Monday, July 1, 2013

Going the Extra Mile ... and Then Some ...

“The awful truth began to dawn on him. There was no Secret! His days would have to be spent in exactly this manner, give or take a mile or two, for longer than he cared to dwell upon, if he really wanted to see the olive wreath up close. It was going to be the most difficult, heart-rending process he would endure in the course of his life.”
John L. Parker Jr. in Once A Runner

Mr. Parker wrote the truth in describing the efforts of his book’s hero, Bruce Denton. There truly are no secrets when it comes to running.
But Bruce, for all his successes, fictional or not, never attempted the Badwater 135.

And while I have been living the “Trial of Miles, Miles of Trials” lifestyle in preparing for this arduous trek across Death Valley, I have also been willing to try a few less-than-mainstream tricks to hopefully get me farther on down the hot, dry, dusty road in two weeks.
I have previously described my high mileage training – 1,300 of them over 12 weeks to be exact. I have averaged about 10 miles a day for years, so this part of my preparation suits me.

And I have been doing heat training with long runs in Florida, wearing extra clothing on runs here in Columbus, and spending an increasing amount of time in a sauna – up to an hour at nearly 200 degrees – as I teach my body to adapt and become more efficient at processing fluids.
All of it seems to be working. When I go out for a run, I simply go, and go, and go. My legs no  longer grow tired while running, and no longer feel sore after I finish. Even after the 50 miles I recently ran on trails, after which I ordinarily would have been hobbling for a couple of days, I ran 10 miles the next morning to round out my peak mileage week, then rolled right into another high-mileage week. I am not becoming as hot as quickly on my heat-of-the-day long runs, either, and not feeling dehydrated afterward.

But this doesn’t mean I haven’t employed a few “secret” training methods. Fact is,  I am still scared of what lies ahead at Badwater, and am not afraid to try things that may help me survive and even thrive in the desert.
Like put on 18.5 pounds.

Yes, a number of times in recent weeks, I have donned a 10-pound weight vest, plus a hydration pack full of sports drink, and gone out and run hills. Specifically a half-mile hill in a local park, or another one in my neighborhood. I have built up to 10 repeats, and suffice it to say, it is hard work.
Not as much work as the 18-mile, 15-mile and 13-mile ascents I will encounter at Badwater, but I also won’t be wearing 12 percent of my body weight on my shoulders as I climb 13,000 feet over 135 miles, either.

While strapped into this vest/fluid pack contraption, I feel the full extent of the extra weight, and my breathing is a bit constricted since everything is cinched on tight.

Not that I feel any less constricted, nay claustrophobic, when I wear my “mask.”
Ready for altitude ... and doomsday drills.

What? Yes, I bought something called an “elevation mask” that I have worn a couple of times in the sauna. This beauty looks just like a gas mask, and has vents and filters you can use to basically make it increasingly difficult to breathe.

Not sure it is replicating time spent at altitude or anything, but it definitely forces one to fight for air, which is something, especially when that someone is me, inside a 200-degree sauna. Don’t worry, I only do this for very limited amounts of time, I promise.
There is another limit to this gizmo that I’ve already reached. I don’t care if it could train me well enough to sprint up Mt. Everest, I just can’t bring myself to wear it outside. No need to scare children and small animals or draw the wrath of the local authorities when out for my run.

Finally, there is something else I will be wearing on my face that will hopefully help me beat the heat – a white beard.
Trying it out while on a break from crewing last year.  See how reflective?
Experts say you should wear light-colored clothing for optimal coolness in bright sunshine. Well, thanks to my genetic disposition, my beard grows in white despite my youthfulness, so maybe my light-colored whiskers will form some kind of shield that reflects the light. Perhaps it will hold moisture longer than bare skin, too. I will arrive in the desert a few days early, so if this reflective fur becomes a furnace, I can always shave it off.

Badwater veterans cite three things they train for when preparing for this race: The distance, the hills, and the heat.
I am doing all three, in ways that suit me, including some that are well-understood and despite the ridiculous of the event, traditional. I am putting in the miles, I am going up and down hills, and I am building up tolerance to high temperatures.

Overcoming fear of it all isn’t something I have heard too many of the experts talk about, so I have come up with my own ways to get beyond them. And if my methods work, then the secret will be out …
NOTE:  The beard worked for this guy ...


  1. Great writing, Darris! I admire your varied approaches to training, too.

    I'm facebook friends with David Clark, who is also heading to Badwater, and he had a post about sauna training. Here's his link:

    Anyway, one of the people that responded to his sauna thread said that he should do a two week taper off the sauna and rehydrate. Do you have a similar plan?

    All the best to you at Badwater. Lots of us Columbusites will be following!

    Doug Brandt

  2. Great stuff Darris. I have checked the BW site lots and there appear to be good way to follow/watch.

    One request, in one of your blog entries, could you tell us about your crew; who they are, what they'll do for you, etc.