I'm smiling as I write this report, thinking back on such an amazing event. I knew what to expect and I didn't know what to expect, I read "On the edge" I watched "Running on the Sun"... multiple times. Seeing and reading about the challenges that the terrain and the extreme heat does to runners is one thing. But when it is your wife out there facing the elements , well it is another emotional trip. I never doubted whether Tanya could complete this 135 mile trek through death valley; but I had reservations within myself. Could I help her make this Badwater dream a reality, could I handle seeing her suffer through it! Tanya's primary goal was to finish the run, but I also knew she would love to do it under 48 hours.
On Sunday July 1st, after months of training our journey from Badwater Death Valley to the Mt. Whitney portal began. My fellow crew members where Jeannette Ewing, Allyson Roberts, Marty Kennedy, and Angela Clark. After spending the night at the Stovepipe Wells resort we met the other runners at Badwater at 5:30am. The Park Ranger wanted to go over a few specifics regarding road traffic and other safety issues. Instead of the 6:00am group start, the ranger informed us that the runners would have to start staggered with 15 min intervals between each. I signed the start list and Tanya was set to start at 7:00am.
We had two vehicles a primary van which never left Tanya and a runner vehicle used for back up and any other issues that might arise. We started with myself, Jeannettte, and Allyson in the van and Marty and Angela in the runner. Our plan was to leap frog Tanya every 1/2 mile with the vehicles. This way we could keep her relatively cool by spraying her with water and be attentive to hydration and food needs.
BADWATER to FURNANCE CREEK (17.4 miles)
It is hard to describe the beauty of death valley, but the vastness of the valley and the enormity of the surrounding mountain ranges are incredible. The temp. was already in the 90's snd we where expecting 120's. Tanya started in her usual fashion, which is to start off slow and let the pace come naturally. This first section is 17.4 miles and and relatively flat. We used this section to work out any kinks with the crew, and how to best serve Tanya. For most of our crew this would be the first time they had done crewing like this. But everything seemed to work like clock work. Another runner named Steve said to me before the race, crewing is tougher than running, and I would find out as the hours passed that he may be right.
We made it to furnance creek without incident, Tanya was getting stronger and the temps where getting hotter! We made sure she got off of her feet for a few minutes, and she changed her socks and shoes. Her stomach was a bit upset, but we where able to get and endurox drink into her. Calories are so important, especially early. There will be times that food will just make you sick. Speaking of being sick, as I left the general store after buying some ice. I used my foot to kick open the swinging door, I was wearing sandals; as the door swung back I put my foot there to stop the door. Instead the door caught my toenail and almost ripped it clear off. AHHHH not the time or the place for this to happen, but I was a trooper :)
We fueled the vehicles and were back on the road in less than a hour.
FURNANCE CREEK TO STOVEPIPE WELLS(41 miles)
This section proved to be the hottest section of the entire run. It was a long anf flat 24 miles to Stovepipe wells. Stovepipe was where we had our hotel room and would be our first major rest area. Tanya had asked us not to tell her what the temperature was, I think if she had known it would have played with her mind. We started this section just before noon at it was 121 degrees! We had a outdoor temp gauge in our van, and at one point I glanced up at it and it read 127. Tanya at this point was doing great, she asked what was the temperature but like a good crew we refused to tell her. She was drinking, eating a little better, but most importantly she was peeing regularly. Allyson and Jeanette where doing an incredible job keeping her hydrated and fed; a runner is only as good as their crew.
We made it to Stovepipe a little after 6pm. Tanya went into the room took and shower, not sure how refreshing it was; even the cold water is hot in death valley! I set up the stove and cooked soup and beans and rice, while the rest of the crew bought ice and other essentials. Everyone was in good spirits including Tanya. Dr. Ben Jones stopped in to see Tanya, and said the toughest part was behind her. He shared some updated on other runners, many where having blister, stomach, and kidney issues. Tanya looked great, her feet where in perfect shape, not even a hot spot. She changed clothes, shoes, ate a hearty dinner and was ready to tackle Townes Pass.
STOVEPIPE WELLS TO TOWNES PASS(58.7 miles)
After 40 miles the runners are allowed to have pacers, and it was my turn test the desert. We made changes with the crew Angela and Allyson took over duties in the van, and Marty and Jeanette rested at the hotel. The climb to Townes pass was ascent of 18 miles that gains 4960 feet in elevation. Though the sun would be setting soon it was still hotter than heck still over 110 degrees! I had been in the heat all day ( no use AC in van due to fear of overheating) the dryness of the air was very prominent, and before the climb was over I developed a bloody nose. Nothing to be alarmed about shove tissue up there and keep moving. This gave me an opportunity to spend some quality time :) with T as I call her. We discussed how the day went and I shared with her how hot it had been earlier in the day and she thanked me for not telling her. The day quickly turned to night, and what a beautiful night it was. For a short period of time the sky was full of stars, but as the moon rose over the mountains the stars disappeared because the moon was full. We had a party going up towns pass, Barbara was sharing the road with us and having a ball. Our van was rocking to the tunes of Bob Marley, Kirk Franklin, Beyonce to name a few. After 3 hours of rest Marty and Jeanette joined the party and Angela and Allyson went back to the hotel. We continued onward the night was so nice, the heat was still there but the blazing sun was gone for a while. Somewhere along the way we marched into Monday morning. The closer we got to the top of Townes Pass the further away it seemed, those false summits can be frustrating. Finally the top , a long awaited rest, the cot was set up for Tanya when we got there. Tanya ate another big meal of Beans and Rice and soup. Temperature began to drop and we had to actually put on long sleeves, but that was short lived.
TOWNES PASS to PANAMINT SPRINGS RESORT (72.3 miles)
After an hour of sleep Tanya was ready to continue (3:30am), and I continued with her; it was downhill from here. We picked up the pace a bit, but she still had a long way to go. As we descended into Panamint valley the heat quickly regained is fever. Angela and Allyson soon rejoined us, the group was complete again. As we entered Panamint Valley, Tanya stopped to change her running shoes. At this time Jeanette hit the road and started pacing Tanya, and I tried to close my eyes for a quick nap.
PANAMINT SPRINGS RESORT to FATHER CROWLEYS TURNOUT (80.2 miles)
After a short rest she began the long steep climb up the second mountain range, it was now 24+ hours into the run. This was an extremely challenging section, not just for Tanya and Jeanette, but also for the crew because of the steep narrow road; we had trouble pulling off to the shoulder at times. After 3 1/2 hours of climbing we made it to Father Crowleys turnout where we scared out of our boots by two F-16 fighters blazing over head. Awesome to see! We stopped here and Tanya had soup and beans and rice again. Bean POWER!!! YEA!!! But the climb was not over she still had 2000 more feet to climb to get to 5000 feet.
FATHER CROWLEY'S to DARWIN TURN OFF (90.1 miles)
This section tested Tanya. I believe the heat was getting to her a bit, and temperature was rising again. This was the first time I started to see stress on her face, some was fatigue but I think most was sleep deprivation. With the help of Allyson and Jeanette as pacers they kept the pace up and ran a lot of this section. Having a little fun trying to catch the runner in front of us. At around mile 89 Tanya was having a little bit of a break down, she just kept telling me she was tired and was crying. We just started taking more frequent shorter breaks, and tried to keep her spirits high. Her appetite was back and she ate a few pieces of pumpkin cake.
DARWIN TURN OFF to LONE PINE WHITNEY PORTAL ROAD (122.2 miles)
Thank the Lord, we never thought we would make it to this road, but it did not get any easier from here. You talk about a long road to nowhere. The memories get fuzzy from here on, it is around 6 pm, day two or 36 hours into the run. Over the next nine hours Myself, Jeannette, and Allyson would pace Tanya. We experienced emotions from joy to rage. Tanya experienced the effects of sleep deprivation and maybe an hallucination. She is not sure. I think she may have been sleep walking. This was one hell of a 32 mile section, and we saw a 48 hour finish slipping away. But wait rebirth, a few minutes previous a female runner (Marcia) passed us with about 5 miles to Lone Pine. Then Tanya's alarm on her watch went off (beep, beep,beep), and to my complete amazement she just woke up, and it was like one of our early morning runs. We both picked up the pace (did I mention I was running with her at this time), and her sleepy haze just faded away. A 48 hour finish was possibly back in our reach. Just as we reached the Portal road we passed Marcia, from here it was 13 miles uphill to 8360ft to finish.
LONE PINE to Mt. WHITNEY PORTAL (135 miles)
Tanya never ceases to amaze, she is the best athlete I know. For her to be able to literally run the last 13 miles to the Whitney portal after already run/walking 122 miles and 43 hours virtually without sleep. This ability still blows me away. She asked me to set the pace, we drank some coke and blazed that hill. I started to fade at 5 miles to go and Allyson took the reins, then at 2 miles to the finish Marty became her pacer, and with a mile to go I jumped out of the van and finished with them. 48:29 I think it just took her a little over 3 hours to finish this section.
At the finish we all celebrated her accomplishment, and everyone was in awe that her feet where blemish free, not one blister, or rub of any kind. I had an enjoyable experience in Death Valley one I will never forget. I cherish this time I am able to spend with Tanya, and I am thinking of maybe trying the Badwater Solo in 2008. I'll see you all out there on the road and the trail.
God Bless. Marc S. Johnson
Check out the results at: www.badwaterforum.org/solo/