Home in the Colorado mountains, the heat and challenges of Death Valley seem almost a dream. Or, is it a nightmare? For some runners, the latter proved to be more accurate at this year’s Badwater Ultramarathon, as 15 of the 96 competitors did not finish (DNF), including several veterans. Many people have asked: Why? Why more DNFs this year? I’ve given this a fair amount of thought and would like to share some ideas.
First, every time I do Badwater I’m reminded that running 135 miles across Death Valley in the heat of summer is never a given. For me it’s a privilege to have competed the Adventure Corps race once again, and I’m grateful to race director Chris Kostman for continuing to put on a world-class event. I’m also grateful to my crew: Perry Gray, Roger Kaufhold, Jill Andersen, and Karen Risch ; and to the desert – and the mountain – for helping me along the way and allowing me to complete the journey.
This year, going up Townes Pass was especially challenging, both physically and mentally. Just after Stovepipe Wells at about mile 42 and at sea level, runners have to travel almost 17 miles to the 4,965-summit of Townes Pass (with Father Crowley’s and Mount Whitney still ahead; Badwater is not a flat race!). At about mile 50 I began to ask myself, “Why the hell am I doing this again?” In the heat of the moment (pun intended) it’s typical to question why anyone would want to compete in such a race, and even harder to convince yourself to keep moving on towards the finish when all you really want to do is quit. For me, when that happens, I have to do a bit of self-imposed brainwashing to quiet my mind and refocus to more positive thoughts in my life. It’s okay to think about quitting. Acknowledge those thoughts, and the realization that the event is very difficult, but then move on. Continuing on must become a singular focus; a focus that can serve us well in life, not just in ultras. Continue reading