I went to make a comment on the GTD Facebook page in response to the post about my recent kidney transplant story and realized I had a little more to say than just a quick comment. I began to reflect on how the message of Go the Distance applies to the experience I had when going through this amazing journey. The message about stepping outside your comfort zone and pushing yourself to do something you didn’t even know you were capable of accomplishing. Answering the question of How Far Would You Go? It wasn’t the money that we raised that made Go the Distance such an inspiring event that touched so many peoples hearts, it was about making a difference!!!!
Go the Distance started with Greg seeing a need for funding and the more educated he became, the more passionate he became. It was his sincerity and passion for wanting to make a difference that moved an entire community. The same thing happened when I found out that Lance needed a kidney and by having type O blood, I could be a potential match. Up until then, it really wasn’t something on my radar. In fact, I had even wished Lance good luck in finding a kidney when his previous kidney failed. But once it was on my radar, it wasn’t something I could ignore. Once I started looking into it, the more I learned, the more passionate I became about wanting to make a difference for him. I learned so much about kidneys and transplants and dialysis. The most important thing I learned is that I really only needed one kidney, and could live a totally normal life with just one. So how could I not give one to Lance!?!?!? I went through a battery of tests to make sure that I was healthy enough to donate a kidney and to make sure that I was a match for Lance. I even passed a psych evaluation! : )
Speaking of crazy….I used to think that Greg was a little bit crazy for running 100 miles, then 128.75 miles, then 135 miles thru Death Valley. He has said that a little bit of physical pain was a small price to pay for the satisfaction that attaining your goal brought. I thought I got that….but now I can honestly say that I TOTALLY get it! I know some people think that I am a little bit crazy… but the small amount of physical pain was nothing compared to the enormous amount of joy and fulfillment that I got out of this incredible experience!!!!! I have been asked if I can feel a void where my kidney used to be. I can’t, I am pretty sure that my overflowing heart has easily filled that place, and then some!
Lance and his three Angels
Besides an overflowing heart, I also got a new family out of the deal! I can never put into words the feeling of having his mom hug me and tell me there were no words to thank me for saving her son. As we both stood there hugging and crying I told her that none were needed, I was a mom! His mom, Diana, and sister, Tiffany, had already been kidney donors for Lance. Lance has battled this since Junior High School. Again, there are no words to convey my respect and awe and love for him and what he has been through. He has endured more than his share of medical issues but through it all his big giant heart, incredible courage, and amazing character have shined through!!!! An example of that was during our pre op appointment when the doctor told Lance that it was going to be a tricky surgery and then asked him if he still wanted to do it. Lance’s answer was, “I choose life, I have to live at least one more day than my mother!”
I marvel in how all of the stars had to align in order for this miracle to take place. I truly believe that everything happens for a reason. Just like in running…where you start by running a mile, then you run a 5K, then a 10K, then a half marathon, then a marathon, then a 50 miler, then 100 miles, and then 135 miles! You just keep pushing yourself to see how far you can go. It is a progression! A wise person even said you will never know how far you can go until you are willing to risk going too far! To Challenge the Impossible! To step outside your comfort zone!!! The Go the Distance message applies to so much more than running. I had a bad experience as a teenager giving blood so I was afraid to do it. My son, Justin, was having a hard time mentally getting ready for a wrestling tournament. The KCRA Blood Drive happened to be going on that weekend and was all over the news. Justin and I talked about the message from GTD and stepping outside of our comfort zones. I told him that if he cowboyed up and tried at the tournament that I would do the same and go give blood. He won the tournament and I went and gave blood that following Monday. And guess what, it wasn’t that bad and I started giving blood every 8 weeks. While I was in giving blood, I became educated about being on the Bone Marrow Registry. That was outside my comfort zone but I signed up. Then one day I got a call saying that I was a match for a 17 year old boy and was asked if I was willing to go forward in the process to be a donor for him. How could I not!?!?!? So far I have not been called on to donate for him but I hope it gives him and his parents some peace of mind to know that if he ever needs it, there is a match and someone willing to donate for him!!!! The idea of giving up a kidney was definitely way outside my comfort zone, until I became educated about being a donor and what it meant for Lance! If I had not gone through the progression of giving blood and being a Bone Marrow match, I am not sure I would have been in a place to even entertain the idea of being a kidney donor. If I had not been involved with Go the Distance and didn’t totally believe in the message, I am not sure I would have had the courage to take those steps outside my comfort zone!
People have been shocked to find out that I was donating my kidney to a high school friend that I hadn’t seen in a pretty long time. There are people in your life that will always stand out as special and who you have an exceptional connection and bond. Lance is one of those friends and time could never change that. I told Lance that I have learned so much during this process and with that knowledge comes a passion, there is no way I can NOT be an advocate. I hope that by sharing my experience with others it will inspire them to get educated on donating blood, or being on the Bone Marrow Registry, or getting a pink donor dot on their drivers’ license. And once they get educated, I hope they can no longer NOT take action! I hope they too choose to make a difference!! That being said I would like to share a little bit about Lance’s story and what I have learned along the way because it is such an integral part of the story I am sharing about my journey.
Moments before we were wheeled off to surgery
I am not sure why I fought getting a Facebook page but I am so glad that I gave in. It allowed me to reconnect with Lance. It was the beginning of the stars coming into alignment. We had become FB friends and exchanged a few messages and he had tried to call me but I couldn’t answer because I was on my way to the hospital with Justin who had just dislocated and broken his elbow at a wrestling tournament. A few days later I was shocked to see a picture of Lance on FB in ICU recovering from heart surgery! I learned that his heart surgery was a result of his kidney disease and dialysis. I learned that Lance’s kidney disease was a result of a bout with Spinal Meningitis in Junior High. I learned that he had been on dialysis for two years before agreeing to accept his sister’s kidney. I asked him why he finally agreed to it after fighting it for so long, his answer was that he “chose to live.” Every time he went to dialysis, someone didn’t come back. That kidney lasted for 5 years. When it failed he went back on dialysis for two years before agreeing to accept his mother’s kidney. Again, as hard as it was for him to put his mother through surgery, he “chose to live.” That kidney lasted for 19 years, 3 months. It was then that I wished Lance luck in finding a kidney. Lance had been back on dialysis for about 7 months when he posted a need for a kidney on FB from someone with type O blood and a link to a website to better understand transplantation. Knowing Lance, I know that was not an easy post for him to make. But once again, he “chose life.” I clicked on the link and began to get educated….and the stars began to align even more!!!
Post surgery recovery popsicle
Knowledge is power! I wish I could share everything that I have learned with you but I will try to hit some of the stand out things. I guess the first thing is that whatever causes your kidney to fail in the first place will continue to attack your new kidney, creating a need for multiple transplants over a course of someone’s life. I learned that people die every day because of a shortage of donations. Every month more than 2,000 new names are added to the national list for organ transplants, and about 18 people die every day while waiting for an organ transplant. I learned that if everyone who could be a deceased donor registered, there wouldn’t be a waiting list. Every deceased donor has the potential to save 8 lives and heal 50 more! I learned that Lance’s projected time on that waiting list was about 8 years. Being type O is a much harder match to find. I learned that he wouldn’t live 8 years. I had thought that someone could be on dialysis forever. I have learned that isn’t the case and what a toll dialysis takes on your body. Lance was going to dialysis 3 times a week for 4 and half hours. Every time he chose to go, he “chose life.” I learned that during dialysis your blood pressure drops and you cramp really badly, it is not an easy thing!!! I learned that your kidney does so much more than just filter your blood. It produces urine, so if you don’t have a functioning kidney, you don’t produce urine. All of that fluid and all of those toxins stay in your body until your next dialysis treatment!!!! Every day the kidney’s process about 200 quarts of blood and sift out 2 quarts of waste products and extra water. If the kidneys don’t remove the waste and water they build up in the blood and damage the body!!! In addition to removing wastes, kidneys release three important hormones: EPO, which stimulates bone marrow to make red blood cells, rennin, which regulates blood pressure, and calcitriol, which helps maintain calcium for bones for normal chemical balance in the body!
Lance “chooses to live” every day of his life! The love from his girlfriend Linda, his family, and his friends support him in that choice every day! I have been friends with and loved Lance for over 30 years, but in a very short amount of time, I came to love his mom Diana, sister Tiffany, and girlfriend Linda! My new family! We will share a special bond the rest of our lives!!! Every test that Lance and I took over the past 6 months that came back saying we could move ahead in the process were stars moving into place so that on August 2, 2013 they were all in alignment for the miracle of life to happen!!! Not a day will go by for the rest of my life that I will not be thankful for that miracle and pray for the stars to remain in alignment for Lance!!!
I am proud and honored and forever changed in such a good way to be a small part of that miracle! I am also proud of my son, Jared, who when he turned 16 chose to be an organ and tissue donor and proudly sports a pink dot on his driver’s license! And when Del Oro High School had a blood drive at school I was prepared to try to convince him to donate blood, but I didn’t have to, he came home with a permission slip for me to sign so that he could donate! And he proudly wears his “Every Drop Counts” t-shirt!
Speaking of t-shirts…..the one that I am holding in the picture with Lance is incredibly meaningful. It is an example of Lance pushing himself to do something he didn’t know he was capable of doing. In his previous surgeries he didn’t get up and walk for a long time….but this time, in order to earn that shirt for me, he got up and walked a cumulative mile in 10 days!!! What a stud!!!! How fitting that it was the first mile of the rest of his life! A life free of dialysis, a life free to travel, a life free to live!! Every day Lance shows JUST HOW FAR HE WILL GO to live and to make a difference! He makes a difference to so many! I can’t even begin to tell you how many cards and messages I have received from people thanking me for saving Lance because they couldn’t imagine life without his friendship! I am one of those people! Love you LDW!
Nerves set in strong. I awoke the morning of the race at 2:45 and couldn't go back to sleep. I got out of bed at 3:30 and ate oatmeal, a banana, and drank a cup of coffee. This would be the last real food until after the race. I laid back down until 4:30. My friend Mark and I walked over to the race start at 5. The battery on my bike monitor had gone dead on the drive to Arizona so I needed to change it before the race started. I checked my special needs bags. These are bags that you pack for yourself with stuff you think you might need during your bike and run; they are in addition to your transition bags which were checked in the night before. So many logistics! Next, it was onto body marking; volunteers write your race number on both arms and your age on your calf muscle. The age on the calf is strictly for athletes so they know who they are passing or who is passing them. The number on the arm is for race officials and volunteers. After body marking I put on my wetsuit and race officials called us to get in the water. There is a concrete edge along the lake so we had to jump out a few feet to get into the lake. The water was cold, about 61 degrees, and it took my breath away. There were 2800 athletes needing to jump in to the water so it took at least 15 minutes to get everyone into the water. We treaded water for what seemed like 20 minutes. My strategy was to start near the front left side of the pack. I had hoped to go out fast and then settle into a pace; knowing this effort would make me breathless, but I was hoping it would get me away from the masses. I've done several deep water starts but none to this magnitude. Hands and feet collided with fellow athletes, both men and women, as we waited to start. The lights from the buildings and the brides overhead shown on the water of Tempe Town Lake. The bridges were lined four deep with the athletes' friends and the family. There was no countdown, suddenly the canon shot off with a loud BANG. I started my watch so I would know my race splits throughout the day. We were off...elbows, feet,and hands were flying everywhere. This was by far the most brutal part of the race. Just when I thought I could settle into a pace I would get hit and not just a simple tap on the
shoulder but a full on arm coming onto my shoulder and dragging me down, then onto my back and my legs. I got hit multiple times but the worse was a hard heal to the goggles which I thought must have cut my eye. I kept thinking stay strong, be tough, give back what you're given, don't give in, you've got this, relax. It was brutal! I got out of the crowd at the half way point of the swim, only to realize it was because I was swimming a bit off course. I never felt tired on the swim, the distance felt completely fine. I felt beaten up for sure but never tired of swimming. You couldn't see more than a foot in the water, it was so murky, green, and it smelled funny. The second hardest part of the swim was the intense charlie horses in my calves and hamstrings on the back half of the race. This has happened to me in other races and I haven't figured out why. It's an intense surge up my soleus followed by a rock solid tightening in the center of my calf. Thank goodness I had experienced this before so I kept as calm as possible and drug my legs behind me until the pain lessened. The wetsuit keeps me afloat so I basically used my arms to swim. Eventually the intense tightening in the calf subsided and I could kick again. This definitely added stress to the swim and it slowed me down but I never stopped as a result. Towards the end of the swim most athletes kick vigorously to bring blood back into their legs before exiting the water.
Arizona Ironman had close to 4,000 of the best volunteers imaginable.! A volunteer pulled me out of the water onto the steps where athletes exited the lake. My calves were so cramped that I used the step to stretch them out before hitting the wetsuit peelers. That's what the volunteers are called who help take wetsuits off the swimmers. I heard volunteers yelling my race number as I approached the thousands of bike transition bags. I grabbed my bag and entered the women's changing tent. Volunteers helped me put on my bike jersey, arm warmers, socks, cycle shoes and helmet. I was off to grab my bike and headed for the three loop course. The air temp was about 56, but it felt much colder because my tri suit was wet. I had planned on riding conservatively the first lap, then gradually increasing my pace.
The second lap of the bike course was the most challenging, both mentally and physically. The wind had picked up and it wreaked havoc on all of the athletes. During the second lap athletes were allowed to pick up their special needs bag. I picked up a fresh bottle of Perpetuem and dropped off my cycle jersey and arm warmers. My family was worried that my pace was declining because my split had slowed, but thankfully this was a reflection of my stop and not my legs. I felt really strong on the third lap of the bike leg and I began to pass cyclists right and left.
As with any race, there are things that happen that can throw your race plan off. Ironman was no different than any other race. On lap one of the bike I hit a bump in the road and POP, out of my bento box came my bottle of Nuun. Nuun is my favorite electrolyte supplement. I packed extra Endurox so this would become my back up plan. Then on lap two of the bike when I dropped my cycle jersey I accidentally gave my Endurox container and with it the tabs! I was faced with a decision of taking the race electrolyte or waiting until the run to replenish my electrolytes. I know this doesn't seem like a big deal but I am a planner and this can really play on my confidence. I worried about the race fuel upsetting my stomach. I had heard from so many athletes that their fueling was the biggest problem in their ironman. I decided to wait until the run to refuel with the electrolyte that my body was use to having. In retrospect I think this was the right decision, as I had no stomach issues at all!
I had four friends who raced AZ Ironman: Mark Richard, Terry McNiff, Jeff DuBois, and Michael Myette. These guys are all great guys and I really enjoyed training with them. I saw Terry, Jeff, and Mark on the bike and that really helped keep me rolling. Jeff and I finished the bike at the same time, which was really pretty cool.
The volunteers took our bikes and once again we collected our transition bags, only this time we were preparing for a marathon. I changed quickly and started my run. The course is a three loop course and the first loop felt pretty good. Once again, the second lap was the toughest both mentally and physically. The race director had said something the day before the race that really stuck with me. He said "You can't rush an Ironman, let it come to you." You know what? He was absolutely correct! I kept thinking to myself, keep lifting those legs, one step at a time, you've got this, going the distance today!
My friend Andrew Garmin, a local ultramarathon runner and fellow triathlete had flown in to register for Arizona Ironman 2012, and he cheered us on during the race. He knew what to say to me to keep me on track and get me going. I really started fading in the third lap and he yelled at me "YOU NEED TO EAT AND DRINK" I did, and boy what a difference!! After the fuel kicked in I was able to pick up my pace and really go. I ran up on my friend Terry, whose stomach was upset. I yelled at him "come on Terry, we gotta go!" Together we ran the next five miles. It was a gift to run into Terry. We had trained for months together and we understood the magnitude of what was happening. Terry and I flew passed other competitors like they were standing still. We were MOVING and were so excited to be finishing. I'll never forget those last few miles. As we got within a mile of the finish line Terry had more left than I did and he pulled ahead. When I came down that shoot I felt invigorated, proud, and accomplished. I heard my husband Jeff, my daughters Aly and Natalie, and my best friends the Richards, screaming and yelling my name with excitement. Then finally, the announcer yells "Gina Anixter YOU ARE AN IRONMAN"!!! Simply put, this was one of the best days of my life. Nothing feels better than accomplishing something so BIG in life. I've learned that through hard work and dedication anything is possible! My overall time was 11:14. I placed 5th among women in my age group and was proud to stand on the podium for my first Ironman!
I can’t believe it’s a week away; it’s been quite a journey! I thought I would share what it has taken me to prepare for Ironman. Just a little history before I dive in… I did my first triathlon 8 years ago. I will never forget it, it was a sprint triathlon and when I got to the water’s edge I looked over to my best friend, and I said “did you see how long it looks, I don’t know if I can do this!” tears started streaming down my face. I finished the race and thought to myself, I could not have gone any faster or longer if I wanted. A few years later I did my first half marathon and I brought twenty dollars just in case I needed to take a taxi home. After my first marathon I told my family “I will NEVER” do that again.
So, here we are today…I have been training for 32 weeks, a total of 430 hours, 135 miles of swimming, 3,900 miles on the bike, and 800 miles of running. My peak training week was 22 hours; it included 3 hours of swimming, 13 hours of biking and 6 hours of running. My longest bike ride was 120 miles and my longest run was the SF Nike Women’s Marathon (26.2 miles). My longest day of training was 8 hours spread over 13 hours; this training day is called “the Big Day”. The Big Day of training is planned twice during the 33 week plan; once at 8 weeks from race day and once at 4 weeks from race day. The Big Day consists of a 90 minute swim, followed by 90 minutes of rest, followed by a 5 hour bike ride, followed by a 90 minute rest, followed by a 13.1 mile run. The point of this training is for your body to experience what it’s like to be moving over 13 hours (the average length of time it takes to finish Ironman). During my last Big Day training, I crashed on my bike; I bent my wheel, cracked my helmet, and suffered minor scrapes and bruises. Thankfully, everything including my bike and my body recovered.
People ask me how I find the time to train because I work full time and I do a fair amount of volunteer work. The truth is, I love planning and having a full schedule! Since going back to work in 2005, I have been waking up early to work out. To prepare for Ironman, I added an evening workout three days a week, usually while my kids are at their sports practices. In addition, I have longer training days over the weekend. I wake up most mornings at 4:30 and get to sleep by 10pm. I am lucky to have a supportive husband who last year became a “stay at home Dad”. When I first started training for triathlons I think he thought it was a phase and it would pass. Today he’s come to accept triathlon because he knows how passionate I am about it and how much joy it brings me. Nevertheless, he and the girls are ready for Mom to be home when they wake up in the morning.
Registration for Ironman Arizona opened on November 22, the race filled in less than four hours, so it’s a scramble to register. The cost to register for the race was $600, this sport is not cheap!! Of course, this is only the beginning of the cost for Ironman. When I registered for Ironman, I was dealing with an injury called Proximal Hamstring Tendonopathy, microfiber tears in the tendon which attaches to the ischial tuberosity; it’s literally a pain in the butt! I had stopped running and biking for 4 ½ months to heal my injury before training for Ironman. Unfortunately, the injury was not completely healed when I began my training in April, so I have had weekly deep tissue massage and acupuncture, to the tune of $2,500!! Did I mention this sport is not cheap?
It takes along time to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, and run a marathon. Setting a race goal is something I do for every race. Since I’ve never done Ironman distance, it’s hard to predict how I will perform. I would be satisfied to finish the race in13 hours, but I would be ecstatic if I break 12 hours! The pro women race Ironman between 8:30 – 11 hours. There should be close to 2,000 athletes and about 100 women in my age group. The race starts at 7 a.m. and I hope to be off the course by 7:30 p.m. The race starts with a deep water mass start; this is a little sketchy because you are swimming next to big men with boney elbows. I will be happy to get out of the water and onto my bike. The bike is a triple loop course and the run is a four loop course which can be tough mentally.
Why do I want to do Ironman? Years ago, we huddled around the computer to watch two of my friends cross the finish line at Ironman Louisville; my stomach turned with excitement. The pride and admiration I had as I watched my friends raise their arms as they crossed the finish line was intense. The draw of accomplishing something most can only imagine is powerful. I am driven by setting goals which require extreme dedication, commitment, and focus.
Until I joined Greg Bomhoff, his wife Sherri, and their family at Badwater, I could only imagine what we’re truly capable of accomplishing. Go the Distance has made a better athlete of me without a doubt. I’ve never known an athlete like Greg, he’s a true inspiration! I would not have comprehended endurance racing without seeing it first hand. We are truly capable of so much more than we know or can imagine. Badwater was a gift, an experience I will never forget, an opportunity of a lifetime! When I am down during a training run or in a race, I focus on Badwater and not on the pain. My mind is in a good place, my body is well trained, and I am ready, ready to Go the Distance, to challenge the impossible.
I am grateful for my family and their support, for my training buddies who inspire me and have been by my side during this journey, and to my friends who tolerate my craziness.
Recently I was reminded how a simple act of courage can change me.
Labor Day weekend we were enjoying the day on the lake boating and skiing at lake of the Pines like I've done most Labor Day weekends since I was a child. The kids all went wakeboarding with their Uncle as I relaxed on the hammock on shore. The boat returned a short time later with a sense of panic and confusion and I was immediately summons to the dock to learn that my son, Gavin, had been run over by a boat! As I made my way to the dock I saw Gavin in his Mother's arms and all in one piece so my heart settled knowing that whatever had happened he was going to be okay. In the following stressful, foggy, emotional moments I learned the driver of the other boat had not been paying attention, came up behind Gavin after he had fallen while wakeboarding and with seconds to spare, noticed him in the water, shut off the engine then the boat went straight over Gavin. From the ski boat that Gavin was being pulled, his cousins and Uncle all saw him go under the boat, not knowing what was going to come out the other end. Their answer was not immediately provided as Gavin's wakeboard became caught between the propeller and rudder and he was dragged beneath the boat for a short period. After a few moments of being trapped under the boat he managed to just barely pull his head up at the back of the boat so he could get air with his legs still in the board stuck under the boat . When his Uncle jumped in to the water to help him he had no idea what Gavin's situation was and what was holding his legs under the boat. He pulled him free to find everything was intact and Gavin was going to be okay.
As a parent I wish I was there for him and could have helped him in any way possible but selfishly I'm almost glad I didn't see my Son being run over by a boat, not knowing what the outcome would be.
It was a difficult afternoon. All the kids that were in the boat were shaken up and our family definitely had one of those moments that make you realize what is really important.
The following morning we got up and pulled out the boat just like we have done every morning since I was a kid. I purposefully chose to be the driver on this morning. There was a tension in the air amongst the kids but the lake was quiet and not a lot of boats were out. The kids all took their turns and skied that morning while Gavin sat quietly bundled up in the bow of the boat. When everyone else had gone I asked him if he wanted a turn. He said Yes. I asked him what he wanted to do and he said he wanted to wakeboard. He asked that I come to the back of the boat with him while he got ready. He was shaking as he put on his board! Then he said, "I want to." Nobody else heard him say that....he just said it to me. Then he went out and skied around the lake just like he had done 100 times before. Later he and I talked about it and I tried to make him realized what he had done. Every kid in that boat saw Gavin get run over and was scared to death. That morning they all were looking over their shoulders for other boats and were not comfortable out there. But then Gavin went out and showed them it was going to be okay and he showed no fear to anyone but me as he unselfishly helped us all past that horrible feeling we experienced the day before.
He didn't want to go back out there that morning but he did what all heroes do.....and he did it for all of us more than he did it for himself and because he did we all were able to return to normal. He never asked for pity or even wanted anyone to know what happened. In fact, I had to get his special permission to be able to write this blog. I assured him nobody reads my blog.
As little as I want to sit here and write a race report on Badwater, something in the back of my mind is nagging me to get it done; for myself, for my team and for everyone who followed along with our journey. I don’t know why it has taken me so long to sit down and put the story to paper. Maybe it’s because I just don’t feel like the story has completely played out yet. It was a truly amazing experience and it was everything I’d hoped it would be but it wasn’t perfect so a little piece of me is still out there somewhere. And maybe I'm okay with that.
I'll get right to the story of my Badwater race but for background information on Franklin School's Go the Distance program and the Badwater Ultramarathon see our website at http://gothedistancerun.com/
I went into Badwater somewhat concerned with my fitness and I never would have told anyone before the race but I told my wife Sheri that this was the first time in my racing career that I was actually concerned that I might not make it. I had been dealing with injuries and other life issues throughout my training and was never able to put in the real crazy high mileage 120+ mile weeks I had planned. I did consistently do weekly long runs in the 30+ mile range but my performance on them was very hit and miss. I had some really bad runs where I wound up limping home pysically and mentally depleated and frustrated and I had some really good runs that showed me the endurance and fitness could be in there somewhere and it gave me hope but I just didn't know where I was physically. What I did know was that surviving the heat was the key to Badwater so I spent much of the 4 weeks before the race baking in the 180 degree sauna and sweating through Bikram Yoga sessions over and over. I heat trained beyond what most would considered adequate. In fact, I heat trained beyond what some experts, Doctors and race veterans would even consider healthy and it was suggested by several people that I back off or stop my extreme heat training routine as they thought I may be doing more harm than good. As the race day approached I felt completely ready mentally. I was in the right place and completely prepared to put it all on the line. Physically I had some doubts but I prepared a race plan and pace chart that was a best case scenario and I planned to run to my full potential, no matter what.
More than any other race I’ve done before, Badwater is so much a team event and I knew I had to rely 100% on the people I brought with me to get me from start to finish. My team consisted of my Father Ron, Wife Sheri, Sister Stacy, Brother-in-law Kevin, friend and Go the Distance Partner Gina, and a random guy I had never met named Colin who turned out to be a perfect pacer, great photographer and good friend. Every one of us were rookies at Badwater and not exactly sure what to expect but my Father had done his Badwater homework and put together a race plan for us and every member of the team performed phenomenally. There really are just no better people to have taking care of you during a race than your family. I knew my Wife, Dad, Sister and Brother-in-law were going to do everything in their power to make sure I had what I needed and would be as safe as possible. Gina and Colin each became a part of that family during those two days between Death Valley and Mt. Whitney.
A couple days before the race the team made their way to Death Valley in our rented white mini vans and we settled in at the hotel at Furnace Creek just 17 miles from the start line. I tried to just take it easy and adjust to the heat in the days leading up to the race. I recall the winds picking up one evening as we walked to get dinner and feeling like my eyeballs were burning from the hot dry breeze. Other than the burning eyeballs I felt pretty good and my team kept the mood light and fun but I’ll admit that inside there was a combination of excitement and fear about what was was to come for us all.
Race Day- I slept only about 4 hours the night before the race. I wish I could have got more, especially since I was in the 10:00am starting wave, but there was just too much going through my mind and it simply wasn’t going to happen. An hour before start time I went out to the vans to meet up with the team to make our way to the starting line. This is where Badwater really became a different and special race for me. The team was so excited and so prepared for what was about to happen. We took pictures and did some baseline medical tests and then all 7 of us made our way to the starting line in one van. The 17 mile drive to the start at Badwater Basin was a wave of overstimulation for me and I purposefully sat in the back corner of the van so I could avoid it as much as possible. There were runners from the 6am and 8am waves heading towards Furnace Creek and it was so incredible to think that would be me very soon. 94 runners in total would start the race. My team was so excited and joking and having a great time and I was somewhere in between having fun and retracting in order to get into that right mindset for the run. It was all starting to happen so fast. We arrived at the start, I did the required race weighed in for medical purposes, used the restroom, took the mandatory 10:00am starters wave photo in front of the Badwater sign and before I knew it, it was time to line up for the start. There was a strange feeling I had before going to the start line. I gave each of my team members a big hug as if I was leaving them for a while. I was pretty quiet and didn’t have a lot to say. I forget if it was my Dad or Sheri but I told one of them, "I’ll see you tomorrow.” At Badwater your team is with you the entire way and I’d actually be seeing them every mile but I felt as if as soon as I left that starting line I was going to check out and it would become mechanical and I'd simply execute the race plan, then we would all talk again the following day at the finish line. As Cris Kostman, the race director, started counting down from 10 I remember thinking that I couldn’t believe I was about to take the first steps of the Badwater Ultramarathon "The toughest footrace on the Planet". Then it was on. I settled in somewhere in the middle of the pack. After the first few miles I saw my team and they began to perfect the pit stop routine we would repeat each and every mile for the next 135 miles. I was doused with water, given two new water bottles filled with ice for dousing and drinking, fed the required calories, electrolytes balanced and ice poured in my shirt and hat. Then every hour I was weighed. All the data was then entered into the computer to make sure we kept the hydration, calories and electrolytes perfect the whole way. The team was amazing!
The first 17 miles were enjoyable and I ran in groups with other runners for a good portion of the way. We arrived back at Furnace Creek (mile 17) in 12th place although I didn’t know it at the time. I was just running what felt comfortable, wasn’t wearing a watch to check my pace or even caring what place I was in. Colin ran a few miles with me at this point as the team picked up the second chase vehicle and organized supplies. Then comes the stretch from Furnace Creek (17) to Stovepipe Wells (42) which has been labeled by many as the most difficult and important section of the course. They are the hottest miles straight through the heart of Death Valley and the team reported a high temperature of 119 degrees with a 15 mph headwind as we were approaching Stovepipe Wells. We did our first of many shoe changes in this section and the new cool shoes felt good on my feet. I can’t say if it was the intense heat training I had done or the incredible job my crew did in keeping me wet and iced but even though it was 119 degrees and other runners were wilting, I never reached a point where I felt overheated the entire day. Actually, I felt great and came into Stovepipe (42) a half hour ahead of schedule and looking forward to the 5000 foot climb up to Townes Pass over the next 18 miles. After 42 miles of flat hot running the climb up combined with the setting sun would provide relief from the desert heat. Just before Stovepipe I began to have pacers run with me. Sheri, Stacy, Gina and Colin are all marathon & ultra marathon runners and would take turns running with me through the remaining 100 miles. I don’t usually run with pacers when I race. I guess I’ve just never felt the need to have someone there to help or to push me. But I have to say the company was really nice and as we began to climb up the first of the three mountain ranges. I remember how good it felt as the sun began to set behind the mountain and I was able to remove the long sleeve white shirt that had been protecting me from the intense sun all day. Now a cool breeze passed over me and things were good. Somewhere along that 4 hour, 5000
foot climb. Sheri was with me and asked if I wanted to now about the race. Hmmmm…..My first reaction was to say no because I knew the best thing to do was to run my own race and not worry about what place I’m in until after mile 90 but I know her too well and the simple fact that she was asking if I wanted to know could only mean it was good news……so I said yes. As best they could tell I had moved into the top 10 and most of the front runners were within 30 minutes of me. I was definitely happy and encouraged but tried to just stick with my game plan. Most of the climb up Towne’s Pass was going really well but I began to have tightness in my lower back and hips that seemed to shorten my stride as it got worse. Several times we stopped and took the time to stretch and loosen up the back but it didn’t seem to be a big concern at the time. By the time we reached the summit it was just getting dark and I was getting tired of climbing. As we neared the summit I told my team I felt I needed to take a break at the top and regroup, stretch, eat, change shoes and just take a minute or two to so I could run well down the backside of the mountain. I sat for maybe 4 minutes and did a shoe and sock change and stretched and basically just tried to loosen up the muscles that have been climbing for 4 hours so they could now run again. The section from Towne’s pass (60) to Panamint Springs (72) is the biggest and really only real downhill on the course. I felt great in the early miles of the decent and really couldn’t have been more happy to be cruising down that mountain at what Gina said was close to a seven minute mile with Sheri pacing right behind. It may have been the best and most memorable part of the entire race for me. As we began to decend into Panamint Valley the temperature rose quickly. I clearly remember telling someone on my team that it feels like it is starting to warm up a little as we were reaching the bottom and them telling me,”Greg…it”s 97 degrees!” This was at 10:30 at night. I ran really hard down the hill. I felt good and I had passed another runner and moved up one position but the valley over to panamint seemed to take forever to cross. It was flat and easy but it was hot and I was getting tired and I felt something wasn’t quite right. The valley turns slightly upwards as you approach Panamint Springs (72)and I ran hard on all of it. By the time I reached Pamamint Springs(72) I was feeling unusually tired from the miles of fast paced running and was anxious to begin the 18 mile climb up to Darwin. The moon was nearly full and the landscape looked like something you would see on another planet. It was barren and rocky and the climb was long. Colin paced the entire way up that hill and we had some good conversations about life and at times I almost forgot I was 80 miles into a race. Somewhere along this section I began to have a few problems. My energy levels dropped quickly and at the same time my back and hips began to tighten up to the point that it felt like my hips were no longer twisting and it made the effort level increase substantially. Every few miles I would stop to stretch my back and try to loosen things up. At one point we tried to massage some Ben Gay into my lower back. This is when we realized that the ice that we had been putting in the back pockets of my shirt all day had actually rubbed my skin raw and the Ben Gay on the open skin quickly had me jumping up seaching for a way to get it off. The team felt really bad but in the dark they had no way of knowing what the ice had done. After a few moments of panic and pain we were able to wipe it off and the stinging slowly subsided. I’d have to say if it didn’t hurt so bad it actually would have been pretty funny. The back was manageable with frequent stretch breaks but I also was feeling really tired and just had no energy. So I asked for food! Not the Perpeteum paste that I’d been living on since the start but real food. I think I had a can of some sort of a rice and bean thing and then some Raviolis. I was a lot of food all at once and my Dad was concerned that I may not be able to handle it all at once but my stomach felt good and after a while the food began to kick in and my energy slowly returned and I was able to finish off the climb at a decent pace. The final miles of the climb actually begin to level off so I ran a portion of those miles. The combination of the altitude and the almost 90 miles of running that I had done that day made even the slightest grade feel like a lot of work. It seemed to take forever but we finally made it to the summit at Darwin (90). For at least the last 10 miles I knew I had developed blisters on the balls of both feet but I wanted to get to the top before taking off my shoes and assessing the damage. The team put out a chair and got to work. The quarter sized blisters on the balls of both feet were taped to help protect them and a blister on a toe on my right foot the size of a grape was lanced. The blisters were uncomfortable but at that point everything was uncomfortable so we put fresh shoes and socks on and we were on our way to Lone Pine.
My entire race plan revolved around running well from Darwin (90) to Lone Pine (122). It was all downhill or pretty flat and it was late in the race so I knew this section would separate those who took care of themselves in the first 90 miles and those who didn’t. I think I took pretty good care of myself but I also know that being up in the top 10 made me push a little harder than normal. I was in the hunt and that kept the competitive juices flowing. I was on the edge but keeping it together. I enjoyed the first 10 miles of this section as it was a nice steady decent but not too steep that it trashed your legs. My pacers took turns running with me and keeping me company. Each one of them had their own unique qualities that kept me motivated, focused and happy. Somewhere around mile 98 we picked up another position and I believe that moved us into 7th position. As the sun came up the road began to level out and gravity was no longer helping me with the pace and the effort became harder. Every time the road turned even slightly upward it would suck the energy right out of me. By around 9am I was working really hard to get through the remaining flat, runnable miles to Lone Pine before making the climb up Whitney. With just a few small rolling hills I had pushed a bit too hard and I needed to stop and regroup. I was disappointed because I knew I should have walked the hills before getting to that point but I was determined to keep the pace up all the way to Lone Pine. I took maybe 5 minutes to sit and drink and eat and try to figure out how to get things moving again. I got up and walked a mile, then sat again. I walked a second mile then sat. By the third mile I was able to shuffle along somewhere between a walk and a jog and over the next several miles I had made a recovery back to a decent jog but this had taken almost an hour and I traveled only a few miles. My energy levels were low but my stomach was good so I called for more calories in hopes that it would give me the boost I desperately needed to get me to the finish. The remaining miles into Lone Pine (122) were uneventful. They were hard and the pace wasn’t terribly fast but it was consistent and I was closing in on the finish. Badwater can be such a mentally difficult race. Running across Death Valley you can see for miles and miles ahead. The mountains rise up from the desert floor with not a single tree to obstruct you view of exactly where you have to go. And as you come down from Darwin you can see the finish line at Mt. Whitney for nearly 30 miles and it just never seems to get any closer.
I was so happy to finally be making the right hand turn onto Highway 174 to Lone Pine (122).I didn’t remember it being that far to town when we drove it the day before but when we did finally arrived it really lifted my energy level to be running down the street through the only real populated town along the way. People were just going about their daily lives but some knew those strange white shrouded runners had started at badwater Basin 122 miles away and would look up from what they were doing to shout out a few words of encouragement or give a honk as they drove by. We passed through the checkpoint at Lone Pine and learned one of the leaders had staked out with an injury and we were now in 6th place. Then we made that final left turn that would take us 5000 vertical feet up Mt Whitney over the next 12.5 miles. The grade starts very gradual and knowing I was right on the edge I began to power hike the climb almost from the beginning. Within the first mile I felt the strain of the hill and the heat of the early afternoon sun and I recall telling Colin, who was pacing me at the time, “this is going to be tough”. With each mile I began to slow more and more without any control over the situation. I tried eating and drinking as much as I could. I’d take short breaks in hopes that something would come back to life and I’d regain the energy but nothing was there. The best way I could describe it was that my brain was over-riding my will and slowly dimming the power and the lights were slowly going dark. By mile five of the 12.5 mile climb I was in pretty bad shape. Sheri was walking with me and the crew in the van would drive up ahead and wait. It was everything I could do to continue moving forward and it took every bit of my concentration to focus on the road in front of me. Walking was no longer an automatic reflex and I had to think about the placement of each foot as if they were not connected to my body. As I stared at the aggregate road just a few feet in front me, the spot I was focused on was amazingly clear while everything else around it was blurred. Something as simple as balance was no longer taken for granted and I could feel my body literally shutting off. So many thoughts were going through my head but the lack of blood to my brain was making me question all of them. I had to think about each little step. I began to worry about Sheri and what she would do if I did lose consciousness and the crew was a ways up the road. So I told her she should be carrying a radio to call the crew in case something happens. I know she knew I was in bad shape but I think it bothered her to hear me say that. Okay, I know it bothered her to hear me say that. So I grabbed her hand and we walked up the mountain holding hands. She never would have showed it at the time but she later told me that underneath her sunglasses were tears. I also had to give thought to what the best course of action is to get me to the finish line. I had to face reality that if I continued doing what I was doing I was eventually going to pass out. I just knew it. I could feel it coming. If that happened, would I be able to recover from it and still finish? Would the medics allow me to go back out if that happened? I looked up at the mountain and the nearly 4000 vertical feet and 7 miles and realized that something will have to change in order for me to get up there. The grade was just going to get steeper, the altitude higher and the air thinner and my condition was getting worse with each step. I told Sheri I needed to take an extended break and see if I could recover. The crew saw me coming and could tell I was struggling badly and already had the chair out for me to sit by the time I got to them. They immediately covered me in cold towels and sprayed me down. With his experience as an EMT, Kevin did everything he could to access my condition. Looking back it must have been an incredibly helpless feeling for my team to not be able to fix me. My heart rate wouldn’t go above 100 and my blood pressure was slowly coming down and I could feel it and began to sink deeper into the chair. I knew it was going to be a while before I’d be getting up again. After 10-15 minutes in the chair we made the decision to move me to a horizontal position on a cot in the shade. It was demoralizing but I knew I had no choice in the matter. Either I was going to lie down voluntarily or my body would make me lay down the hard way. I had to accept the fact that mile 128.3 would be the end of my racing day. So as I laid there on the
cot at mile 128.3 I simply changed goals and finishing would now become my objective. I never doubted that I would finish. It was something that I was going to do no matter what, for myself, for my team and for all the kids at Franklin School who were following my race. After more than 30 minutes of rest I tried to stand to see if I would be able to start my way up the hill again. My crew grabbed my arms and helped me to my feet but after maybe just 10 seconds I sat back down. Not because I was going to pass out, just because I could tell it wasn’t there. The balance, the energy, the coordination were all still extremely compromised and I wasn’t going to get too far in that condition. I think that was pretty hard on everyone there. They had watched me fight through the 120 temps of Death Valley the previous day and the two 5000 foot mountain ranges throughout the night but this time there was nothing left. Eventually the decision was made to bring me down the mountain, get me out of the heat and get some medical attention. It wasn’t a hard decision but it wasn’t what anyone wanted with just 7 miles to the finish line. Kevin drove the stake in the ground with my #43 on it and I left knowing I’d be back for it before the 10am cut off the following morning. The medical personnel asked lots of questions and drew some blood for testing. The greatest compliment to my crew was that my blood work came back perfect. Not good, but perfect. 26 hours of running, 6500 calories and over 7 gallons of water and my Hydration, electrolytes, glucose were all spot on! So what was my problem? Pure exhaustion. Central command was simply shutting me down to protect me from myself.
I was released from medical with the okay to return when I’m ready. We checked into our hotel which was just a few blocks away and I took some time to eat, drink, shower and just get things right before going back out to finish. I didn’t know when that would be but I knew I’d go back out and get it done. After a couple of hours the food and rest began to do their job and was feeling like I could probably slowly make my way to the top of the mountain but a few of the crew had taken naps and it was the heat of the day so I made the decision to wait until a little later when it had cooled a bit and then we would all go back out and enjoy our 7 mile hike to the finish. And we did. The sun was setting behind Mt. Whitney and we were ready to finish this thing. I started very slow and cautions not knowing how much I had in the tank but after the first couple miles I knew I was going to be fine and that put the whole team at ease to see me enjoying the remaining miles and not struggling with them. We passed a few other runners who were having a hard time and had been on their feet for the last 33 hours. I almost felt guilty at how good I felt after my 6 hour recovery. As we approached the finish line I made sure that every member of my team was there to run across the finish line with me because this truly was a team effort. Every one of them was a very important component of the team and each had a hand in getting us all to the finish. After 34:06 the Go the Distance team crossed the finish line arm in arm for a 20th place finish.
Without a doubt, Badwater is special! It’s unlike any race I’d ever run before. It pushed me to physical limits I’ve never seen before. It also might be the first time that I didn’t achieve my performance goals but was still completely satisfied with my performance. My race ended at mile 128.3 and I came up just a few miles short of exceeding all of my expectations. I can accept that. I gave it absolutely everything I had and if I had the option to push through the pain and continue up the hill I certainly would have. But my body decided that some things are more important than finishing 6th….. and I guess I have to agree. However, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t just that little part of me that wonders how things would have gone if I would have been able to train as hard as I had planned. Would it have been enough to get me up Mt. Whitney? How much faster could I have crossed Death Valley or how much better would I have done in the mountains? So yes, anyone who knows me will tell you........there might be a little unfinished business at Badwater.
Badwater is just days away and the feeling of calmness is beginning to settle in. It's a feeling that comes along with the realization that there is simply nothing more that you can do to prepare yourself for what is about to happen. The months of training are done, the crew is ready, the race plan is complete and all arrangements have been made. So what else is there other than to accept what I've created for myself physically and focus on making sure I'm 100% ready mentally. That quiet focus that sets in the days before is a difficult feeling to explain but it's something that I think is important for me leading up to a race like Badwater. It's almost as if my body knows what torture awaits it and begins blocking out other distractions and storing up energy. My resting heart rate slows. I feel like I have very little energy and have almost a nonchalant attitude about the big race. You would think that as the race got closer I'd begin to get more excited and nervous but it is almost the opposite that happens. Don't get me wrong, I can't wait to experience Badwater and feel the satisfaction of the greatest physical challenge of my life but in the days leading up to it you wouldn't know it by my actions. The lack of energy and enthusiasm heading into a big race used to concern me a little but I've come to accept it as something that is just a part of my normal race routine and it's maybe one of the single most important phases of my preparation. Over the next few days I'll pack my bags and make my way down to Death Valley a couple days before the race. Then settle in and await the storm that is Badwater.
We are down to the last 4 weeks until race day and I've entered the final phase of my training for Badwater, heat training! Can you ever really get used to running in that kind of heat? Probably not. But, with proper heat training you can actually make changes to how your body deals with extreme temperatures. The most significant change that happens within your body is the increase in blood plasma. This can happen in just a few weeks of intense heat training. Since your body cools itself by pumping blood to the skin where it is cooled by sweat and air, adding blood plasma is a lot like adding more coolant to the radiator of a car. It just works more efficiently. The body will also begin to increase the amount of sweat and initiate sweating sooner to help cool things down. Another significant difference in the heat acclimated person is the sodium levels in your sweat. Sweat actually begins to taste less salty as the body begins to conserve those all important electrolytes.
So how am I making these changes happen within myself? I'm taking both an active and passive approach to heat acclimation and by race day I'll be shivering when it's 90 degrees!
A couple months ago I began doing hot yoga mostly to improve flexibility and secondly to acclimate to the heat. Little did I know.....it is really HOT. My first experience was humbling and just surviving the 90 minutes was an accomplishment. Over time it has become more comfortable and I've even done a few back to back sessions which winds up being 3 1/2 hours in the hot humid yoga room. I have to admit I was a bit apprehensive about doing yoga at first but hot yoga is the real deal and I'd recommend it to anyone.
Beginning last week I started the real intense portion of the heat acclimation and have been making a daily trip to the dry sauna at the local gym. I'm currently barely able to handle 45 minutes in the 180 degree sauna but will hopefully be comfortable in this heat for up to an hour just a few weeks from now. It is amazing how the heat elevates your heart rate and drains your energy while sweat drips from your body in a constant stream. The minutes begin to feel like hours and when I finally leave the sauna I feel like I've run a marathon.
Then there is the passive heat training which entails adding heat to my normal daily activities. For previous races much of my heat training would consist of driving around in my truck in the Summer time with my heater on. It can be a bit awkward at times when you roll up to a stoplight and the person in the car next to you looks over to see you sitting there with sweat pouring off your face. Nevertheless it is an effective way to spend an extended period of time in a hot environment. I just schedule my out of office appointments (when I don't have to meet with anyone) for the end of the day, crank up the heater and train. So one day I was curious how hot it was in my car and I brought my digital thermometer. Unfortunately, at 125 degrees the LED display started to not work so I went looking for a another thermometer that could handle the heat. The only other one we had was a meat thermometer. I never did find out exactly how hot it got in my truck but I do know it was hotter than a cooked ham in there.
Then there are the afternoon runs in the heat of the day just to get used to running in the heat. To increase the body temperature a little I'll wear several layers of clothing with a black outer layer to amplify the heat of the sun.
To be honest, none of this sounds like a whole lot of fun to me but I know that without it I wouldn't stand a chance of finishing a race like Badwater. And maybe there is that small part of me that likes the idea of trying something new and seeing how much I can take and how well I can adjust to extreme heat.
I've always run well in hot weather. My race results in hot temperatures are likely what got me into Badwater. But I've never really felt what it's like to run 135 miles in temperatures over 120 degrees with surface temperatures over 180 degrees. So this weekend I'm taking a trip to Death Valley to see what it's going to be like. My Dad (Crew Chief) and I are driving down Friday night and will do what I would call experimental running on the Badwater course with the intention of seeing what we are up against and dialing in the hydration needs and planning our race strategy. I know that after this weekend, after running and seeing much of the course we will come home with a very real picture of what we are up against and what it's like to run in real hot weather...... Badwater hot.
After 11 years at Franklin school, teaching and coaching Cross Country and Track, Mr. Muth will be moving on at the end of this school year. It truly is the end of an era and he will be missed. To quote another Franklin parent, "He is an icon at Franklin." That is how the parents and more importantly the kids of Franklin view this teacher.
Having younger kids who had not yet had Mr. Muth as a teacher but just a Coach, I only recently got to know him and realized the difference he has made to this school. My first taste of his influence came last year, a few months before my Go the Distance run. I had created a Facebook page for the event so I could update the parents, kids and community on the plans and progress we were making. After a month or so I had roughly 75 fans of the Go the Distance page and they were mostly parents and local runners. One day at school I was having a conversation with Mr. Muth and mentioned the Facebook page. Being an avid runner and huge supporter of Franklin School, he inquired about how to find it on facebook and how he could start following that page. Great teacher but not terribly advance at Facebook! So I got home and sent him a link to the page and walked him through the process. The following day I was happy to see he had in fact become a fan of the Go the Distance Facebook page and would be keeping up with things as they evolved. Then it happened! Over the next few days the number of fans more than doubled! Every one of the the new fans were Franklin kids or former student of his! I declared it the Mr. Muth Bump. Weeks prior, I had been around to all the classrooms and told the kids about what I was going to do and tried to get them behind it but the simple fact that Mr. Muth supported Go the Distance and became a fan led the entire student body to buy into it. Imagine the benefits in being a teacher that has that kind of influence and respect of their students. I firmly believe that a teacher's job goes beyond reading the words from a text book and in order to teach a kid you need to connect with that kid.
Since then I've had the opportunity to get to know Mr. Muth much better and each week I spend a few hours on the trails running and talking with him and his wife Jessica. (favorite and definitely the most comical run of the week....maybe ask him the lizard story sometime) Recently I listened as he struggled with the decision to take an opportunity teaching at another school. What stood out to me the most was the weight he put on the fact that he would be letting some kids down by going to a new school. The move was clearly a good opportunity for him but he was distraught with the fact he wouldn't be there for some of the kids coming into the upper grades and that made his decision very difficult. A perfect example of a teacher who is there for the kids first and therefore has earned their trust and respect.
As Franklin loses an icon, I just wanted to take the opportunity to thank Mr. Muth for the years he has spent at Franklin, not only teaching and coaching, but also for leaving a lasting impression on the kids of what a teacher should be.
An ironically appropriate title for a blog post about a race through one of the hottest places on Earth, but in this case the fire I'm referring to has nothing to do with Badwater and everything to do with a feeling inside of me. It's an all consuming feeling of intensity, fear, happiness, commitment and satisfaction that has to become a part of me as I approach a run like this. I can't really say that I choose when the fire will start to burn hot, but it always happens.
My preparation for Badwater has been unconventional to say the least. There have been a number of physical and personal hurdles that have prevented what I would call a typical build up in preparation for the race. But within the last couple weeks a lot of things have begun to come together for me and for Go the Distance and I am finally feeling like this is real and Go the Distance~Badwater has taken hold of me. The fire is beginning to burn hot.
After almost no running while recovering from an Achilles tendon tear for 5 weeks, I've put together a couple good weeks of training with some runs in the 30 mile range. I have been pleasantly surprised to find out that the 20+ hours a week of biking and cross training while injured have maintained a decent fitness base and the legs are beginning to come around. With 11 weeks to go, I'm confident I can get to where I want to be physically. I'm not sure I would have been able to say that a month ago. The intensity of my training will now pick up substantially and everything from my pace to the beat coming from my ipod will pick up tempo.
The annual Franklin School Dinner Auction is this Saturday and we will be presenting Go the Distance~ Badwater to the parents and then to the kids at an Assembly on May 13th. We have been working on a great promo video that has really come together this week and I'm excited for the kids, parents and staff to see it. Link to the video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ruwGOxDMtX4 I also just saw the design for the t-shirts that will be made available to everyone and I can't wait to see the kids walking around school with their GTD/ Badwater shirts on. They look really cool! (sneak peek - see pic above!)
This week the starting waves were posted for the race and I found out I'll be starting in the final starting heat at 10am. The significance of this is that they intentionally start the fast guys last. It will be a thrill and an honor to stand at the Badwater starting line with some of the best ultra distance runners in the world. That was the starting wave I'd hoped to be in and the people I felt I should be running with.
As if I needed more things happening this week to help light the fire within me, the Sacramento Bee ran the first of a series of stories they will do on Go the Distance and what it takes to prepare for and finish an extreme race like Badwater. Link to the article here. http://bit.ly/kxv6uq
I guess I feel like the last few months have all just led up to this. I'm ready to release Go the Distance~ Badwater to the Franklin community and to light the fire within me. The legs and body are feeling stronger and more importantly the head and the heart feel right for the first time in quite a while. I'm ready to make the total commitment to training until July 11th at which time I'll stand at the starting line in Death Valley hoping the fire inside me is burning hotter than the scorching temperatures of Badwater!
The other day I was asked, “How do you get to Badwater?” I responded that you drive your car out to the middle of Death Valley and follow the signs. They replied, “No, I mean in your mind. How do you get to a point in your mind where you decide that running 135 miles from Death Valley through one of the most inhospitable places on earth to the highest mountain in the lower 48 states in temps up to 130 degrees is a good idea and something that you want to do? That question was a little bit more difficult to answer.
After I walked away from that conversation the question stuck in my mind. I thought back to a early March when I was completing my race application to find that answer. When I first came up with the idea to run Badwater this year as my Go the Distance run for Franklin School, my initial hurdle was to get myself into the race. Each year only 100 people are invited to compete in this race and it all starts with the application process. It really isn’t a race application but more like a resume. Each runner who wants to participate will complete a thorough application that includes the listing of your race experience and finsh times and placement as well as a number of essay questions. The questions ask you to predict your finish time and give evidence to support your claims. They ask if you will be running for a charity and which one. They ask if you will be bringing any media attention to the event and maybe most importantly it asks why you want to run Badwater? Why? I felt that this was an important question and a good answer to this one might be my ticket into the race. After a lot of thought, here is how I answered that question:
Badwater has been on my mind for several years now and I guess I’ve always known that one day I’d be filling out this application. I want to run Badwater for all the same reasons I began doing ultramarathons in the first place. Running is the purest challenge I can find. It is just me against the distance, the course and the elements. I don’t race a lot. I’m not that interested in lining up every other weekend and giving a casual effort. I’d prefer to choose a race and plan and prepare for it for 6 months and let that race become my focus, my obsession. The obsession that gets me out of bed to exercise long before the sun comes up. The obsession that makes me eat right and take care of myself. The obsession that fills my mind with positive thoughts. Badwater is the premiere extreme endurance event in this country and it is the ultimate challenge and it was just a matter of time before it would become my obsession. I think the Badwater Ultramarathon suits my running very well. The longer the race gets the better I tend to do. I don’t have the leg speed of some of the faster guys but I do handle hot conditions very well and I believe I spend far more time and effort than most planning my race strategy. Badwater isn’t the kind of race where you can just show up fit and run well. The training, preparation and planning need to be specifically focused on just this race. Creating a realistic plan and executing it is what I believe gives me an advantage over some others I’ve raced against. Planning for and completing a challenge has always been very rewarding to me but last year I found a reward with my running that was far greater than winning any race. Just months after losing my Mother to cancer in late 2009 I spent some time reflecting on my own life and I decided I needed to do something bigger than myself. About that time my kids school made the announcement that due to severe budget cuts the entire District Physical Education program was pink slipped for the following year. It became my mission to see that the Heath and Fitness programs would have the funding needed to continue and with that Go the Distance 24-hour run was born. On April 22, 2010 I began a 24-hour 128.75 mile run right on the track at my kids school. With school budget cuts being a hot media topic at the time, the event was covered by all 4 television news outlets in the Sacramento area and was picked up by CNN and MSNBC for two days. The event also included a 5k Fun run for the kids and families and 500 people came out to join me on the track that evening. In the end, with the support of sponsors, families and the community, we brought in nearly $30,000. Other schools in the District and local Foundations made their own contributions to the District as well and together we raised the funds needed to ensure there were no cuts to the Loomis Physical Education Department. Crossing that finish line I learned something about myself. I learned that this is who I wanted to be. I want to use my running to motivate, inspire and help others. As we all know the state budget issues have not improved and there will continue to be a need for me and Franklin school to "Go the Distance" to subsidize the District Budget again next year.Go the Distance has become my way of being the person I want to be. It has become my obsession and I need to run Badwater this year for these kids. I guess I’ll never know if my answer to the question “Why do you want to run Badwater?” had anything to do with my invitation to this race but I’m glad they asked it because it gave me opportunity to really think about “Why”. Maybe now I should spend some time thinking about the question “How do you get to Badwater?”
Sometimes in life things happen that you are never prepared for. Sometimes you find things you were not even looking for and they make you realize there has been more out there for you than you knew. I’m not a big fan of the saying that things happen for a reason or in destiny. I’d prefer to believe that we all dictate our own path in life. But I can’t help but think that Go the Distance happened to me for a reason. Go The Distance 2010 and everything that came along with it was powerful experience for me and something that changed who I wanted to be as a person. As if I were being subtly nudged along by an angel, I completely bought in to my own message and want that message to continue in me and within Franklin School. Just days after the 24 hour Go the Distance run, I was sitting down with Gina Anixter and we discussed a future for the Go the Distance event and the Go the Distance message and decided it was something that needed to continue.
The commitment I made to this event in 2010 was all consuming and frankly overwhelming for me and for my family. I only knew one way to do something like this and that was to go “all in”. The 20 plus hours a week of training was just a fraction of the amount of time I spent planning the event and soliciting money and sponsors. In the end, the satisfaction I felt from it was worth every bit of the time, blood, sweat, tears and pain that went into it. But, as with all things in life there has to be a balance. I’d like to see Go the Distance and the message it sends continue on in some capacity even long after my kids have moved on from Franklin. It is my intention to continue to use my running and Go the Distance to motivate and inspire people as well as to raise money for Franklin School.
With that said, my own 2011 Go the Distance run will not take place at Franklin School. I’ve been selected to compete in one of the most prestigious extreme endurance events in the world, the Badwater Ultramarathon. From the official Badwater website:
Recognized globally as "the world's toughest foot race," this legendary event pits approximately 90 of the world's toughest athletes—runners, triathletes, adventure racers, and mountaineers—against one another and the elements. Covering 135 miles (217km) non-stop from Death Valley to Mt. Whitney, CA in temperatures up to 130F (55c), it is the most demanding and extreme running race offered anywhere on the planet.
The opportunity to do this race is something that I can’t pass up and it will be by far my most challenging run ever. I will run this race on behalf of Go the Distance and the kids of Franklin School and intend to raise money for the school and raise awareness for Health and Physical Fitness.
I hope to bring Go the Distance back to the track of Franklin School in 2012 with a bigger and better event which will involve and challenge the kids, parents and community even more than before.
Until then, I hope you will follow along with my journey to Badwater. Through this blog, website http://gothedistancerun.com/Badwater.php , twitter and facebook, I’ll be sharing my training, race plan, excitement, concerns and fears as I prepare to Go the Distance one more time!
It’s been over a month since Go the Distance and I still have not sat down and put my thoughts down on paper like I had planned to do. I’m having a very difficult time putting my thoughts together on this event and my words are not really able to capture all that it has meant to me. With that said I wanted to put something down on paper so I went back to an outline I had put together for the Go the Distance appreciation assembly that was held at the Franklin Gym one week after the event. I did my best to take that outline and recreate basically what I said during my 20 minute speech that day.
Do you know what I wish? I wish that everyone here could have felt what it has been like to be me for the past week. It would change your life. It has changed mine.
Just hours into the 24-hour run I was accompanied by Erika Small, one of the key Go the Distance team members. Erika said to me,”did you ever imagine it would be like this?” I knew the answer she expected to get but my reply was something different. I responded to her, “Yes, this is how I imagined it.” When you are planning an event and you picture it in your head you always visualize it at its best. Saturday after the event I sent Erika another email saying that I had changed my answer I gave her 48 hours earlier. I expected the media at the start and the kids going wild and band being great and the 5k having 500 participants and all those other things. What I didn’t see coming were the intangibles and emotional effect this event would have on the kids, the participants and the entire community. It touched a nerve in people and had a deeper effect than I ever imagined. I’ve heard countless stories from people who were moved to tears. It brought the school together like I’ve never seen before. Go the Distance transcended the run and the event and became a movement.
I had a lot riding on this event. It was my creation and my family’s name and reputation were all over it. For media purposes I made a huge commitment and “I called my shot”. I not only said I am going to run for 24 hours but that I’m going to run 125 miles in 24 hours. I knew that was what the media wanted to hear. There was certainly added pressure put on me to reach that distance. Most of that pressure was applied by me. Nobody would have called the run a failure if I only reached 120 miles but it was important to me. As a result, stress levels were very high and sleep was minimal in the weeks leading up to the run. The tension built when the media picked up as the day got closer. In the two nights prior to the event I got nine hours of sleep. From Tuesday morning to Friday morning (72 hours) I slept a total of 9 hours.
The night before the run I got 4 hours sleep and woke up at 1:15 not able go back to sleep so I began the slow methodical process of getting ready. It was actually a relief to be getting in the car and driving to the school. It was a busy morning for everyone and things came together as planned. I was wishing I had more alone time to prepare but I was running around answering questions, medical checks and doing media stuff right up to the time when I was handed the microphone to say a few words to the kids and families that came out. I can’t tell you exactly what I said but I know the message was something about the fact that this event has long outgrown me and it is now about a school and a community coming together to make a difference. At the time I had no idea how right I would be proven to be.
I won’t bore you with the hour by hour details of what I was thinking or doing but there were events that stood out in my mind throughout the day that I feel are important to share.
I enjoyed running with every class as they came out for their PE for the day. It was a great distraction and constant entertainment. If I were in a race it would have been a terrible distraction but this was not a race. What stands out to me now is the fact that the kids wanted to talk to me. Not like an adult or like a teacher but like a friend. Early in the day I was running with the 8th graders. I’d been into the classrooms in the weeks prior and asked who was planning on coming out to the Thursday evening 5k and festivities. A few hands “casually” went up, as 8th grade hands do. That’s cool, I expected that. But when I asked the same question on the track I got a different answer. There was enthusiasm. They wanted to be a part of this. I knew the older kids were in! Then it was time to run with the kindergarteners. What a wonderful mess that was! Sure enough first lap a kid is running in front of me looking back and goes down right in front of me and the herd of 40 charging kindergarteners. We managed not to trample him and pressed on. I learned the names of all their pets and each of their Birthdays and several other random facts about each one before we parted ways. With that I knew the little kids were in! The same story goes for each grade. There was a feeling that most of them wanted to be there and were excited about what was happening. I took energy from knowing that the message that we were trying to send just might get through to some of them.
As the day pressed on and the evening approached I began to feel the wear of 40 plus miles starting to have an effect. Just before the start of the 5k I had so many eyes on me and I was at a point where I needed a quick break to fill up on calories and fluid but I didn’t take the time that I should have to make sure I had everything right. When I headed out on the 5k course for 3 loops I was already low on hydration and calories and the half hour away from the track took a toll on me. The good news is that I knew exactly what I needed. I finished the 5k and told my Dad, “I’m thirsty, I’m hungry and I’m wiped out.” He calmly said “okay”, and began to fix the problem. I stopped and put down 300 calories, 12 oz of water 450 mg of sodium and he sent me on my way with another 10 oz of water to finish over the next few laps. I told Gina I’d like an escort and she ran in front of me for about 20 minutes or so before the fueling began to kick in and I came back around. It doesn’t take much to get off on the fueling and feel the effects. Before long I was feeling a little better but the miles were slowly taking their toll.
I loved the music. Mother Mayhew was awesome and sounded great. But, by the time it began to get dark and the people began to clear out I was also ready for the circus to leave town and to get to work on what would be the most difficult pat of this run, the darkness. There is a saying in the ultrarunning world that in a 100 mile race you run the first 50 with you legs and the second 50 with you mind. In a 24 hour run I would say you run the first 12 hours with your legs and the second 12 with you mind. It was time for the mind to take over. Strangely I don’t have any great stories to tell from the night. It was a surreal experience and I just put my head down and did what I had to do. Many people came out to join me throughout the night and most of the time the company was welcome. Some time shortly after midnight I began to sink into rough patch and asked to run alone for a while. I loved the fact that so many people were willing to join me and help me through the night but there comes a time where nobody can help and I have to turn inwards and close out all outside distractions. At this point I was no longer making decisions but rather relying 100% on my crew or my Father and Brother-in-law to make those decisions for me. Sheri commented that she felt like she was playing the part of Mother of the Bride with so many people asking her questions about me. She was calm and ensured everyone that I was doing fine even when it may have appeared that I was struggling. Sheri has seen worse and says she can tell my condition from my eyes. My Dad says he can tell from my speech. My Brother-in-law / EMT says he can tell from my vital signs. What a team!
My Dad and I had a plan going into this thing. Every lap was calculated on a pace chart and assuming we stuck with the plan I would reach 125 miles with 30 minutes to spare. The plan was to take it easy during the day and enjoy the company of everyone around me. I would run very conservatively and try and remain reasonably social through 8:30 pm on Thursday. Once everyone left I would get down to business and we both expected that things might get a little messy through the night. Once we knew that I would make the 125 miles I would slowly begin to shut it down and back off the pace so that I would be able to compose myself and grab the microphone and speak to the kids after the run. That was important to me and I was willing to sacrifice a few miles so that I would be able to address them at the end. To our surprise five media trucks began arriving in the 4:00 hour and stopping and walking was no longer an option for me. I did slow the pace a bit but could not bring myself to take any extended breaks or walk with the cameras present. As it turned out the slowing of the pace along with the rising of the sun and gathering of the crowd gave me the amazing boost of energy I needed to finish this thing off.
April 23, 2010
At about 23 hours and 15 minutes I completed the lap that put me at 125 miles. Nobody there really knew how important that lap was to me. It was even far more important than the last lap. From here on in it was all celebration and I did my best to enjoy the moment even though I was very uncomfortable. As the final laps wore down everything came together as it should. I ran a few laps with Gina and we quietly gave each other a little pat on the back for what we have accomplished with Go the Distance. She was also exhausted from being up all night and running this show and at that moment, as we slowly made our way around the track I felt as if we had run every step side-by-side from the very beginning. Then my family joined me for a bit and I was able to see the pride in my kids eyes as we slowly jogged past a cheering crowd. Finally the Osborne girls joined me for what would be the final lap. The girls and I talked throughout during the lap but I couldn’t tell you what was said. My mind was focused on what I had been through over the last 24 hours and everything it has taken over the last 6 months to get to this point. As we rounded the final curve all the hairs on my arms began to stand and that tingling feeling overcame my entire body. At this moment there was no pain, only numbness from head to toe. It was as it I felt every emotion at one instance and then it was over.
With those final steps I accomplished my goal, a goal that I set 6 months prior. The goal that I had spent over 500 hours preparing for. In order to accomplish this goal I had to be willing to go to a place that most people have never been and most will never go; their outer limits of mental and physical possibilities. What I’ve learned from doing these runs is not that I can push myself to my limit. What I learned is that my limit is way further out than I ever imagined it was. Every time I think I can’t go another step but find a way to do it I learn that I am stronger than I know. It’s like exploring space. People used to think the universe was what was in front of them. As we have begun to explore space, the more we learn the more we understand there is so much more out there than we ever realized. And there is more out there than you realize. You can do far more than you realize. Your mind and your body are an amazing vehicle that will take you anywhere you want to go if you take care of it and you are willing to work for it. It may even take you places that you never imagined were possible.
A few weeks ago our photographer James Pratt asked me to come up with a motivational saying and write it down on a piece of paper and sign it. He was going to emboss it on a photo and offer it on his website. I put it off for a while but eventually decided I would do it. But what would I say? There is a saying that I really liked that goes, “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go." By T.S. Eliot. The only problem was that I couldn’t use it because it is too wordy and it would be plagiarism. So I began to take the quote and break it down to its basic meaning and I came up with these three words, “Challenge the Impossible”. I liked it but I needed to run it by my brain trust, Gavin. I said to Gavin, “What do you think of this motivational quote, Challenge the Impossible?” He thought about it for about a second and a half and said, “That’s dumb Dad, why would you challenge the impossible? If it is impossible why would you bother doing it?” That’s when I knew it was perfect.
I had a number of people that I needed to thank. Principle Shawn Shaw for never hesitating for a second to allow this to happen. Jason Harper for the guidance and encouragement and warning me on the effect of running for a reason. To my crew: Brother-in-law Kevin Guerrero and my Dad for standing at attention for every lap and making sure everything was taken care of and putting my safety and needs first. To my family, Sheri, Garret and Gavin for the encouragement, never doubting me and putting up with everything that has gone into this event. Nobody knows how much they have sacrificed and how much of my time they have given up to allow this to happen. I had two very special people that I thanked and presented with a nice photo collage and flowers. Michelle Guardino, Thank you. You have no idea how good you really are as you quietly just get the job done. I’m sure that every teacher in the school will testify to this. Gina Anixter, my partner from the beginning, Thank you. Go the Distance will continue at Franklin but only if you are willing to do it with me.
Go the Distance became more than a fundraiser. It became a movement and it sent a message. Where you wind up in life is a result of all the little decisions you make every day of your life. Each day you wake you have a choice to take the easy way, the way that you are comfortable with. Or you can take the path that may be a little more difficult. The way that may have some mountains to climb but the way that will lead you to where you want to be. So each day you make a choice, the easy way, the path of less resistance, or the hard way, the path that leads you to the top of the mountain. So what’s it going to be? Will you choose to take the path of less resistance or will you choose to Go the Distance? Make the right choice. Climb that mountain. Go the Distance.
On April 22, 2010 I began a 24-hour, 128.75 mile run for the kids of Franklin School. Go the Distance Run raised over $25,000 for health and fitness programs. More than that it transcended the run and inspired a community www.gothedistancerun.com.