Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The numbers are in...Badwater

Almost a month ago, I had the honor of serving as crew chief for one of my most amazing athletes, Linda Quirk of Runwell, as she embarked on her journey to conquer Badwater, a 135 mile running race in California.

Badwater is not just another 135 mile race though.  It begins in Death Valley, below sea level and finishes at the base of Mt. Whitney, about 8300 feet above sea level.  The vertical ascent may not be that big of a deal for some but the heat sure is!  I was eager to experience first hand what 120+ degrees felt like when running and it certainly did not disappoint.

We had a six crew team to assist Linda in making it to the finish line and while I will spare some of the details for sake of keeping this blog somewhat short, here are a few things I noticed along the way:

  • Running in 120 degrees is hot.  Running on black asphalt adds even more heat, upwards of 160-170 degrees from what I was told.  It definitely felt that hot!  In fact, at one point during my pacing of Linda during the hotter part of the day, I had clothing covering everything except the back of my hands and my cheeks.  When I was out there on the road, I felt like I was running in an oven.  There was no break from the heat until the night time.  Even after taking a pacer shift with her, I would hop back in the air conditioned car and it would take me about 15-20 minutes to stop sweating!
  • Our pacers usually carried a water sprayer to cool Linda off while she was running.  I continually used it on myself also to try to keep cool and I remember at one point of spraying my shorts with water, it evaporated so quickly that I couldn't even see the water make contact with my shorts.  HOT!
  • Linda got no sleep at all for two days.  In fact, the most she ever stopped was about 10 minutes (and that was to try to get a back adjustment).  I slept for about 40 minutes, all interrupted as car doors where slamming.  It's the nature of the game.  All well worth it though.
  • In my opinion, the hardest part of the course was right before entering the last town, Lone Pine.  It was the hottest part of day two, I was running with Linda on black asphalt, carrying the water sprayer on my back and just remember the intense heat coupled with the gnarly crosswind that was blowing fine sand on our bodies.  There is hardly any shoulder on the road that we ran on and running against traffic with an athlete who is sleep deprived can be quite nerve racking.  All of our crew members had to ensure Linda's safety from oncoming cars.  After we made it to Lone Pine, it was much better yet all uphill to the finish!
  • I chew gum while I run.  It keeps my saliva response "fresh" and prevents dry mouth.  I cannot even begin to describe how much fluid I drank while out on the road and in the crew car during the race.  Linda on the other hand cannot chew gum so she had serious cases of dry mouth which meant she drank quite a bit of fluids.  I tried to monitor this and her electrolyte intake as closely as possible but in a race like Badwater, dehydration can destroy goals (and the body) thus I wanted her to drink according to her thirst most of the time during the hotter parts of the day.  During the cooler night opportunities, I decreased her fluid intake.  It was quite a hydration and electrolyte circus!
  • Food.  Ah, food.  We had the best laid out nutrition plan before the race, tried it throughout training and it worked.  Guess what?  As I always teach, you must always have an A, B and C nutrition plan for races like Badwater.  Linda depended on Generation UCAN as her main source of calories but there were times where she just didn't have a taste for it.  So, I had to rely on plans B and C and get her calories with other food sources.  Luckily, Linda is extremely metabolically efficient and requires very few calories per hour to sustain exercise.  The other sources of calories we included throughout the race were potato chips, peanut butter and jelly, crackers and jam, pretzels, coconut butter, Clif Mojo bar and even a bit of a Snickers bar (if you read my blog about our Brazil 135 adventure in January, you remember that Snickers saved us!).
  • In all, to the best of our food recording abilities between myself and my colleague Dina Griffin, Sport Dietitian at Fuel4mance who was part of our crew, we concluded that Linda consumed approximately 80 calories per hour.  How many hours did it take her to complete the world's hardest ultra running race?
Well, Linda's goal was not really to finish Badwater.  Her goal was to break the record in her age-group which was [previously] just over 47 hours.  The cutoff time to complete the race was 48 hours.  With the help of her crew and her sheer determination and competitiveness, she crossed the finish line in 44 hours.  Yes, she not only finished her first Badwater but smashed her age-group record.  All while consuming roughly 80 calories per hour.

Impossible?  I think not.  Wait until you hear about our next adventure together!  Stay tuned...

Coach Bob