Friday, August 15, 2014

2014 Badwater: Start To Lone Pine 45 Miles

Initial Plan
To run a distance of 135 miles was a mind boggling task.  So I broke up the distance into 4 segments that had a cut-off time:  Lone Pine (after Horseshoe Meadows) @ 44.5 miles, Cerro Gordo @ 67 miles, Darwin @ 91 miles, Lone Pine (before Mount Whitney) @ 124 miles and the finishing line @ 135 miles.

The distance from Lone Pine (Start) to Horseshoe Meadows is 22.1 miles and back to Lone Pine (Dow Villa Hotel) is another 22.4 miles to make a total of 44.5 miles.  Based on my timing at Ocho Ocho, where I completed 72km (around 45 Miles) in 10hrs 55 mins, I should be able to make the first cut-off at Lone Pine within 13 hours.  But it is easier said than done.  When I compared this with the ascent section of the Pikes Peak Marathon where I climbed from approximately 6,300 feet to just over 14,000 feet to cover 13.1 miles in 5hrs 6mins (2008) and 5hrs 26mins (2009) respectively, I got very worried.  This was because I had to cover a further 9 miles in Badwater although the elevation change of 5,990 feet was slightly less daunting - a more gentle 6% incline as compared to 11% incline in Pikes Peak.  Realistically speaking, I would need at least 2 more hours to cover these additional 9 miles.  So I give myself 7 1/2 hours (best case scenario) and 8 hours (worst case scenario) to cover the 22.1 miles climb up to Horseshoe Meadows and a further 4 1/4 hours (best case scenario) and 4 3/4 hours (worst case scenario) to cover the remaining 22.4 miles to reach back at Lone Pine.  This worked out to 11 3/4 hours (best case scenario) and 12 3/4 hours (worse case scenario).  The comforting thing was that I would be running on road as compared to running in Pikes Peak.  Also, runners going up the Pikes Peak mountain were expected to step off the trail and give way to runners returning to the finishing line.  That probably explained why I took so long to ascend Pikes Peak.

 The Start (6,300 feet), U-Turn (14,115 feet) & End (6,345 feet) of Pikes Peak Marathon!

Lone Pine (Start) ~ Horseshoe Meadows ~ Lone Pine (Dow Villa Hotel) - 44.5 Miles!

Start - Horseshoe Meadows 22 Miles
I woke up at 4am and waited for the rest to get ready because I thought I had plenty of time.  I did.  I decided to laze around and not get too excited.  I finally got out of bed at 4:30am, had my breakfast, bathed and changed into my X-Bionic Fennec® shirt and pants.  My crew were getting ready the remaining stuff into the car.  I met Sam at the hallway and told him that I won't wait for them.  I took a slow walk to the start.  The weather was nice.  I met a couple of runners on my way to the intersection which was about 2 blocks away.  We reached there around 5:20am.  More runners and crew arrived, including mine.  The runners were told to check-in and had our weight taken.  Then we mingled with the rest of the runners and their support crew.  Almost all other runners were smiling and relaxed - something I could never do.  I was too focus on the one thing on my mind: to get up to top of Horseshoe Meadows and back at Lone Pine within my target of 12 hours (and faster if possible).  I chatted with Mr Lim and Reuben - the other runners from Singapore.  Both of them looked relax.  After the group photo-taking, where we were made to look like super stars, Race Director Chris Kostman flagged off the 6:00am wave runners at 6:00am sharp!

Racer Check-In (Top Left); Team Ripley Runs 135 (Bottom Left); Singapore Contingent (Top Right); Filling Up Water (Bottom Right)!

Final Advice (Left); Starting of 2014 Badwater 135 (Right)!

Support vehicle was prohibited in the first 4.1 miles of the race.  I started to drop back but I didn't dare to check who else was behind me.  I just ran, or rather jogged.  The weather was great because it was still early morning.  This early portion of the route consist of some flats followed by rolling hills.  I concentrated on my own running though I was mindful of how far the front runners were.  I did eventually turned back to see if there were anymore runners and to my horror, I was the LAST runner!  I told myself not to panic and just run as comfortably as I could.  Once the rolling hills commenced, I started to shorten the distance between myself and the runners in front of me.  Then slowly, I began to pass one runner.  Then another.  And one more runner.  Before I knew, I saw the support vehicles at the side of the road!  I was very happy and started to look for mine.  But it was not easy as some of the cars looked alike.  (Note: Have something unique on your own car that the runner can spot a distance away.)

I eventually saw Cheryl and handed over my almost emptied bottled in exchange for a new one.  I also asked her for a packet of chia seeds in the next stop.  When I walked past the car, Stuart shouted across the road how far ahead they should stop.  Hmmmm.  I thought we already tied down to stop every 5 miles.  Perhaps Stuart saw something that I didn't see.  "3 miles,"  I shouted back, since a full 500ml bottle won't last me for 5 miles..  (Note: We can plan ahead but be open to changes for runner and crew based on actual race day.)  I began to feel more relax and just ran.  I didn't look at my watch too.  When other support vehicles drove past me, the crew would shout out encouraging words, which was nice.  :)  At the next stop, I saw Cheryl again and she passed me the packet of chia seeds while I exchanged my empty bottle with a newly filled bottle.  I told her to prepare my other cap and my sunglasses as the sun was coming out.  When I passed the car, I shouted "3 miles" to Stuart before he could ask.

The Numerous Switchbacks Leading To The Top Of Horseshoe Meadows!

It was a long, straight road before the switchbacks.  Mr Lim's support vehicle drove past me and asked if I needed anything.  I showed a thumbs-up sign and continued.  I began counting my running steps and looking at the road ahead, which could be so demoralising.  Soon, I reached the DeLaCour Ranch (the start of 7 switchbacks) where there was a port-a-potty and a queue of about 5 persons.  I decided to ask the next in line if I could use the toilet first even though I knew that the support crew had been briefed by the RD to give priority to runners (and male runners to give priority to female runners).  Even before I could ask, the lady told me to go ahead to use the port-a-potty.  Usually, there was no need for me to use the port-a-potty in a marathon or 50km race or anything less than 12 hours.  But I was surprised I had to use it so early into the race though I didn't eat much.  (Note: Use the port-a-potty whenever it is available to clear the bowel especially during an ultramarathon.)

After the toilet break, I continued and entered Inyo National Forest where I soon met my crew.  Cheryl handed me my sunglasses and cap while I exchanged my empty bottle with a new one.  We were on auto-pilot mode!  :)  I told her I needed a cold milo and she ran forward to the car and back immediately with the cold milo!  I gulped the entire milo down which tasted so refreshing.  (Note: It is advisable to have a variety of drinks.)  I also told Cheryl that I wanted to exchange my bottle every 2 miles instead of 3 miles.  The incline from switchbacks to switchbacks was manageable.  I adopted a run/walk strategy.  There were some runners in front and I caught one of them.  I passed Mr Lim's support vehicle again and acknowledged their best wishes.  Mr Lim should be among one of the few runners in front of me - I guessed.  But I couldn't recognize which one was him as they were far in front.  I told myself, as long as I could see Mr Lim's support vehicle, I shouldn't be far off from my targeted pace.

Along One Of the 7 Switchbacks To Horseshoe Meadows!

I shortened the distance between myself and the runner in front but I knew there was no need to put in too much effort to overtake the runner.  It was a long race and I should push myself when it was less hot since I hate running in the heat.  I suddenly remembered about the weather: it wasn't that hot at all!  Perhaps it was the X-Bionic Fennec® gear which I was wearing.  Perhaps we were near the top of the mountain.  Then a runner ran past me.  He was running strong and running fast!  He must be a runner from the later wave.  When I was approaching my support vehicle and Cheryl gave me a plate of bread!  :)  I took one and sank my teeth into it.  Yummy!  The bread with Marmite was great though a little salty.  Sam then told me that I had 6km more to go before Time Station #1 and asked where I wanted them to stop next.  I was shocked!  I told them to stick with the "2 miles ahead" strategy.  (Note: Sometime time really flies when you just run instead of looking at the watch.)

More runners had passed me in both directions.  Since Time Station #1 was not far away, we did a quick exchanged of water bottle at the next stop.  I took another quick glance on my watch and reckoned I should reach Time Station #1 before 12:00pm.  This was way better than my targeted best case scenario of 7 1/2 hours!  I passed the parking lot soon after and saw many cars and crew.  I also saw Reuben on his way back to Lone Pine.  A while later I spotted the race volunteers and Stephanie who was waving a purple color flag with a Merlion head, which was hard to miss!  I completed the small loop before meeting up with my team.  I sank into the chair they prepared while they brought me food, elevated both my feet, and massaged my shoulders.  I ate the plain rice which was super good and drank the coconut water.  Sam and Stuart reminded me about pacing as I was ahead of my targeted time.  Ii took me 5hrs 42mins I took to cover 22.1 miles.  (Note: Always have a plan so you know if you are ahead or behind your targeted time.)

 Cheryl & Marmite (Left); Stephanie with the Flag (Top Right); Fueling and Massage (Bottom Right)!

Horseshoe Meadows - Lone Pine 45 Miles
The return trip down Horseshoe Meadows was much easier and we decided for the support vehicle to stop every 3 miles instead.  The miles really flew by.  But I had a problem: a hot spot near the arch of my right foot.  It was impossible not to have any blister while running an ultramarathon, especially in Badwater.  I knew I needed to get the hot spot fix instead of waiting for it to form a blister.  I told Sam and Stuart about my problem when I met up with my team.  I removed my shoes to confirm the hot spot.  Sam taped something around the hot spot and told me to let him know I felt for the next 3 miles.  I put on my shoes and continued running.  After just a few steps, I could feel the rubbing on the same spot again.  But I could only continue running untill I next met up with my team.  3 miles later, I ran over to my vehicle support where Sam proposed to change to a new pair of shoes which I did.  (Note: Always prepare more shoes than you think you might need.)  It seemed to do the trick and I continued running till after the DeLaCour Ranch.

By then, I could feel the heat of the afternoon sun.  But at the same time, I felt cool on my body.  I felt as though I was wearing a portable aircon.  I saw Paper a few times who was crewing for Andre and wondered when would Andre caught up with me.  "A matter of time," I thought to myself.  A few more runners ran past me and I was sure they were from a different wave but none of them was Andre.  Soon I reached the segment where there was no support vehicle allowed.  I changed to a new bottle of water although Stuart asked if I wanted to carry two instead.  This decision of carrying a water bottle almost backfired as it was much hotter than when we started the race at 6:00am.  Luckily, I survived and reached the first cut-off @ Lone Pine, Time Station #2 at 5:23pm.  I was surprised that I took almost similar time to come down (5hrs 41mins), probably because I took 2 long breaks to fix my hot spot.   Nevertheless, I was still 22mins ahead of my best case scenario.  (Note: After Ocho Ocho, I told myself to save my legs later in the race.  So there was no need to bomb down the mountain and trash my quads so early in the race.)

I was extremely happy when I reached back to Lone Pine as I was ahead of my targeted time.  I told myself the next target to aim would be the old American Hotel in Cerro Gordo.  If I could make the cut-off at the Ghost Town, I was quite sure I would complete the race.  :)

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