Tuesday, March 8, 2011

How do you get to 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?”