It is hard to find the words to describe the feeling of running in 130+ degree weather. The feeling is similar to a hot blow dryer on high hitting your face and body. Steam comes from the asphalt through your shoes and onto your feet. Dry eyes, mouth and lips that continue to chap no matter how much chapstick you put on. You feel yourself sweating, but you don’t see it because it dries so fast.
Our crew team for Jonathan Gunderson arrived at The Oasis Death Valley in Furnace Creek two days before race day. This gave us time to get to know our fellow crew members, meet up with fellow Injinji athlete Amy Costa, pick up supplies and food, and acclimate to the heat through multiple shakeout runs. Sunday was check-in for the runners where we got to take team photos, purchase Badwater swag, and mingle with fellow participants.
Monday was race day, with three heats at 8 pm, 9:30 pm, and 11 pm. Amy was in the 9:30 pm heat, and Gundy was in the 11 pm heat. We slept as much as possible during the day on Monday, organized the van, ate, and were at the start line by 10:30 pm. The runners took off with their headlamps on as us vans left the parking lot a few at a time to follow our runners, stopping every two miles to give water, electrolytes, ice, nutrition, or whatever was needed. After the first few initial stops, our team had a routine of who grabbed what and where to service our runner.
For this race, a pacer isn’t allowed until mile 42, however, pacers are allowed to “mule” their runner, meaning they can hold their water, nutrition, etc. I was the first pacer on deck starting at around 6 am, which allowed me to fit in a quick 40-minute catnap around 3 am. I picked up Gundy at Stovepipe and began the 4,000 feet ascent up to Towns Pass. Since this was an uphill section, the pace was slower and due to the elevation, cooler than other parts of the course. I held two bottles, one for me and one for Gundy, made sure he took his salt pills, squirted water on his head and back, and communicated with the crew who was stopping every one mile now that it was daytime.
Two of us pacers (Jessica and myself) continued to rotate throughout the race, with a third pacer, Gundy’s Coach and Crew Chief Rob stepping in a couple of times when we both needed rest. Our fourth crew member, Dave, was in charge of driving the van, abiding by all traffic laws and safety precautions, and keeping track of the mileage. There were plenty of highs and lows during this race, including stomach issues, overheating, and exhaustion, but we really worked together as a team to make sure Gundy crossed that finish line.
The last 12 miles of the race were hard on us all. This part of the course climbed from the Dow Villa hotel, on mainstreet Lone Pine, all the way up to Mt Whitney Portal at 8,360 feet. Gundy reached Dow Villa on Wednesday morning at around 2:30 am. Jessica was pacing him to the finish line while the rest of us sucked down as much caffeine as we could to stay awake for the final stretch. We saw the most beautiful sunrise halfway up to the portal and continued to cheer Gundy on as he power hiked to the top. Our runner crossed the finish line at 6:33 am placing 8th male, 9th overall with a finish time of 31:33. The feeling of accomplishment of such an extreme feat was overwhelming and inspiring. I was so incredibly proud of how Jonathan went through so much during these 135 miles, pushed through the lows, and finished with a negative split with being 35th place at Panamint (mile 72) to 8th place!
This race was no picnic in the park for Amy Costa either. Her grit and determination got her to Mt Whitney Portal in 41:08, landing her an 11th place finish in the female division. This is Amy’s 7th Badwater finish and she continues to run strong and power through all the obstacles that come with this challenging event.
So will I run this race myself some time?
Although this was an absolutely amazing experience that I am so thankful to be a part of, and I am so motivated by all the incredible athletes who toed the line, my answer is still no. I am, however, definitely looking forward to continuing to pace and crew our runners at these endurance events and push them to achieve their goals on the racecourse.
See how I prepared to pace Jonathan in "The World's Toughest Foot Race" in our last Badwater blog post!