- 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.
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.
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
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
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.