I lay on the hotel bed, was given coffee, noodles and took off my socks. My feet looked like rice pudding and Liam went to work bursting my blisters, during which I nodded off for 10 minutes an didn’t feel a thing.
I woke with a start. It was now approaching 1:30 am and I realised that I only had four and a half hours to crack sub 48. Surely this was impossible.
I hobbled across the street to find the start of the climb up Mount Whitney.
It was pitch black and pretty cool outside, which boosted my senses. My feet were covered in fresh socks and the steep angle of accent allowed me to minimise the foot strike and blister pain.
I thought to myself that last time it had taken me 6 ½ hours to climb this mountain, but that was in the heat of the day. Could I do it quicker, a lot quicker, while it was cool?
What the hell, I decided to go for it, and drew upon all my strength and determination and just grit my teeth.
I started to power walk up the gradient, letting my adrenaline take over as a natural pain killer.
I didn’t say a word for hours, just concentrating on the road beneath me.
I could feel a buzz of excitement from my crew as I ate up a few of the early miles in a pretty good time.
Then Robert and Liam began pacing me in turn each mile, and half way up the mountain the sweetest words came from Liam, who said ‘we might be in with a chance’
Well, this just sent shivers down my spine, and I just dug in. I don’t know where my energy cam from and I was certain I would run out any minute, but I just blanked off my mind and pushed on.
‘Keep up this pace right until the top and we might just do it’ said Liam. It will be very close though.
I was now in a trance, just moving to the beat of Robert’s military style cadence rhymes, which really helped keep my mind off the pain.
Then, Liam and Robert joined me and we even managed to overtake some runners up ahead.
We had just over 5 miles to go and about two hours left. It would be very close as we went higher and steeper.
Liam was getting more confident as we passed each calculated landmark, and Robert was on autopilot, determined to get me up there.
We can do this, come on they shouted.
We were now into the last hour. I was almost bent double, swinging my arms, just to keep my self moving forward. I was possessed. I wanted that bloody belt buckle so badly!
I had come all this way, to go through this hell again and it looked as though I would either make it by minutes or not.
Half an hour left and Liam was telling us it was in the bag. ‘Just keep moving!!’
We turned corner after corner, but no sign of the finish. I was getting very anxious.
And my emotions were almost spilling over.
A passer by said there was half a mile to go.
Twenty minutes left. It must surely be in our grasp now. But more and more twists and turns followed.
Then Cathy pulled the vehicle over to the side of the road and indicated that the finish was just round the corner. And it was!!!
With only ten minutes left, we all joined hands and ran over the line together.
I was overwhelmed by our achievement and grabbed each member of the crew to thank them.
We crossed the line in 47hours 48 minutes, in 44th position. I had earned the buckle that I had dreamt about for years and had finally laid my Death Valley demons to rest.
What an epic adventure, what a dream come true, what an amazing crew.
I could not have achieved my goal without the support of Robert, Cathy and Liam. And of course Joe Prusaitis who introduced them to me.
I thank-you all.
BADWATER ULTRA MARATHON (DEATH VALLEY) 2003
BY MARK COCKBAIN
The Badwater Ultra 135 is a non- stop footrace starting from Badwater, Death Valley, the lowest hottest point in the USA (since it is 282 ft below sea level) and rises over a distance of 135 miles to the highest point, Mount Whitney at 8,371 feet elevation. The race is held in mid July at the hottest part of the season (130F+, 55C), with 13,000 ft of accent and 4,700ft of decent.
Runners must cover every inch of the route on foot, and must be crewed by a vehicle with a minimum of two crewmembers, as the organizers provide no support.
On July 21st 2003, I arrived in Death Valley with my crew Paul Ravenscroft and James D Carter. I had flown in from the UK, with my crew already based in New York, they flew into LA.
We hired a mini van as our support vehicle, and stocked it with essentials ranging from iceboxes, food, equipment and approximately 150 litres of water.
We noted that temperatures were already in excess of 100 F as we pulled into Furnace Creek at 2:30am!
There were three starting times for the race. 6, 8 and 10am. I was in the 8am start a few miles down the road at Badwater, where we all assembled on the starting line ready for our photo-shoot. The 6am guys benefited from a few hours shade, but at least the 8am start was better than the ‘no-shade; 10am slot.
The first checkpoint was around 17 miles away at Furnace Creek, where we had just come from, along side salty flat beds and the dry arid basin of Death Valley.
Most of us set off at a steady pace to benefit from the few minutes shade we had from the mountains either side, but this didn’t last long, and we were soon subjected to the awesome strength of the Death Valley sun.
It was like a force trying to stop you in your tracks and we were all reduced to a very slow pace. This was no ordinary heat. It was a dry heat, with a fierce penetrating burning wind, similar to opening an oven door. Also, 15% humidity made it less dry than previous years and harder to cope with.
My crew would leapfrog me in the van and pass me ice cold water at the side of the road and throw ice towels over my back and wet my desert hat. It was obvious that they would have to stop at least every mile or less for this section of the race, as my temperature rocketed and my water was becoming warm within a few minutes.
Already I was already cramping due to excessive sweating and heat as I reached the Furnace Creek checkpoint at mile 17, so I began drinking electrolytes and icing my neck.
My stomach muscle had cramped into a ball at the bottom of my ribs and looked like it was torn.
Temperatures were already exceeding 130F, and Jay Birmingham, a veteran of the race told me that getting through the next 40 miles of the race to Stovepipe Wells in the heat of the day was the key to the race.
I was now feeling very light headed and dizzy and I could see many other runners were also suffering at such an early point in the race, with 90% walking now, but I managed to stop my legs from cramping up and pushed on for a few more miles.
My crew continued spraying me with water to keep my clothes damp to assist cooling, but I was still overwhelmed by such an unfamiliar heat that I lost consciousness and collapsed.
My crew were not experienced at all, but acted like professionals and dragged me into the shade of the van like a sack of spuds where they revived me by dousing me with ice and water and putting the air conditioning on full blast. Apparently, I had been out for around 10 seconds! With ice round my neck and under my armpits I soon felt much better, but this was a sharp reminder of why the conditions of this race rate it as the toughest in the world.
I continued to drink electrolytes and cool down until I was more focussed again. I had a lucky escape, but decided it was time to push on, very cautiously.
It was now a walk/run situation for the next 40 miles, as with all the competitors as we tried every cooling method in the book to struggle through the valley. Ice, wet towels, sprays, just to get me moving forward. This was to be a slow hard slog.
The effect of my heatstroke had also turned me deaf, and I also had another problem in the fact that I could not hold down solids or fluids and proceeded to vomit regularly.
This was not good. My crew was concerned that I could end up totally depleted of fluids, if my internal organs didn’t manage to kick-start again soon. I had only taken about two litres in two hours of which I had thrown up at least one litre. I really needed about two litres per hour.
I moved on for a few more hours, bumping into other runners along the way. Each with his or her own techniques to help them through the race. Such as Joe Prusaitis from Texas, who was relying on regular meal stops of burger and chips to get through!
Whereas my crew continued dousing me with wet towels and ice packs to wear around my neck.
I was now starting to absorb more fluids and ate a few energy gels to perk me up a bit.
My crew was concerned that we were now running out of ice and James stopped with me while Paul drove a few miles down the road to try and find some at the next village.
He returned without any, as they had been cleaned out by previous crews, but word got down the line via a medic who managed to get some from another crew whose runner had dropped out.
At around 35 miles I had reached sea level and pushed on through a sandstorm as night began to fall and I reached the next checkpoint at Stovepipe Wells.
Here we learned that quite a few competitors had not made it through the previous section and had pulled out of the race.
After re-fuelling with a pot noodle I began my accent of a 17 mile hill to take us out of the valley, with around 5000ft of elevation.