Just keep Swimming … How to Finish a Marathon in the Rain

CIM startline. Look how reflective the pavement is – it was wet!

Yesterday, I ran California International Marathon, reputed to be one of the marathon fastest courses in the world. With gentle rolling hills and a net downhill elevation, runners sign up to run CIM in hopes of a PR, a Boston Qualifying time, or just a fast day.

Unless it’s raining.

The last week, Northern California saw unprecedented amounts of rain, and Sacramento was no exception. The start line was buffeted by wind, and runners were hiding against walls and underneath gas station awnings to stay dry. Thousands of trashbags glowed in the artificial light.

This marathon was a reunion of sorts – six of us who ran the Inca Trail Marathon converged on Sacramento in the hopes of running a race slightly easier than Inca Trail, and spend some time together. We’d eaten dinner together the night before and discussed race-day tactics, such as wearing trash bags, hiding in pace groups to block the wind, and wearing short sleeves, long sleeves, no sleeves, jackets … the permutations were endless.

Trashbags glowing in the pre-race artificial light.

Despite the rain, the start line was festive. 8000 runners couldn’t believe how ridiculous the weather was, and the only thing to do was laugh and run.

My goal in this race was to run somewhere in the 4:00 range. I’ve been running a 50k or marathon a month for the last few months, and I have another 50k in early January, so I didn’t want to go out too strong that I couldn’t recover in time.

The first few miles of the race featured the rolling hills, and we were fortunate that the wind wasn’t terrible. I dropped my trashbag around mile three, and was soaked through moments later. Running in the rain was actually exciting. A hat kept the water mostly out of my eyes, and, once I mentally committed to being soaked through for the next several hours, running through ankle-deep puddles didn’t seem so much of a hardship.

The strangest part of the race wasn’t the weather oddly – I grew to like that component. every so often, I would hear a dog barking … eventually, I realized it was a racer making those sounds. I was keeping pace-ish with a member of “Team Ah-some,” who was wearing a vibrant neon yellow shirt, and he seemed to be randomly barking every five or ten minutes. Around mile 18, I heard an actual dog barking, which was even more confusing.

Those cheering on the slidelines were amazing. Not only were they out in the rain, but they were creative and enthusiastic in their encouragement. One group was handing out beer. One woman was holding a “Just Keep Swimming” sign – so appropriate. My favorite was a guy who was yelling out things like “I’m making loud noises!” and “These are words of encouragement!” and “You are running, I am standing here watching you run!”

The last 8 miles were pretty rough. Road races aren’t my forte – the pounding of the pavement and the monotony of the terrain make it easy to get sore quickly (I qualified for Boston on a trail marathon – my favorite!). Around mile 21 I ran into one of the other Inca veterans, and we ran together for about a mile or so.

At mile 22, I saw a teeny tiny strip of blue in the sky.

A flooded Sacramento street a few blocks from the race.

The last three miles of a marathon, I don’t give myself any excuse to walk. Even slow running is better than no running.

Trail runners are strange creatures. Even though we run extremely solitary races with sometimes fewer than 60 runners, we tend to glom together for vast stretches, sometimes up to hours. We talk, exchange stories, and encourage each other to keep moving. This camaraderie doesn’t crop in in marathons; there are just too many people trying to go fast, and runners tend to keep to themselves and leave other runners to their own goals.

At mile 24.5, off to my right shoulder, I saw a runner slow to a walk. Without thinking, I turned to him and encouraged him to join me – the race was almost over, and he could definitely do this last bit. He fell into step with me and we started running.

The last few miles of a race are always a bit strange. I want nothing more than to be done with the race, but at the same time, once it’s over, it’s over, and gone forever. In my mind, I play this game where I tell myself it’s only forty more minutes of running … only twenty more minutes of running … only ten, five, three, two … and suddenly the finish line is there.

At the finish line!

This other runner and I kept each other going into the city, through tree-lined streets now streaming with shiny wet sunlight, and past the motivational music thumping through the air. He almost stopped twice, but we pushed through to the last 1/10th of a mile. When they split out men and women finishers, we grasped hands quickly and smiled, then split up to our respective finishing chutes. I didn’t see him again afterwards, and don’t know his name.

In elementary school, teachers say that when you point at someone, whatever you say to them comes back three times to you. Encouragement feels that way; sometimes, encouraging someone else is just as motivating to ourselves.

It was a mixed race for my friends. Several of them PRd despite the rain, and two of my girlfriends qualified for Boston. My Inca Trail team also did okay; a slow race for most of us, a DNF for one, and a wet (now non-functional) phone for another.

Overall, definitely a memorable, fun race. I finished in 4:06, which is close enough to what I wanted to do. The rain made it exciting, and getting together with friends, old and new, from all parts of my life, gave the weekend a festival-like feel. Not bad for marathon number 28.

Inca Trail Runners celebrating in Old Town Sacramento.

Inca Trail Runners celebrating in Old Town Sacramento.

50k Fun Run (Lake Chabot 50k)

Scenic Lake Chabot! Credit to ebparks.org for the photo.

Some runs are quiet, pensive, and lonely. During some races, you might not talk to someone for hours.

Lake Chabot 50k on Saturday wasn’t like that at all. The scenic and flat course attracted a lot of runners; I don’t think I ran a single mile without conversation of some sort. Sometimes, the lack of alone-time while running can be difficult – it’s hard to get in the proverbial “Zone” – but, in this case, that friendly camaraderie was just what the day called for. Beautiful scenery and friendly runners kept me moving to one of my fastest 50k finishes ever.

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Minimum Viable (Tri)athlete

Right before I wiped out – I look so psyched and have no idea I’m about to hit the pavement. Image c/o Chris Chabot

In the tech industry, there’s this concept of Minimum Viable Product. An MVP is a really basic, stripped-down prototype of the ideal final product. It’s got just enough to work – barely.

Yesterday, I competed in my very first triathlon – the California International Triathlon. Summary: triathlons are awesome. This was an Olympic Triathlon, which means 1.5k swim, 40k cycle, and 10k run. I finished in 3:21ish, which was in the middle 1/3rd of my age group.

Triathlons are very tech and logistic-intensive. Having never done one before, I didn’t know if it was something I’d want to do again. As such, I adopted the MVA approach – Minimum Viable Athlete. What was the minimum amount of gear I could invest in while still competing in this event?

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Boston Marathon Race Report: It Does Not Matter How Slow You Go …

This is a picture of Smoot Bridge in Boston, the bridge measured in Smoots (the height of a guy named George Smoot. Read about it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smoot )

Boston Marathon: I don’t even know where to start. In the style of Dickens, It was the hardest race I’ve run, and the easiest race I’ve ever run. It was the fastest, and the slowest. It was the most isolating race and the most friendly race.

To be sure, it was certainly the hottest race I’ve ever run. Temperatures were 90F towards the end of the race. The Boston Athletic Association offered an unprecedented option to defer racing due to the heat; about 4,300 people (15% of racers) deferred to run next year. 2,000 participants (10% of the field), received medical attention.

My finish time was 4:28 ish, which is about 2 minutes/mile slower than my qualifying time [3:35:05]. I’m just happy I didn’t end up on a stretcher. You can see my splits here (my bib number was 15030).

In terms of the actual race, I guess the best place to start is at the beginning. I qualified at the Santa Rosa Marathon last year, with a time of 3:35:05. As mentioned, I had no plans to run Boston at a pace even close to that. Continue reading

Why You Should Run Like a Super-Villain

Super-villains have capes, and so did our Lake Tahoe Relay team.

Who’s your favorite super-villain? Is there one bad guy who you’ve always been fascinated with?

Runners and super-villains have a lot in common. In fact, I’d say that the best runners would make the best super-villains. I’d go even further to say that we runners could have a lot to learn from the best super-villains.

Check it out:

Super-villains set lofty goals.  Magneto, of the X-men universe, wants to protect the world’s super-powered mutant race from being regarded as sub-human. He pretty much wants to change the way the entire world thinks – I’d say that’s a lofty goal.

Good runners set impressive goals, too. Our goals could be finishing a race, finishing a race quickly, hitting a weekly mileage goal, or something else. Good runners set tough, but realistic, goals.

Super-villains believe that, through hard work, they can get anything they want in life. Syndrome, from the 2004 animated film The Incredibles, was slighted by the main character as a child. Syndrome spent the next several years of his life plotting revenge and building an enormous robot, Omnidroid, to defeat his new nemesis.

Runners set goals, and then, through hard work and dedication, train to achieve them. We run, then run, then run more. We run sprints. We run hills. We run short distances. We run long distances. Some of us occasionally cross-train. Runners and super-villains both know that hard work pays off, and the only way to get the results we want is to work at it. Strong runners and strong super-villains have strong work ethics.

Super-villains will prepare for years to execute a cleverly-crafted plan. In the first Harry Potter book, Voldemort, whose end-goal is to kill the titular character, tries to do so by concocting an elaborate plan: borrow someone else’s body to steal a magical device, which he will then use to create his own, new bod, which he will then use to kill Harry.  Complex.

Runners’ plans are sometimes just as elaborate. We prepare for months, and sometimes years, for our races. Some of us have carefully regimented training schedules. In addition to training almost every day of the week, runners pay attention to the details: we read course descriptions and race reports. We pour over weather forecasts and course maps. We prepare mental strategies to help us through difficult parts of the race.

Super-villains have backup plans. Wile E. Coyote’s backup plans are numerous, and, despite their regular failure, he doesn’t hesitate to try again.

When I crewed for Badwater, my runner had two full minivans of contingency plans. These plans included extra socks,  several pairs of shoes of different sizes, boxes of medical supplies, crates of different snacks, gels, and bars, extra shirts, batteries, headlamps, iPods, chargers, GPS devices, radios – you name it. He was prepared for anything.

Super-villains ask for help. Darth Vader, of Starwars fame, was very willing to delegate tasks to his loyal, highly-motivated Stormtroopers. He somehow managed to recruit, and train an entire Imperial Starfleet of Stormtroopers, who would follow along with his plan.

For runners, these people could be the ones who cheer you on, train with you, give you advice, motivate you on rainy days, or meet you at the finish line with Dunkin Donuts (hint to my Boston Marathon supporters next week! ;)

On the other hand, heroes make pretty bad role models for runners. Heroes:

  • Are solitary .  They prefer to work alone, instead of relying on teammates.
  • Use their talents rarely. They don’t keep their abilities in top condition, instead opting to save them for emergencies only.
  • Are reactive. They wait until bad things happen, then try to solve the problem, rather than anticipating potential pitfalls.

In summary: super-villains would make awesome runners. And runners: we could do worse than looking up to some of the bad guys.

Who’s your favorite super-villain? Is it Jafar because of his awesome hat? Or Goldfinger because of his strategic shenanigans? Which bad guy inspires you?

How to Find Your Inspiration

The view from my parents' house in Southern California. I'm pretty jealous.

Inspiration is not sport-specific.  Inspiration is effective across activities; just because you happen to be running, swimming, or working through spreadsheet formulas doesn’t mean you won’t find people like Lance Armstrong or amputee Badwater runner Amy Palmiero-Winters inspiring .

In the toughest moments of a race, I’m inspired not by Olympians, even though they’re obviously very impressive.  What motivates me the are things that are closer to home. The scenes, moments, or events that I have a personal connection to are the ones that keep me moving during the times that seem most desperate.

When I need it dig deep for inspiration, the scenes that usually come to mind are about hills: climbing hills, seeing people I know climb hills, having climbed a hill, or running down the side of a hill I just finished climbing.

A few years ago, I had just come back from a long trip, at the end of which I had to say goodbye to some good friends. On returning home, I experienced the characteristic let-down of returning back to routine. Of course, the solution was a hard, fast, painful run.

There’s a route I like to run near my parents house in Southern California. It’s only 5.5 miles, but the first 1.25 miles are a brutal ascent up a very steep hill.

On this particular day, I pounded up this hill as hard as I could, given jet-lag and the associated exhaustion. At the top, I did something uncharacteristic – I took a quick breather.

The view at the top of this hill is stunning; it’s 360-degrees of rolling grasslands on one side, with mountains in the distance. On the other side is the Pacific Ocean, vast and steely grey.  On clear days, you can see Catalina Island. On clearer days, San Clemente Island is visible, too; a little grey hill of its own rising out of the ocean.

I’ve been taking some indoor cycling classes lately. They happen in the morning, and the instructor turns the lights off.  The darkness, while a bit strange, encourages visualization. When I’m looking for inspiration in those cycling classes, I sometimes think of this particular run – of vicious climbing up an impossibly steep hill, and of the beautiful reward at the top.

Inspiration comes in many forms, and from unexpected corners. Sometimes, the most inspiring stories aren’t the ones everyone knows; they are the ones nobody knows.

What inspires you? When you need a little extra juice, what do you think about?

Runner Heaven

Santa Cruz Redwood Forests. This was two-tenths of a mile from my dorm at UCSC.

Every runner has their own personal Runner Heaven.  This is the place where they mentally retreat when the present outlook is bleak. This different for every runner, but it serves the same purpose; it’s an escape from whatever’s happening at that moment.

Runner Heaven is a get-out-of-jail-free card.  It’s the place that gives us respite and helps us cope with less-than-ideal running conditions in the moment.  If runners were to design their own, ideal trails to run on, the trails would look like their Runner Heaven.

For me, I escape to the Santa Cruz redwood forests. When I’m at mile 45 of a race, dragging myself up a a vertical ascent, I imagine myself in Santa Cruz. When I’m travelling for business and my morning run is next to a highway, I imagine myself in Santa Cruz. When I’m stuck on an airplane and the seat in front of me is reclined, I imagine my trapped legs gliding over the Santa Cruz trails. Freedom.

The Santa Cruz redwood forests are some of the most beautiful trails I have ever run. Shaded by towering giants, the paths are covered in soft pine needles, ideal for the kind of running that makes you feel like you’re flying.

The best part of the Santa Cruz trails is the light. The redwoods filter sunlight to the forest floor, creating a diffused glow that feels like a quiet summer day. It’s gentle, peaceful, and isolated.

The trails go for miles, and it’s often rare to see another person.

The Santa Cruz trails are my Runner Heaven. They’re my running home. They’re the trails I know better than the streets I grew up on.

If I had gone to school anywhere else, I probably wouldn’t have picked up running. But the Santa Cruz redwood forests were too compelling to ignore.

When I’m frustrated about running, or about life in general, I think about the Santa Cruz redwood forests. These trails seem eternal, and that’s comforting. They’ll always be there. They’re my Runner Heaven.

No two runners have the same Runner Heaven, the same trails they imagine themselves bounding over like antelope, adrenaline and endorphins pumping. But the outcome is the same.

Everyone, runner or not, has a place they like to retreat. For runners, our mental escape is Runner Heaven. In Runner Heaven, nobody can keep up with us. Runner heaven is the place where we’re strong, fast, and at peace.

Where’s your Runner Heaven? Where does your mind go when you’re stressed out?

Why do you run?

Santa Cruz, CA, where I ran my first half marathon.

Motivation is a complex concept.  In theater, the most compelling actors are those who understand the motivations of their characters. What does this character want? What does this character want to accomplish? What is motivating this character?

When I first entered the world of ultrarunning, I asked several elite ultrarunners why they ran.  Their answers, superficially, seemed compelling. One runner said he did it to see how far he could go. One runner said she ran in honor of a dead relative.  On the surface, these seem like acceptable, persuasive motivations.

However, the deeper I get into this sport, the more I realize that motivation is never just one thing. Rarely can motivation be summarized in a pithy elevator pitch. Motivation is many-layered, difficult to describe, and, most importantly, changes over time.

I run for many reasons, and have run for many more reasons. My motivations for running will inevitably change in the future, too.

However, the reason I started running was humility.

The Badwater Ultramarathon is a 135-mile footrace in Death Valley. The race is run in July, when temperatures regularly reach 120 degrees.  It starts at Badwater, the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere. It finishes about halfway up Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the contiguous United States. Cumulatively the course boasts 19,000 feet of elevation gain. The course snakes through some of the most treacherous desert in the world. Runners have to run on the white line on the side of the road to prevent the soles of their shoes from melting.

I had the opportunity to crew for a runner who participated in this outrageous excuse for a weekend activity. Just watching him run this race was transformational.

Afterwards, a half marathon didn’t seem like something worthy of being called a challenge. A runner would have to run ten back-to-back half marathons to approach the distance Badwater covered.

I ran my first half marathon around a 0.5-mile track at UC Santa Cruz. I ran it by myself. It took a very long time. The varsity cross-country team started training after I started running, and left before I finished.

My first motivation to start running was the realization that no matter how far I ran, someone would always have fun farther.

Today, when asked why I run, I give a crisp elevator-pitch of a response. Motivation is too multifaceted to sum up in a single conversation, and, most of the time, casual conversationalists don’t want to hear more.

Whatever their motivation, runners keep heading out to the trails. Every day, runners are compelled to get out of bed and tie on a pair of running shoes. Something’s got to keep them moving. Something’s motivating each and every runner.

No two runners run for the same reasons. I’d also wager that there are very few runners who run just for one reason.

And there are many of us who may never be able to fully articulate why we run. But, until we can’t run anymore, we’ll just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

And delivering pithy one-liners that don’t adequately describe our real motivation.

Question: What do you say when people ask you “Why do you run?”

The Game Theory of Running

[originally posted at gametheoryninja.com]

Running is all about economics.  During a race, every decision is a cost-benefit analysis.

Here is a hill.  Do I run it to shave a few seconds off of my time, or walk it to avoid the risk too much lactic-acid buildup?

Here is another runner.  Do I make conversation over the next few miles, or save my breath for that next big hill?

Here’s an aid station.  Will the marginal Shot Blok or Gu give me an additional boost, or will it mess up my stomach?

Every choice can be modeled as a decision tree.  There’s a rock in my shoe.  Do I take two minutes to retie it and make up the lost time later, by running faster? Or, do I suck it up for the next 16 miles and face the blistering consequences for the next few days?

Every mile becomes a mathematical calculation.  I’m 18 miles in.  I’m running 26.2 miles today.  I’m a little less than two-thirds of the way through this race.  Without a calculator, I’d guess that’s about 60 percent completion.  Either way, I’ve got about eight miles to go.  At this pace, that’s around 75-80 minutes.  Can I keep this pace up for that long?  If I run a bit faster, I’ll finish faster; could I finish in 70 minutes?  That’s still a long time to be running.  How far until the next aid station?  That’s closer; I’ll think about that instead.  Am I at 19 miles yet?  What percentage of the way through is that?

I spent about 300 hours running last year.  That’s a lot of hours.  And that’s only the physical act of running.  This number doesn’t include thinking about running, reading about running, writing about running, or preparing for running.  I don’t even want to know how many hours that would be.

Like any activity, running has an opportunity cost.  What could I have been doing yesterday for five hours instead of running?  What could I have been doing last year for 300+ hours instead of running?  Could I be out meeting new people? Working on a project? Would I know how to speak Russian by now?

Not only that, but I’m a young runner, especially for the distances that I run.  Does waking up at 5am every day have long-term negative effects?  I’m already suffering knee problems; when will I have to get knee replacement surgery?  Next year?  In ten years?

Every so often, I think about finding a new sport, or a new hobby, that would replace running.  But then I think about the value I get form the sport.

On a quantitative level, my blood pressure is low.  My body-fat percentage is low.  My LDL, or “bad cholesterol,” levels are so low that most basic machines can’t even calculate it. My resting heart-rate is low.

Those sorts of numbers are nice, but they aren’t really enough to get a runner through several hours of nonstop athletic activity.  The qualitative, immeasurable benefits are what keep us coming back.

Because I run in the morning, I probably see more sunrises in a week than most people do in a year. I spend time out in nature almost every day – time that would otherwise be spent in front of a computer.  And nothing compares to being alone on a mountain listening to the quiet orchestra of nature: the whisper of waves in the distance, the hum of wind through the grass.  Add in the percussion of your own rhythmic breathing and 4/4 footfalls, and it’s a veritable symphony.  Not only that, but vacationers travel thousands of miles for a view like this.

So, I’ve done the calculations.  Multiple times – I’ve had a lot of hours in which to think about them.  And, at least for now, the benefits of running outweigh the costs. In terms of monetary output and time, I’m happy with running’s return on investment.

See you on the trails.

The Badwater 135

This was my very first foray into writing about running. This was published in UCSC’s City on a Hill Press, and it was before I had even run my first marathon. Doing research for this was a blast – all these quotes are from conversations I had with these elite runners.

Just for a moment, imagine how difficult it is to run a mile. Now imagine running a mile in 120 degrees. Now imagine running it uphill. Now imagine doing it 135 times in a row without sleeping.

Each year, about 90 runners line up to see if they have what it takes to cross 135 miles of Death Valley on foot.

“It’s considered the world’s toughest footrace because it’s so far, and so hot and so insane,” said Chris Kostman, the Badwater 135 race director and chief adventure officer.

The race starts in Badwater, the lowest point in the contiguous United States, and ends at Mount Whitney, the highest point, covering a cumulative vertical ascent of 13,000 feet. The race across Death Valley takes place in July, when temperatures can reach up to 130 degrees Fahrenheit.

Scott Jurek, who won the race in 2005 and 2006, summed up what it feels like to race in such heat.

“I sometimes equate it to running in a sauna with a hair dryer blowing at you,” Jurek said.

The only rules are that racers have only 60 hours to finish the course, and can’t use an IV. Usually only about 75 percent of entrants finish under the cutoff time.

The Badwater 135 falls under the category of an “ultramarathon,” races that by definition are longer than the classic marathon length of 26.2 miles.

“It’s beyond a marathon both physically and mentally,” said Dean Karnazes, who won the race in 2004.

Runners have been known to pass out, lose dangerous amounts of weight and hallucinate during the race. Few sleep, and those who do only stop for about 20 minutes at a time.

In 2002, Mel Stuart, who directed the original “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” directed a documentary about the Badwater 135 called, “Running on the Sun.”

In Running on the Sun, Stuart followed a number of runners as they trained for and finally competed in the race. One runner tied a car tire around his waist and ran up hills. Another runner stepped into a full-body sweat suit, went down to the basement, got on the treadmill, and aimed the air hose from his clothes dryer at himself while he ran.

The year Stuart documented the event, a man with a prosthetic leg participated in the race. “The one-legged man who finished is one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever seen,” Stuart said.

So what sort of person would compete in such a demanding footrace?

“Most of the people that finished were not the young people,” Stuart said. “People who are older have the sense of where they have to go to, and they don’t run themselves out.”

Marshall Ulrich, four-time Badwater winner (1991, 1992, 1993, 1996) said, “I think, in order to compete in the Badwater 135 . . . you have to be an all-around runner—[the race] has so many elements that the other [ultramarathons] don’t. It just makes it a little bit of a different challenge and raises the bar.”

Ulrich, who is 56 years old, has run a number of ultramarathons, but the Badwater is his favorite. He liked it so much that he once ran back and forth across Death Valley four times in a row, without stopping—a feat that he called the ‘quad-crossing.’ The quad was a 584-mile run, more difficult, Ulrich said, than climbing Mount Everest—which he has done.

This year will mark Ulrich’s 20th trip across the Death Valley.

“It kind of fits in with my challenge of doing something nobody else has done every year,” Ulrich said. “It’s showing people that something like that is achievable. The only limitations are in the mind.”

Like Ulrich, Karnazes is a veteran of the race.

“I’m the only one dumb enough to do it so many times,” Karnazes said. “But every year I do it I say ‘I’m never doing this again.’”

Karnazes continued, “I never say that I won—I say that I survived the fastest. It’s more about survival, in so many ways, than actually running. You’re basically just running on pure adrenaline and emotion. People out there at Badwater are just trying to survive.”

Karnazes has participated in a number of unusual events. At the end of 2006, Karnazes ran 50 marathons in all 50 states in 50 consecutive days.

“I would say that was my favorite [event],” Karnazes said. “I had my family with me and I invited other runners to come out and run with me during the various marathons.”

In all ultrarunning, but especially with Badwater, nutrition is a key aspect of finishing successfully. When Karnazes ran 200 miles from Calistoga to Santa Cruz, he consumed a total of 28,000 calories in 46 hours of running while burning 34,000. During that run, he ate an entire cheesecake and ordered a pizza to meet him at a traffic intersection.

Pam Reed is the only woman to win the race. After she set the women’s course record in 2002, coming in just under 28 hours, some believed that it was an accident that a woman could have won. But Reed came back and won the race in 2003, proving the pundits wrong.

In her book, The Extra Mile, Reed talks about her battle with anorexia. According to Reed, people think that she runs so she doesn’t have to directly deal with her anorexia.

“It’s exactly the opposite,” Reed said. “The more I ran, the more I knew I had to eat and be healthy or else I couldn’t run. My running actually saved me.”

During the race, each runner is supported by a crew that helps keep them hydrated and provides encouragement. Many crews drive white minivans to stay cool, and carry stacks of coolers filled with running supplies. Many crewmembers are runners themselves who sometimes run as much as 20 miles of the race with their racer.

Reed’s crew paved the way for new Badwater course records. One of her crewmembers pushed a stroller of supplies to keep the runner cool, though the practice has been since outlawed.

A large part of crewing is keeping the runners cool. Many runners keep spray bottles in their crew vehicle, though many employ more eccentric methods. One man brought a body-length box filled with ice, which he called a coffin; he would lay down in it periodically during the race. One runner brought along two button-down shirts, one of which he would wear while the other was soaking in ice water. After two miles, the shirts would rotate; the one he was wearing would have dried completely.

Catra Corbett, who was a crewmember in 2005 and 2006, said her runner expected her to stay awake for the duration of the run, which for Corbett was 42 hours. Corbett has completed over 300 ultramarathons herself and hopes eventually to compete in the Badwater.

Kristin Stewart was a crewmember for Ruben Cantu in 2000, 2003, and 2004. “Your job [as a crew member] is to take care of your runner, but you have to take care of yourself, too,” she said.

For Stewart, the experience of crewing can be very spiritual.

“For that time period, like three days, absolutely everything in my life got stripped away,” Stewart said. “Nothing really mattered except Ruben and his running. The fact that you were hungry, thirsty and tired didn’t matter.”

Stewart continued, “I don’t know what it’s like to run Badwater, but I know that I go through my own journey when I crew, and that’s why I go . . . It just renews me and gives me energy. It’s what life is all about.”

Scott Jurek also said that the scenery of the desert morning sun can be moving.

“There’s that magical time between 4 and 5 a.m. where the sun just starts to slowly brighten up the sky. Once the sun gets into the mountains, you’ve got all these 13,000-foot peaks in the distance,” Jurek said.

When most people hear about races like this, the next question is usually “Why do these people run?”

Karnazes has a simple answer.

“I don’t have a car,” Karnazes said with a laugh. “It broke down recently. Running is a necessity now.”

He paused and continued on a more serious note.

“You know, beyond that, for me, running is very liberating,” Karnazes said. “The ultimate sense of freedom. You’re not encumbered by anything. I normally run in the trails, in the Bay Area, so you’re out in nature and it’s one of the rare times that you get to think—just not be bombarded with stimulus from everything, from the world.”

Ulrich also explained his reasons behind running.

“I could say that it’s a fitness level, but it’s way beyond that,” Ulrich said. “It’s almost what I would categorize as addictive-compulsive behavior of sorts, closely akin to the more dysfunctional ones you would think about, such as alcoholism or something like that. I’m sort of a run-a-holic, if you will.”

Race director Kostman discussed the sense of friendship he sees runners find during the race.

“The camaraderie is something special. Most people refer to the [group] as the Badwater family,” Kostman said. “You just see a lot of triumph of spirit, integrity and sportsmanship out there.”

(Original, with bad formatting, on the website)