|Minutes before our 6am start, rocking MMRF BW Shirts|
Much less serious are the group pictures where the race veterans gather together laughing and joking while the rookies mill around the periphery like lost sheep. I am one of the lost sheep, you can barely see my head sticking up in the back. While all of these things are going on my crew, Tani, Mark, Greg and Donna were all making final preparations.
After the group photos are done, runners are quickly asked to get to the start line for few light hearted words from our Race Director, Chris Kostman, and of course our national anthem. This was admittedly quite a moment. We worked for nearly three years to get to the Badwater start line and now the time was here. I'd had the funny sense the past 24 hours that I was out of place. When the anthem began I suddenly felt a little more at home and then I looked up and saw my wife, we both smiled proudly, shed a tear and had a wonderful moment. Without a word spoken, we knew how long and hard we worked, the sacrifices we made and the $40,000 we helped raise to find a cure for cancer. Now it was time to move forward with our journey.
The countdown to start......3, 2, 1 and off we went. We were in the first of 3 start waves (6am). Despite the cooler than normal temperatures, I was committed to my race plan as I watched the majority of the field disappear, going out very fast. Tani (crew chief and wife) and I had spent quite a bit of time prior to our arrival discussing our race plan. Below is our pace chart and nutrition plan.
As we made our way through the first 17 miles to Furnace Creek, temperatures remained cool by Badwater standards but as soon as the sun came over the mountains it quickly reached the mid 90's and I believe the measured temperature eventually topped out around 105. It is my understanding that temperature readings are taken in the shade, about 6 feet off the ground. If this is so, I know why it feels a lot hotter in the sun. Because it is!
|Goofing around early on|
Our first stage and time station at Furnace Creek, now in the books. We were about 8 minutes behind plan but all was good. We had decided to change our cooling breaks from every 20 miles to every 10 and while it slowed us down, I think it was worth it. During these 5 minute scheduled breaks, I would arrive at the crew vehicle and a chair was already set up with a frozen towel spread out for me to lean back on. Two others were on ice, one for my chest and one for my head and shoulders. Each time I could feel my core temperature going down as my crew kept me shaded from the sun.
|One of our many planned cooling breaks|
|Typical quick stop|
|Winds are kickin|
|Can you feel the wind?|
The sun began to set, and we rose higher above the desert floor. The temperature mercifully relented although the wind did not. We continued our planned breaks but with the lower temperatures we would hold off on the ice breaks through the night. While the cooler temperatures were welcome, now about 16 miles into our climb I was depressed. It was around midnight and the climb had taken a lot out of me. Tired, sore and frustrated I needed something to get me pumped up for the pounding decent we were about to endure. Greg was with me at this point and we started to run. Not fast but run none the less. With each step I felt better and ran faster. I am not sure how fast I covered that mile. When I arrived at the top I was breathing hard but I felt rejuvenated. Then I turned around to see that I was alone. Apparently Greg's bum knee go to him here. No big deal, we were meeting up with the crew vehicle at the top, Townes Pass. One small problem! I was unable to find my crew. They were there but I could not identify the right vehicle in the dark and because I had separated from Greg they were not able to find us either. You begin to identify your crew and runners by the light patterns on every one's reflective gear. With the slew of other vehicles at the top and me alone, it did not happen.
I walked past the last vehicle at the top and decided to continue on rather than back track, knowing Greg would find them and they would catch up to me. Second small problem! Greg never saw them either and continued on behind me although at a distance where I did not see him until he caught up with me about 2 miles into our decent. I heard Greg yelling out to me from behind. I recall turning around and yelling back "WTF are you doing here. Where is the crew van?" We discussed it and agreed he needed to go back and find them. By the time Greg made his way nearly all the way back up, regrouped with the others and caught up to me again I was nearly 5 miles and over an hour past our last planned break. Fortunately I had received help from the crew of Claire Heid (now the youngest female finisher in BW history). They were kind enough to refill my bottle and hand me pb and j sandwiches a couple of times. Not to mention some moral support as I became dejected at my situation.
It takes me a while to spring back from these short little naps, but they definitely help when I am so low and barely moving. Mark soon jumped in with me and I began to feel a little stronger as we approached the bottom of the Panamint Valley. The temperature had gone up again but still much cooler than the day. The site coming down to the valley is amazing as you see the flashing tail lights from other crew vehicles lining the entire valley floor all the way down across and back up. I used these lights as motivators and thought if I can just catch one vehicle it will help my confidence. I busted my ass to catch up, only to have every car move further down the road any time I began to get anywhere near it. I pushed and pushed running as much as I could trying desperately to catch just one car. There was constant hope followed by consistent disappointment. Before I knew it we were ascending again and I began to walk. Although successful, I was still moving after all, I was again drained of all energy as the feeling of failure was calling me. I had not caught a single vehicle/runner and was actually passed by a couple of runners.
I began to slide backwards, facing another long arduous climb which would easily carry us beyond sunrise. Arriving at the Panamint Springs time station some 2.5 hours later than plan, the last 20 hours and 72 miles had simply beaten the shit out of me and my focus was wavering. The only person who knew for certain this time would come besides me was Tani. She has been with me at this hour of the night and seen me in this frame of mind. Tani had prepared the rest of the crew for this very thing. "Just keep him moving until the sun comes up!" Tani told them, with certainty. The early morning darkness is my kryptonite and she new I needed the sun on my face. The only question was how to get me there.
|Leaving DVNP mile 85|
Good news is, I was was actually fine. For now anyway. Mark jumped in a couple miles down the road and ran with me for a while. The other runners (2) around us seemed energized with lots of back and forth passing, smiles and good cheer. The sun was our friend!!!! Oh silly you Eric. Now around 11:30am I believe, it was again getting hot and the wind was kicking up a bit. The sun, sending a not so friendly reminder of who's boss. I am also fairly certain I was about to pay the piper for my over zealous behavior the last 2 hours. I was feeling so positive and running so well I started telling myself I was going to keep this pace all the way to Lone Pine, 30 miles through the hottest part of the day. What a fucking joke.
By the time we hit the 100 mile mark, usually a celebratory moment at BW, I was whimpering like a lost puppy longing for his mommy. I took my first cool down break since late the prior afternoon and fell asleep.......AGAIN! And yes she made me get up again after 600 seconds. "I have one tough ass crew chief...Don't you think?" No freaking mercy. That would be the last time I would sleep.
I slumbered down the road and noticed something ahead, which even in my hazy state caught my attention. The color of the road was about to change suddenly from the old faded grayish/blacktop to a brand new jet blacktop. The road had been repaved and you could see the difference in the heat rising up in the distance. It was about to get really uncomfortable. My charred feet were already so incredibly sore and the 2nd day of heat had begun to squeeze me of all motivation.
"What the hell were you thinking?" I asked myself. "You new this was going to happen yet you did it anyway! Why Why Why???" A bunch of self pitying bullshit I know but I always go through this. It's just part of my struggle on these journeys. I don't know if I ever actually answered myself, but I began to think of so many people out there who fight the battle, the battle to continue everyday; Kathy, Dee, Wendy and so many others whose paths I have crossed. And then of course those we have lost, Anita, Ben and Mindy to name a few. I guess that answers that.
|Oh shit, that is going to be hot (grey to black)|
|The turn into Lone Pine after a very long day|
|All smiles at the Dow Villa, mile 122 before a very long night|
I love you all so much. Love, JARED"
|Time for something extra!|
Tani asked me if I wanted to read the letter from Jared we had been saving. I nodded with exhausting acceptance. Returning from the car, letter in hand, she began to read:
"Dad, What you do inspires me to do anything I want. I'm so excited for you about running this race because I know it means so much to you. I just want you to try your hardest and not give up till you can't take another stride. Even if you do not finish, but I know you can do it, I will still love you and be super proud of you. I always knew you were going to do something amazing because you always taught me the values of never stop trying and to push your hardest. Go finish this race and kick Badwater's ass. Love, Jared"
I was now walking blindly as my eyes turned to oceans. These tears would put out the fire ravaging my body and ignite a fire in my heart. There was no way I was going to let my children or anyone else down, including myself for that matter. I wanted to take one last break to prepare myself mentally for what I now planned to be a long strong walk. When I leaned on the rear bumper I got extremely warm even with the cooler temperature. Actually I began sweating profusely and peeled of my arm sleeves and rolled down my leg sleeves. The break was quickly over as I figured this was a bad sign and stopping was not helping. As I walked to the other side of the road to begin climbing again, my body made an about face. I was suddenly freezing and shaking uncontrollably. I pulled up my sleeves and asked Mark to grab my jacket. I could see the look of concern on his face as he helped me. I was a little concerned too having never experienced this before. All I could think of was to keep moving and warm up.
With the incredible words of my son, thoughts of my other children, wife, crew, family and friends I pushed on silently for what seemed an eternity. I thought I was moving well but at night, I was only able to see 20 feet in front of me so I never really knew what progress I was making (I had not worn my Garmin since mile 45). I kept hearing other runners near me shouting numbers like 3, 4 and 5. I turned to Greg, speaking my first words since I had my shivering attack. I said "I wish those people would keep there distance checks to themselves because it is depressing me." Greg responded "Why?" I replied "The thought of having another 8 or 9 miles to go is killing me. I thought I was focused and doing well and now I hear this bullshit!" Greg said,"Are you kidding me? You are killing this mountain and we have all been talking about it for the last 3 hours."
I was completely blown away. I had not said a word to anyone for nearly 3 hours except for the occasional thank your for a fresh bottle. Greg informed me we only had 3 maybe 4 miles left. I was immediately excited and continued my consistent pace and may have even stepped it up a bit. During the climb my entire crew had spent time with me and now as we passed the last time station Tani joined me for the final couple of miles. My thoughts suddenly became clear in the thin air at over 7,000 feet. Everything felt fresh as if my day had just begun. I will even say it almost felt as if I was walking on pillows among the infinite stars. The sky sparkled brightly as we laughed, cried and just shook our heads in disbelief at the journey we just went on. Now nearly 3 years from the day I asked Tani "What do you think about me doing Badwater?" and her responding "OK!" here we were. Even as I write this I am shaking my head in disbelief.
We did it!
|Best hug ever!|
|Greg, Donna, Me, Tani, Mark (We did it together)|