Badwater crew 2004

Badwater Crew 2004

Mary Campolongo

Editor’s introduction. The following is a private letter that Mary agreed to allow SBrunning to publish. Badwater (BW) is a 135-mile ‘race’ from the lowest point in Death Vallley to Whitney Portal. (It was originally to the top of Whitney – lowest point in US to highest point – but the Park Service objected to the last part. Some people still do go to the top.) BW is run in mid-July, and asphalt temperatures go to 185 degrees, occasionally higher. BW crew are unpaid volunteers. The time they spend crewing comes out of the rest of their lives. (“What are you doing with your vacation time this year?”)

BW was really great fun for me. We all on the crew had a great time, lots of laughs.  Our runner DNFed at 120 miles.  He had blisters.  He is an older (60), experienced ultra-runner (quite the fast guy/ultra stud in his younger years from what he shared with me on the road; 17 hour WS finish, never run a 100 mile race in over 24H).

Anyway, he also has never EVER had a blister in his life. That’s what he claimed.  And so, when his first blisters came to life at mile 23, he staked out on the course (they give you a stake with your number on it so that if you leave the course you can go back to where you stopped) packed it in to the motel room at Stovepipe Wells (mile 42) to wait for me to show up (I was the only crew person who knows how to dress feet/deal with blisters).

I could not make it out there until Monday evening and arrived at 9:00 p.m.  When I walked into the room, he was laying on a bed (unclothed except for a sheet over his lower parts) and telling me he was ‘done in’ because of the blisters on his feet.  That they were bad.  I looked at his feet, thought to myself “you have no idea what ‘bad’ feet/blisters really are mister if you think this is bad,” and set to work cleaning up the two minor blisters he had on two toes.  Afterwards, he got up, dressed and went back out on the course.  This scenario was played out 4 more times until he dropped at mile 120 which is the corner where you turn into the town of Lone Pine.  I never saw him run a step.

From looking over the splits at the second time station (42 miles), I saw that he had gone through the first time station (17.4 miles) in 3:22, which is a good moderate pace.  Then, apparently, when he first felt his blisters, he started walking, which is fine.  He was also not prepared for the heat. The reports I got were that he was complaining about it throughout most of the first day (it was a ‘cool’ year, not going over 118).  While he was doing high mileage training before the race, he never did any long runs (longer than 26 miles) with any real heat.  He was doing 2 ten milers a day.  I think this served to his disadvantage out there.  This runner also seems to have a somewhat negative sort of mentality, always worrying about what if this happens, what if I crash again, what if my blisters get worse?  Thing is, you have to stay present and really can’t worry about what might happen 5 or 50 miles down the road cuz it might never happen and you’re wasting precious mental and physical energy.  My standard response to these concerns/complaints was that we would deal with that when it happened and then I changed the subject.

As well, the crew van broke down 3 miles before Stovepipe Wells (2nd Time Station/42 miles) and so we had to rely on the other car he brought out, an old Mercury Sedan which had battery problems as well in the early stages of the race and one of the crew members’ (Bud)  Nissan Pathfinder.  Thank god Bud drove out there or we would have been up shit creek.  The van issue was really disconcerting to the crew, especially because he had rented it from Rent a Wreck.  Uh-huh. And then our runner we find out lied to the rental place by telling them he didn’t intend to take it more than 100 miles outside of SD County as the rental agreement states.  This is not an area where you can cut corners.  You have to go out there with vehicles that are in good shape.

We were filmed by a German documentary team who was out there filming a group of Germans.  It was on our last day out there.  Our runner was taking one of his many ‘dirt naps.’  That is, he had a touch of heat exhaustion and was feeling faint and dizzy.  So, we laid him down on the blanket on the ground in the shade of the truck and then waited.  We cooled his body down with ice packs, etc. and let him sleep as he was simply depleted and fatigued mentally as well as physically and needed to rest.  I decided then that it was ‘happy hour.’  So, Mike and John and I had one of the Bass Ales we had purchased at the store in the a.m. before we headed back out on the road.  When the German drove up, I thought at first they were race photographers and so I started to put my beer away behind one of our coolers.  The photographer indicated to me not to and then identified themselves.  They wanted that photo of the hot, tired crew taking a break.  Then they asked us if our runner was taking a break in the vehicle and we said no and pointed around to the side of the car on the ground.  They walked around and then started photographing him.  He was not really conscious but then we heard him calling for me.  I/we went to him and he said he was thirsty so, I got a bottle of ice water out and literally fed it to him like a baby while he lay on the ground, holding his head up.  The photographer seemed to like that scene taking picture after picture.  Before they left, I gave them my email address and he said he would email me the photos.

After the race was over (for my runner anyway) and we were in the motel room in Lone Pine talking about the photos, etc, he said, “Mary will send them to me.”  I didn’t have the heart to tell him I doubt he would want to see his picture printed anywhere in the state he was in.

That night, Wednesday, I was going to head back to SD, but decided to visit Ben and Denise Jones before I left.  You might recall Ben from the “Running on the Sun” movie.  He and his wife are friends of mine.   Dr. Ben was home as I figured but Denise was out on the course crewing for a guy who, despite qualifying, wasn’t accepted in the race so he decided to do it on his own and started at midnight on Monday/Tuesday.  Denise happened to stop in while I was there, her runner being just 12 miles outside of LP at that point.  She told me that they ended up being short crew and it was just her and Shane’s girlfriend at this point.  So, I asked her if she would like for me to come on out and she readily accepted my offer.  I ended up staying out there until the end as Denise and Laurie had been up for 2 days straight and were extremely fatigued and really did need help.  Shane was a pleasure.  I was able to get a laugh out of him the entire way up to the Portal.  Unlike my runner, who had to be prompted to drink every other time, Shane did what he needed to do without any coddling, etc.  Every runner is different.

I learned a lot about crewing.  One of the things is, you really should know your runner before you agree to crew for them.  You have to hang with whatever happens, but as I discovered, some runners are more high maintenance than others.  I was talking to a friend of mine who has done the race as well as crewed and we surmised that the older (late 50s 60s), experienced runners are not a good choice/fit.  As they tend to think they know everything and so are unwilling to listen to the crew and take suggestions – which doesn’t work.  There is also the aspect of preparation.  Not only as far as training goes but also as far as the race logistics (vehicles, crew coordination preparation, lodging, etc.).  While I fully realize that some folks are simply not as organized as others, in an event of this nature, especially one where you have 5 other people involved, you have to have a plan/parameters to work within in terms of well, everything.

As well, BW is not a race that ‘translates’ in any way to other races.  That is, just because you’ve run a boatload of 100 milers and track races and don’t blister, it doesn’t mean you won’t.  And it’s just logic that if you’ve never run over a 100 miles, and never done a hot event, you need to do some big training weekends (back to back high miles on subsequent days) so that you can get a better idea of what might happen, rather what could happen.  In other words, I don’t recommend doing BW if your longest run was 6 hours in 90 degree temps.  Then again, many of the foreign entrants in BW never get any heat training.  Then again, many folks aren’t able to get ‘real’ heat training in but will practice sitting in a sauna which I think is a great effort.  As I told you, my runner was just mentally unprepared for the heat mostly.

I had pretty good energy for the most part.  During the 4 days I was out there I managed to get between 8-10 hours of sleep.  I know myself from doing the race that you have preferences to some crew over others.  However, it became very evident on Tuesday, when the “B Team” (Bud and his sister Susan) were crewing, when Bud came back to the room to fetch me saying that our runner was “really disappointed that you didn’t come back out there with Susan and me” (after having been out there from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. the previous night/morning that my runner was developing a sort of almost clingy attachment to me.  I’m not faulting necessarily but the problem is that it was evident that he had this expectation that I be out there as much as possible which really translated into “almost all the time.”  And that’s not possible.  On the second night, when the “A Team” (John, Mike and I) were getting ready to hand off to Bud and Susan at midnight, I was going back and forth between staying out on the road with our runner and going in with Mike and John to get some rest.  You see, the other crew had also already commented that somehow I was able to get him to do things the rest of them couldn’t (such as get him back out on the road).  So, you get the idea.  And, whether it was just the fatigue but when Mike and John and I returned the following morning, it was obvious our runner was in the ‘grumpy stage’ as he ‘greeted’ me by tersely asking me if I’d gotten some rest and after I responded that I had, snidely responded, “Well, that’s good.”  I had even talked to him the night before when I was out on the road and explained that if I stayed out there all night with him after having been out there with him for 8 hours (not including the 3 in the hospitality suite an hour of which I spent dressing his feet), I would be useless to him the next day and it seemed he needed the most support during the daylight when the heat came on.  And then he said, “I’m so glad you’re in such a happy mood.”  I simply responded that it wouldn’t do anyone, most especially him if I wasn’t.  He talked very little on the last day.  Which I completely understand.  He had hit a low point.  It happens.  We just went about our job feeding and watering “Mr. Grumpy.”

I had a great time.

And on the way home, I received a VM message from my employer telling me he was terminating me.

Life goes on, ya know?

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