Friday, July 22, 2011

7/11/2011 Badwater Ultramarathon

Badwater lures many an Ultrarunner in with promises of being the hardest road race in the world.  The course starts in the Badwater Basin and ends at the Portals of Mount Whitney nearly 8300'.  Here is an excerpt from the Badwater website:

Covering 135 miles (217km) non-stop from Death Valley to Mt. Whitney, CA, the Badwater Ultramarathon is the most demanding and extreme running race offered anywhere on the planet. The start line is at Badwater, Death Valley, which marks the lowest elevation in the Western Hemisphere at 280’ (85m) below sea level. The race finishes at the Mt. Whitney Portals at nearly 8,300’ (2530m). The Badwater course covers three mountain ranges for a total of 13,000’ (3962m) of cumulative vertical ascent and 4,700’ (1433m) of cumulative descent. The Portals are the trailhead to the Mt. Whitney summit, the highest point in the contiguous United States. Competitors travel through places or landmarks with names like Mushroom Rock, Furnace Creek, Salt Creek, Devil’s Cornfield, Devil’s Golf Course, Stovepipe Wells, Keeler and Lone Pine.

2011 racers were welcomed by cooler than normal temperatures.  My crew told me the highest temperature they saw was 118 degrees.  The cooler temperatures and tail wind for the 1st 35 miles was welcoming.  I live north of Seattle Wa, the temperatures back home had been around 65 degrees, it's hard to train for heat when it is cool all the time.

My plan going into this race was to take the 1st 42 miles to Stove Pipe Wells easy, never feel like I was racing, and that I did.  When I arrived in Stove Pipe Wells I was in 55th place and felt like I had just started running.  During the heat my crew “Freaks on Fire” (Delores Sentinella, Kevin Douglas, Joel Ballezza, Faye Guastamacchio, Heidi Perry, and Linda Huyck) were on top of everything keeping me cool, keeping me hydrated, reminding me to take calories and electrolytes.  They did an amazing job considering all seven of us were rookies in this amazing race.  During that 1st stretch I had to stop twice to have my crew cool me down with cold towels, I had a puking episode at the Beatty Cut off, all part of running an ultra event, and expected "somewhat".

When I left mile 42 the temps started to cool, and before too long the sun started to fall and gave way to a bright full moon.  I told my pacers they were not allowed to use a headlight, we were going to run by the light of the moon that night.  It was fantastic, cool crisp air, thousands of stars, shooting stars everywhere, and a quiet only night time in the desert can bring.  Night running has always been my forte thanks to my shift working jobs in oil refineries and chemical plants.  I took full advantageous of this time.  My pacers and I ran almost all of the uphill sections of Townes Pass, and Panamint Pass.  We ran every inch of the downhill sections to try to make up some time. 

  When the sun arose again I estimate we were in 25th place, we passed 30 people during the night, quite a few runners were sleeping by the side of the road, some had staked out and went to a hotel room, some had bonked and gave up on the race, but we were still moving forward towards that finish line.

When the sun came up we were running down from Sugar Loaf Mountain into the Owens(dry)Lake.  This section is a tough section because it's flat, your legs are beat after running 100 miles, Lone Pine seems close but it seems to take forever to get too.  As soon as I passed the 100 mile mark on the road my wife drove by and told me Chris Roman was only 1/2 mile ahead of me and I was making time on him.  This was the best thing I could have heard at this moment in time.  I really wanted to catch Chris and see how he was doing.  

I met Chris in 2010, he was looking for someone to pace him at Western States.  I wanted to experience WS but didn't get into the lottery.  I didn't know Chris but was willing to give it a shot.  We exchanged a few emails and found we were comparable runners in 100 mile events.  He is from flat, hot and humid Florida, and I am from NW Washington State where we have tons of difficult single track trails, mountains, and cool temps.  My mountain running experience would aid him in the difficult sections on the back end of WS.  We ended up hitting it off perfectly.  Chris was able to finish WS in under 24 hours and I gained a lifelong friend. 

I finally caught Chris around 108 miles into the race, we exchanged a few kind words, high fived each others, then went on our merry ways.  About 110 miles into the race a blister, that had formed around mile 80, started to hurt so bad I had to stop and have it lanced.  As I sat in my chair, by the crew van, Chris passed me, I scolded my crew a little to hurry up, that Chris had just passed me and I need to get back on the course, "just pop the darn thing".  When I finally got back on the course Chris was about 1/4 mile ahead of me, he must have caught a 3rd or 4th wind, because he was ahead of me now moving fast and leaving me in the dust (or sand).  Anything to help a friend right!  I think this rivalry benefited us both and made us work a little harder.  As I got closer to the Highway 395 turn Chris continued to make time on me.  When I got close to the Dow Villa Motel I saw Chris standing at the corner waiting to cross the road and enter the Portals Road.  Finally I had my chance to catch him and only a 1/2 marathon left in the race.
At this point I looked at the time, it was around 2pm.  I had been running 28 hours.  From all the information I had read the portals road takes 4 to 4 1/2 hours to walk.  Wow I was going to finish under 32:30, my goal was 35-37. I needed to walk this as fast as I could and I needed to pass Chris (if I could). I recalled Chris walked really fast at WS last year.  But all I could do is try and push as hard as I could, this whole thing was going to be over in about 4 hours.  About 2 miles into this long 13 mile trek I passed Chris walking and wished him the best of luck, I think we hugged also.  The friends we make in these races are amazing.  This would never happen in a marathon!!  My crew took turns pacing me up the mountain to the finish.  The last few miles my wife got her 2nd opportunity to pace me, what a cool feeling to finish an event like this with the most important person in your life walking right beside you through the finish line.  The last 100 yards I saw my whole crew waiting to escort me through the finish.  We started this whole thing as a team "Freaks on Fire"  and we finished it as a team.

My finish time was 32:12:00 and I ended up in 15th place overall.  I didn’t expect such a fast finish time in my 1st Badwater, heck I would have been happy to finish in 47:59:59.  I couldn’t have done it without my crew.

Going into this race I had I planned on eating different types of solid food, P&B sandwiches, turkey wraps, chips, cookies, protein bars, Sport Beans, and GU Chomps.  My liquid nutrition consisted of Boost, Starbucks Frappuccinos, Coke, and Mountain Breeze (Safeway brand of Mt Dew).  As it turned out I could eat very little solid food, just a few Sport Beans, GU Chomps, and fig newtons.  The majority of my diet during the race came from liquid nutrition Boost, Starbucks Frappuccinos, and water bottles filled with ½ coke and water.  This type of fuel was perfect.  My crew adjusted as needed to assure I had everything I needed or could handle.  They were amazing!

I would love to attempt this race again if I can find a sponsor.  I know I can finish between 28-30 hours by making 3 changes.

1)  Start working on speed again.  Get my marathon times back down to sub 3:00 hours
2)  Increase my weekly mileage to 100-120mpw.  My average mileage before the race was only 50mpw.
3)  Do active heat training.  All of my heat training was passive, sitting in the sauna sweating and drinking a ton of liquids, and cranking the heat in my car to full blast every time I drove my car.

I really appreciate the opportunity AdvertureCorps gave me to run this race.  It was amazing I will never forget the experience.
Thank you my friends “Freaks on Fire” for supporting me by giving your time and effort to help us to the finish line!

Taking a break

Faye having fun!



The view from the top, almost done

Watch out she's on the prowl

The long road ahead

What looks good to eat!

Crazy Joel

This is the lowest place in the US

Team Photo

What Looks Good?

Before the start

Kevin and I about 35 miles in

Group picture at the basin

Gold Mountains

Required team magnet

1st cart of ice
2nd cart of ice

Finishers Buckle

Father Crowleys Point

Group finish picture

In the 1st 4 miles

32:12 hours of running, The Walking Dead

Relaxing in the shade

Mount Whitney

Kevin and me running together

Borax mine

Applying lube in special places!

Badwater Basin 17 miles

Faye & Delores

Meeting Ben Jones and Ray Sanchez


  1. Awesome Terry! I love the title "freaks on fire". From earlier photos posted on FB I saw the car signs. Love the flames! Sounds like an amazing experience, so glad that it went so well for you!

  2. Wow, you did amazing, Terry!