The ups and downs of Badwater 135

  • This was printed in July of 2014 in The Madera Tribune, a newspaper in Madera, California. This was the 62nd installment of my weekly column, Mind Over Miles.

This week I rode with a group of runners to Lone Pine, where we watched dozens of

amazing runners trek 135 miles through the desert in the toughest footrace in the world,

the AdventureCORPS Badwater 135.

It was a trip full of ups and downs — and I don’t just mean the four major climbs

throughout the race.

Running two miles of the course just for fun was so incredible; I ran with a huge smile on

my face the entire time, even when I attempted a calf-crushing half-mile of the ascent to

Mt. Whitney Portal.

MOM Badwater

I also got to see ultrarunning legend Pam Reed — and a 32-year-old woman named

Alyson Venti whose first attempt at the race led to a 28:37:28 finish time, placing her in

eighth overall and first out of the women.

My group and I drove along the route, hopping out of our van periodically to hold up

motivational signs and cheer loudly for every runner we saw — until we were warned

and asked to leave the course by race officials, who said it was unfair for us to cheer.

Aside from race officials and runner support crews, we appeared to be the only spectators

at the Badwater ultramarathon. Apparently they like it that way.

MOM Oswaldo and signs

Our group was pretty disappointed. Here are some of the best runners in the world,

shedding their blood, sweat, tears, vomit and more on a desert course with 17,0ß00 feet

of climbing, and we aren’t allowed to cheer for them?

The officials told us we could yell for them back in the town of Lone Pine, or at the finish

line the next morning (the winner, Harvey Lewis, came in at 23 hours and 52 minutes

after starting at 8 a.m. Monday).

When you’ve trekked 135 miles, what difference is it going to make to hear people cheer

for you during the last dozen meters? Not much.

But when you’re in the middle of a tough climb or on a long, lonely stretch of windy

desert road and beginning to rethink your venture (why am I running 135 miles?), a group

of spectators can bring just the motivation you need to continue.

Our group was making a difference. We could see runners faces light up in smiles as we

furiously shook our cowbells and told them how amazing they were. We saw some pick

up their pace. We saw some snap out of “zombie mode” and get their heads back into the

race.

I guess that’s exactly what race officials didn’t want. The “help” we were providing with

our whoops and hollers was unfair.

Thankfully we were able to yell for Madera’s own Oswaldo Lopez, and my favorite

running store-owner Scott Newton, a few times before the officials rained on our

cheering parade.

Lopez, who won the race in 2011 and placed in the top three each time he ran it

previously, was in great spirits. He graciously smiled, thanked each of us personally, and

threw out some high-fives and thumbs up while continuing on his journey.

Beyond being an out-of-this-world runner, Lopez is one of the humblest and nicest

people I’ve ever met. (This is a man who, legend has it, slept in his van after winning

Badwater in 2011 because he didn’t want to accidentally wake up his crew by entering

the hotel room he shared with them.)

He looked strong and well, so it was a huge surprise when we learned the next morning

that he had dropped out of the race around 1 a.m. near Mile 80 after he couldn’t keep

anything in his stomach.

Newton, owner of Sole2Soul Sports, also suffered gastrointestinal issues and dropped out

after Mile 54 after throwing up for several hours.

There were 97 who began the race Monday. Eighty-three finished within the 48-hour

cutoff. Fourteen dropped out before getting to a checkpoint at Mile 122.

I was disappointed that I wouldn’t get to see my friends finish the race and watch Lopez

earn his sixth Badwater belt buckle (no prize money is given to winners of the world’s

toughest footrace). But I don’t think anyone was more disappointed than Lopez himself.

He apologized for not finishing the race when we had all driven out there to see him, but

our team assured him that he is still a champion in our eyes.

Anyone who even attempts to run that far in such scorching heat can’t be called anything

less than a champion.

MOM Oswaldo Badwater

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