. It is highly recommended that all runners have medical personnel on their crew so I am covered! Finally, rounding off the crew is my good friend, Todd, another experienced ultrarunner who is also a physical therapist and karate millionth degree black belt (whatever the highest rank is). I won’t worry about anyone attacking me out there with him by my side!

Badwater 135 is a unique kind of race. People often think of running as an individual sport. ULTRA running is definitely not. And Badwater is anything but an individual effort.  The runner can only succeed with the assistance of a crew who will put in just as much effort, if not more, than the runner.  Each runner must have a support crew consisting of at least 2 people and no more than 4. They must have a crew vehicle that is no wider than so many inches across… a mini van they say would be ideal but Hummers and oversized SUV’s are forbidden. The crew must provide all supplies, nutrition, hydration, etc that could possibly be needed during the course of the 135 miles through temps as high as 130 degrees Fahrenheit. Unlike most ultramarathons,  there are no aid stations at Badwater. The crew vehicle travels the 135 miles, leap frogging their runner the entire time.

My job as the runner in a way is much easier than my crew. All I have to think about is running. Other than that I just listen to my crew and do what they tell me. If they tell me to eat, I eat… tell me to drink, I drink… take a salt tab, I take it. I just run and they make all the important decisions for me.

How will I prepare for a race of this magnitude? It is like nothing I have ever embarked on before. The logistics of it will likely be just as challenging as the physical effort. Therefore, I am reading every race report, every article and every book on Badwater that I can get my hands on. I will make lists of everything I can think of. I will study previous races. I will learn exactly where every incline is on the course, where every turn is, what the average temperature is at every location along the way. I will practice with various methods of cooling the body – using a garden sprayer, ice bandanas, safari hats, cooling sleeves, those funny, white, long sleeve body suits I see so many wearing in badwater documentaries. I will learn what works best for me and make a plan for how my crew will keep me cool.

Training. Obviously one of the biggest factors in this race is the heat. 130 degrees of dry, desert heat. Therefore, I will be spending endless hours in the sauna. Coach Stephanie has an infrared sauna that I will try to use weekly. Then a month before the race I plan on at least 5 days per week of sauna (using the sauna at the YMCA the other days). In addition, I will train similarly to how I trained for the heat in the canyons of Western States. My treadmill is set up in my sunroom where, when I shut all the windows, crank up the heat full blast, and add a couple space heaters, the temp reaches over 120 degrees. Then I run. And sweat. A lot. It is important to get used to taking in enough fluids and electrolytes as well so I am cognizant of drinking constantly during these heat runs.

There is a lot of climbing at Badwater as the race begins at the lowest elevation in North America, 280 feet below sea level, and climbs to the finish at the portal of Mt. Whitney of which the summit is the highest point in the contiguous United States. There is a total of 14,600 feet of climbing as the course covers three mountain ranges on it’s way to Mt Whitney. I fully admit that I am a weak climber. I am strongest on flat and downhill running so this is a course that will challenge me fully. I plan on training similarly as I did for Western States which was a total of over 18,000 feet of climbing in only 101 miles. I will do strength training targeting glutes, hamstrings, quads and core to make myself a stronger climber. I will replace one of my weekly speed sessions with a hill workout. The challenging part is finding hills in Indiana. Unfortunately most incline training will have to be on my treadmill.

I will get to simulate the Badwater experience in four weeks as I run the Badwater Salton Sea 81 mile race. This is a unique race in that it is run completely in teams- not as a relay, but where teams must complete the entire course together. At no point can teammates be more than 25 yards away from each other.  The course starts at Salton Sea (read the history of this unique place in California). The race traverses the desert mostly on road except for a treacherous 8 mile climb up 4000 feet on single track trail.  The finish is in the garage of a house on the very top of Polamar Mountain – the highest mountain in San Diego County.  There are no aid stations so we will have a crew providing all of our support. The desert temps will be over 90 to 100 degrees. There will likely be severe wind and sand storms. Higher in the mountains temps could drop below freezing. I plan on using this race to learn and as a stepping stone to Badwater 135.

My teammate for Salton Sea will be Patsy Ramirez, a great runner from Puerto Rico who I also will be pacing and crewing this year at Badwater 135.

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