Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Road to Badwater–Pt 5 Furnace Creek

This is part 5 of series highlighting an ultra-marathon run by my friend Gregg Geredes
By Gregg Geerdes

Furnace Creek to Stovepipe Wells (17 – 42): The really hot section


When I arrived at FC Janet and Nanc met me, only one vehicle was allowed at the start so they had stayed back and relaxed at the pool saving there energy for later. It was about 12:30 when I arrived and the heat was really starting to hit hard. Janet pleaded with me to slow down. I had come into FC about 20 minutes faster than they expected. Although I felt good at the time, I knew I had nearly 120 miles to go and figured I’d better start adding a little bit more walking to my routine.

Coming out of Furnace Creek the temperature seemed even hotter. As I was running I saw something I had never seen before. I looked out across the desert and the entire desert floor was vibrating from heat waves. At this point I was really happy that my crew was there. I also noticed my stomach was cramping a little which can be a sign of not getting enough electrolytes so I had Dave increase my succeed caps from 1 every 20 minutes to 1 every 15 minutes. For the rest of the race he was like clock work giving me a succeed cap every time his 15 min alarm went off.

Things were going relatively fine, I was doing my best to stay relaxed and then at about mile 30 it happened. I over heard one of the race officials talking about the ‘Geerdes 29’ crew. Soon after Race Director Chris Kostman pulled up next to me and informed me that my crew was about to get me disqualified. He drew a red slash across my number stating that it was my first and only warning, next slash I would be out of the race. WHAT?

Photo: Notice red stripe over 29

Someone had told Chris that my crew was passing things to me from the vehicle, which is against the rules. This of course was completely incorrect, what they were doing was slowing down and yelling encouragement to me every time they passed me and in the process they were becoming a possible safety hazard. Since Badwater is run on a highway and vehicles fly by at well over 60 miles an hour (probably closer to 80 mph), having a vehicle drive slow for 5 – 10 seconds is definitely not safe. When the race official stopped my crew, Dave jumped into action and became the voice for the team and took responsibility for the situation, that’s a good crew captain, unfortunately I still received the slash.
This new twist in the race really upset me and also brought my crew down, they sure didn’t want us to be DQ’d. At the time I was pretty angry with Chris since cheering your runner wasn’t a violation in the Badwater rulebook and this could easily have been handled with a verbal warning to the crew instead of the red slash. I do understand Chris’ situation and definitely understand his need to manage the race, but I still felt the red slash wasn’t necessary and this would stick in the back of our minds for the rest of the race. It took me a few miles to shake off my anger. I knew dwelling on it wouldn’t solve the situation, but I also wanted to make sure we didn’t have any more violations.

By the time I hit mile 40 I could feel I was really overheating. I asked Gord to run with me into Stovepipe Wells and let him know that I wanted an ice bath when I arrived. Gord gave me the motivation I needed to press on and we arrived in good time, about 7 hours for the first 42 miles (avg 10 min miles).
Photo: First time in the Cooler, Best ICE bath EVER

My crew was putting together my ice bath as I arrived and I went right in. I don’t know exactly how to explain how wonderful this ice bath was, but the ice water felt like comfortable pool water. While I soaked in the cooler my crew poured ice water on me bringing my core temp down. After a few minutes I finally started to actually feel the coldness of the water, but I stayed in a little longer since it felt so refreshing.
  • Lesson: Listen to your crew, they have a different perspective and may see something you don’t
  • Lesson: Listen to yourself; if something isn’t working make a change
  • Lesson: Bad things happen, don’t dwell on them to the point of forgetting your goal
  • Lesson: Considering all the encouragement I received in the first 30 miles, the red slash was worth it, but risking my crew’s safety wasn’t
  • Lesson: You need a good captain for WHEN something happens
  • Lesson: When you need help ask for it

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Road to Badwater Part IV

By Gregg Geerdes

Start to Furnace Creek (0 – 17): The start
When the race started I quickly fell into an easy pace of about 8:30-9:00 min/mile, a very comfortable running pace for me that I have trained myself to maintain for a long time. I watched as over half the field took off, the leaders going as fast as 7:30 min/mile.
I actually started to feel better as I ran. I was well hydrated, having plenty of water in my system to run comfortably for quite a while. I almost felt like I was going for easy run in Tucson, well maybe it was a little hotter than Tucson.

My crew went to work right away meeting me about every 5 – 10 minutes, all of them jumping out of the van seeing if I needed anything, just like a well trained assault team or possibly the keystone cops as they chased after me asking if I needed anything. Even though for this first section I didn’t feel I needed them as often I knew it was necessary for them to use this time to get the system down that they would be using for the next 135 miles.
badwater_4Photo: Crew in Action
The system I had laid out for my crew to follow was pretty basic:
  • I needed to drink at least two full hand bottles (20 oz each) of electrolyte fluid every hour. I was using Ultra a product made by Karl King, which is easy on my stomach.
  • One succeed tab (sodium and potassium) every 20 minutes.
  • Change my neck wrap (a gym sock full of ice) about every 30 minutes. I had tested this out in Tucson and found it to be amazing. You may laugh at the idea of a gym sock around your neck, but that was probably the best piece of advice I have for anyone running Badwater. The upside is the ice on your carotid arteries and the constant flow of water down your body. The downside is that I had problems with water flowing into my shoes.
  • Change my North Face safari hat (pocket for ice) as needed. Although this wasn’t nearly as useful as the sock, sometimes just having ice on your head made you feel better. Interesting fact is that most of the time I couldn’t even feel the ice on my head until it ran out and my head heated up.
  • Twin Lab Amino Fuel with water every two hours. I had used this as a post-exercise replenishment in training, but decided to use it during the race to minimize tissue breakdown. I try not to experiment during a race, this time though it worked.
  • Finally, they needed to try to get me to periodically eat something, although with the heat I wasn’t quite sure what I would be hungry for.
In general for most of these 17 miles, I just enjoyed the amazing scenery of desert and mountains and tried to stay relaxed, there were many more miles to run that day.

  • Lesson: Don’t get overly caught up in emotion in the beginning and burn out
  • Lesson: Give your team space to operate
  • Lesson: Ice around your neck is awesome, but even the most beneficial things can have a downside.
  • Lesson: Know what works beforehand and try to save experimentation for training when you can

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Road to Badwater Part III

The morning of the race
We all turned in early and were out by about 10:00 p.m. I slept well until about 2:30 and then woke up hourly until 6:00 when we all started moving. We went to breakfast at the FC Inn. I didn’t have much of an appetite, but I forced down some bacon, eggs, fruit and coffee – I don’t have much of a pre-race eating ritual like some runners.

Everyone was a little quieter in the morning as we focused on the event ahead. My crew jumped into, as Dave would say ‘it’s all about Gregg’ mode. They loaded up the vehicles with my gear and labeled them with ‘Geerdes 29’ and motivational verses, while I got dressed and rested. My race didn’t start until 10:00 so I was trying to relax as much as possible, but even when lying down I couldn’t get my heart rate below 60.

At 8:45 Dave’s alarm went off and we drove to the start.

The heat at Badwater by 9:00 a.m. was already intense and I knew it would only get worse. I was truly having second thoughts about my ability to handle this heat and even my bronze goal was looking slim. Experts say that you can only effectively consume about 1 liter of water per hour. At Death Valley, during physical exercise you can easily sweat through double or triple that amount, i.e. you can’t keep up with your hydration demands.

While I was baking in the heat, drinking more water, and going through the motions of the 10:00 a.m. wave photos, all I could think of was the intense heat. How am I going to run in this heat? Then I heard Race Director Chris Kostman call for the 10:00 wave to line up. A young lady sang the national anthem and suddenly I began to feel my confidence come back to me and thought - let’s get this party started. The count down was given and ‘BANG’ the race was on.
  • Lesson Learned: Prep your crew well, the more they know you and the situation the better they can prepare themselves and support you
  • Lesson Learned: If you trained correctly your body will start acting independent of thought in preparation for the event
  • Lesson Learned: Fear is a good thing, but don’t let it control you.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Road to Badwater Part 2

This is Part 2 in this multi-part series featuring my friend Gregg Gerdes and his inspiring tale of running the 135 mile Badwater Ultra-Marathon

The Day Before the race

On Sunday, we drove to Furnace Creek, CA, stopping along the way in Pahrump, NV for Breakfast. I can’t say we were big fans of the city of Pahrump, although we did learn about the ‘Chicken Ranch’ and came to the conclusion that Pahrump appears to be the ‘XXX’ center of NV, that being said the Pahrump CafĂ© has a great skillet Breakfast and the waitress there was a lot of fun, she even prayed for me and my upcoming race. (Interesting fact: Pahrump was in the movie ‘Rainman’.)

Before we left the city of Pahrump we picked up a few more groceries and our last Starbucks Frappacino. (Note for would be travelers: If making the trek from LV, this is the closest Starbucks to Death Valley.)
Photo: The last Starbucks
We arrived in Furnace Creek and were welcomed by an intensely bright sun and exhausting Death Valley heat. I mean it was REALLY hot. We checked into the Furnace Creek Ranch and soon found out that the hotel ice machines were broken and so we would be paying $3.50 per bag of ice – how convenient. And believe me, we went through a lot of ice. The hotel was nice, has a good restaurant, general store, and even a golf course – Yes, a golf course in Death Valley. I didn’t get to play a round (this time), but I highly recommend the ranch if you ever find yourself in Death Valley.
I’m not sure what the temperatures were that day, but as I said it was REALLY hot. As we waited for the pre-race briefing we were all feeling the heat so it was nice when the doors finally opened for the pre-race brief. The pre-race brief is quite an ordeal as they acknowledge all the volunteers, the runners as well as lay out the race rules. As you look around the room you see all these people and their crews, (most crews were between 4-6 people) who are making this huge sacrifice to be there in Death Valley to challenge themselves, it is quite inspiring.

After the pre-race brief, we enjoyed a pre-race dinner at the FC Ranch. I announced that I believe everything happens for a reason and that each of my crew members were on my team for a reason and I was blessed to have each one of them with me, I also announced that I was making Dave Strauss my Crew Chief. You need to have one-voice if . . . when things go bad. Dave had already crewed me in the Viaduct Trail 100 miler last year and we had run the Oil Creek 100 miler together. He had the most experience on the crew on what a pain I can become during these events.

Photo: Pre-race briefing
Janet Geerdes, my wife – Prayer warrior and my #1 Cheerleader
Gordon Geerdes, my brother – The Finisher
Calvin Baker, my uncle – Long mile man
Nanc Baker, my aunt – Prayer warrior and crew caretaker
Dave Strauss, friend – Crew Captain
Mike Densley, friend – Downhill Pacer

After dinner we all wanted to check out the infamous BADWATER. We all packed in the Van and drove the 17 miles to Badwater. Along the way we realized that we had no water in the Van with us. Now in any normal situation I wouldn’t care about not having water in my vehicle, but with as intense as the heat was I was hoping we didn’t have any vehicle issues. Badwater is an amazing location, it humbles you when you realize that if you were left here and had to make it back to any form of civilization, 17 miles away, you would surely die. For those who don’t know, Badwater is the lowest, hottest, driest place in the Western Hemisphere and the 2nd hottest location in the world. Word has it that Charles Manson came there to find a doorway to Hell. Believe me, you need water.

We spent about one hour walking around the area, taking photos and taking in the beauty of the area. Death Valley is mind blowing, the question that came to my mind is why did God create such a desolate place, but yet make it so breathe-takingly beautiful.

By the time we left we were all feeling the intense heat and were drying out, (I even allowed Dave to run the air conditioner on the drive back). We returned to the hotel and everyone drank at least 2 bottles of water/Gatorade trying to recover from our 1 hour Badwater experience, and then we drank even more in preparation for tomorrows adventure.

Photo: Badwater Basin

That night I debriefed the team one more time on all my supplies, which I had set up in clear bins and then I gave them my ‘penciled-in’ race strategy, knowing that the heat could ruin all strategies. When I run 100-mile races I usually have 3 goals, bronze, sliver and gold. For this race my bronze goal was to just finish, and I figured I could do that in 36 hours. My silver goal was to finish in under 33 hours which would mean I would need to average better than 4 miles an hour, a little more challenging especially for a rookie. My Gold goal, which I admit I rarely tell anyone, was to finish in less than 30 hours and in the top 10, not very probable unless everything came together.

  • Lesson Learned: There are diamonds hidden everywhere if you are willing to open your eyes to them, even in Pahrump
  • Lesson Learned: Pick your crew wisely
  • Lesson Learned: You need a strong crew captain. He won’t always be right, but you need a single voice when things go bad.
  • Lesson Learned: Enjoy it
  • Lesson Learned: Know your environment and stay hydrated
  • Lesson Learned: You need to have a strategy and you need to share it with your team, once you get started you aren’t the only one making decisions

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Road to Badwater Part 1

Today I would like to share a journey with you, one that, if you are like me, you may find inspirational as well as full of surprising insight. 

Gregg Geerdes is a former member of Connections.  Along with his wife Janet, he is living in California preparing to go overseas in service to our country.  This is his story.....

The Road to Badwater
by Gregg Gerdes

I can’t give you a definitive answer as to when I started on this path. Was it when I first applied to the 2009 race while in Baghdad? Was it after I ran my first ultramarathon in 1997? Was it when I began running early in the morning while in grade school? Or maybe have I always been on this path and just now become aware of it? I don’t know. What I do know is, now that the race is over, Badwater was an amazing memorable section of road along a much longer road, a section of road through the desert that I will remember for as long as my memory serves me well. Here is my story.

Photo Left: Team ‘Geerdes 29’ at Badwater Basin – 282 ft below sea level

In 2009 I had received my orders to Taiwan. You might say that preparing to move to another country is enough to keep a family busy; between selling our home, learning Chinese, and saying our goodbyes to so many amazing friends, we didn’t have much time for additional pleasures, yet alone challenges of a lifetime. However, on February 18, I was accepted into the 2010 Badwater Ultra marathon, a 135-mile race through Death Valley, considered by many to be the world’s toughest foot race. How can you say ‘no’?

  • Lesson Learned: You can do more than you think you can, but it will take sacrifice 
  • Lesson Learned: You need good friends; they will help you through everything 
  • Lesson Learned: Seek the Lord in all things
10 days out

 After moving out of our home on June 15th and then spending 3 weeks living in various hotels, a timeshare, and a friend’s home, on July 2nd we departed Northern Virginia for Tucson, AZ via Los Angeles. The State Department, my employer, wouldn’t fly us directly into Tucson so we would have to drive the 500 miles from LA back to Tucson. I had told my situation to Brandon, a good friend who also was my roommate in Baghdad. Brandon now works in L.A. He not only offered up his Ford F150, but also met us at LAX with keys in hand.

Photo: Final Algonquin Ct. BBQ
We packed up our 10 bags of clothes, my running gear and everything else we needed since our pack out, filling the truck bed and thus preceded to make our drive across the Mohave Desert. Along the way temps reached 110 degrees. To us Virginian’s it felt like an oven, but I would learn soon enough that it wouldn’t be the hottest temperatures I would experience.
We arrived in Tucson that night and spent the next week relaxing at Grandpa and Grandma’s while I bought supplies, went for easy training runs in the heat of the day, and generally tried to acclimatize to the 100+ temps. In my training back in Virginia I had acclimatized myself by wearing extra clothes on my runs and spending time in 195-degree saunas, however I knew I still needed a week under a hot sun.

On Thursday, July 8th, Janet and I left the kids with Grandpa, Grandma and Auntie Jean and drove to Las Vegas, stopping for one night in Laughlin, NV. Laughlin is a small casino town on the AZ-NV border. The hotel room only cost $30, and it was a comfortable room. Not much to do in Laughlin unless you like to gamble, although Janet and I found an awesome Sushi restaurant there, which we highly recommend.

The next day we finished our drive to Vegas. Our accommodations in LV were excellent. Back in February, Janet my accountant, logistics manager, and #1 cheerleader had traded-in our one-bedroom unit timeshare for a two-bedroom unit timeshare at the Desert Paradise Resort. It was excellent resort and would serve us well both before and after the race.

After arriving we picked up our rental car. I had wanted a full size van for the race, but the cost for one week was outrageous so we settled for a mini-van. Just before we picked up the mini-van Janet prayed that we would get a white mini-van, to protect us from the sun. Not only was the mini-van white, but also the license plate was 135-ABC (can’t remember the letters). It brought us a good laugh.

That night Janet and I went to dinner at Chipotle’s and met a recent friend of mind Keith, who just happened to be in LV that weekend. Keith had crewed at Badwater 3 times and had given me his personal insight into the race. Keith through his connections had also gotten my team Injinji Safari Hats, which were perfect for the race.

On Saturday the crew began to arrive. Mike Densley flew in from Virginia; Cal and Nanc drove in from Tucson; Dave Strauss had the most trouble as his flight from Virginia kept on getting delayed. This however turned out to be a blessing, since our wonderful white ‘135’ mini-van was having mechanical problems. When Janet and Nanc picked up Dave at the airport they brought the vehicle back to Budget, who didn’t have another mini-van in stock so they gave us a 15-passanger van and added Dave as a driver at no cost - Totally awesome. (Note: My final Team member Gord wouldn’t meet us until Sunday in Furnace Creek) 
  • Lesson: You need to ask for help 
  • Lesson: Train specific for your event  
  • Lesson: Seek advice from people who have experience 
  • Lesson: Plan early and if you don’t have that skill, find somebody who does to assist you 
  • Lesson: Pray for everything and then leave it up to God, he usually has a better solution
Coming up: The Day Before the Race