Friday, July 12, 2013

Here We Go ...

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil …”

-          23rd Psalm

Yea, right.

I have worked so hard for this moment, dreamt about it, and is only 2 days away. Monday I begin one of the greatest challenges in running, certainly of my life, and perhaps one of the last remaining great adventures on Earth, the Badwater 135 Ultramarathon across Death Valley.

And I am afraid.

Not of the distance. 135 miles is a long way for sure, but I am well-trained.

Not of the hills. I wore a weight vest and ran up and down hills, and am great at hiking.

Not of not finishing on Tuesday, July 16, my 50th birthday.

Funny thing, but the longer the distance, the less worked-up I get about how far it is, even though I have dropped out of more ultra-marathons (three out of the 10 I have started) than any other race (of 169 marathons I have attempted, I only dropped out of one).

And I have 38 hours from the time I start at 10 a.m. PST on Monday to get to the finish before my birthday ends the following day. Anything can happen, sure, but I am fairly confident I can get there within this timeframe, possibly much faster.

What has me so afraid is how crappy I might feel from the effects of the blasted Death Valley heat.

How hot are we talking? 100-plus at the start, climbing close to 120 before Day 1 is done.

Mostly, I am afraid of how my head is going to feel all day Monday. Like one of those cartoon thermometers that, as the heat rises, the head gets bigger and bigger, and starts to pulsate, and them, boom! Explodes.

Sure, there are real dangers of being out in such temperatures, let alone exerting oneself such as running or walking. Heat exhaustion, heat stroke, organ damage, death.

I trust myself, and more importantly my crew, to not get so close to the edge that those problems arise.
But the headache, disorientation and dizziness and other yucky feelings that can arise from the shoulders on up, yeah, those are likely, and I am just not looking forward to them.

Thankfully as I traipse through the Valley of Death for a day-and-a-half, my crew will always be close by in a van, and after the first checkpoint at 17 miles, are even permitted to join me on foot.

That means cool refreshments will be handed over to me as quickly as I empty a bottle of sports drink or water, and a cooling spray of mist or dousing of water will always be available.

The crew will be broken into shifts of three people each, rotating off and on every few hours. When they are “off duty” they will head to one of the hotels along the course (yes, they have them in Death Valley!) to cool off, eat and rest.

This is crucial. In fact, more heat-related health problems happen to Badwater crew members than competitors. Sure, with up to six people allowed per crew, the odds are that more of them could become ill,  but it is simply unlikely that any support person has prepared themselves as much as one of the runners for this journey.

I do believe my crew is the best anyone out there will have. Of course there is my very understanding wife, Star. She is an accomplished ultrarunner and has crewed Badwater twice (oh the stories she can tell!), so she knows what it entails.
Star's very favorite Death Valley picture.  In her words, "no make-up, no posing, no bs.  Just a tiny human in the middle of the desert."

The team also includes George and Robin Roulett of FrontRunner running store fame (among other things!). Robin has also crewed at Badwater, and George has spent considerable time traveling through and running in the West.  Both are experienced runners, and dear friends, so I feel very thankful to have them joining us.
Robin & George with Star and I at Buckingham Palace during a trip for a marathon in the U.K.

The others are new to Badwater, but I feel very confident in their abilities. One, Dr. Darrin Bright, cares for our 18,000 runners and walkers as Medical Director of the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Columbus Marathon & ½ Marathon. Experienced as an ultrarunner and Ironman in his own right, Dr. D is a good guy to have on our crew, but more importantly, one of my favorite friends.
Darrin and I (with Star) after one of our many adventures - a trip to the Niagara Falls Marathon that included a surprise guest (him), saving a life (him), and towing a car (well, that's a Star story, but he's used to those too.)
His daughter, Lexi, an incoming sophomore at Columbus School for Girls, is a runner who is smart, savvy and sure of herself.  She has already crewed a number of 100 milers and volunteered for the Columbus Marathon, and she ran her first half marathon earlier this spring.  Lexi will be in charge of our photography, video and social media efforts while slinging sports drinks, ice and snacks with the others.

With Lexi, her dad and her younger sister Molly at the Princess Half Marathon - she would make her half marathon debut there a year later.
Last, at least alphabetically, is Steve Zeidner, a very, very good ultrarunner from Columbus.  Stevie-Z joined the local trail and ultrarunning circuit around the same time Star and I did, and has also become a close friend both on and off the trails.  He is just coming off of a run from Cleveland to Cincinnati (210 miles in four days) to raise funds for Cystic Fibrosis research, and we got lucky to snag him for our journey.
Steve is on the far left; Star took this on a winter morning after a run with her "crew of mountain men."  Some Badwater trivia:  the guy on the right is Jay Smithberger, runner #91 at this year's Badwater; the guy in blue is one David "Mountain Lion" Huss, who will be crewing for him.

Between all my hard work and the skills, abilities and general awesomeness of my crew, I feel we are as prepared as any team in this race. And that will help me enjoy this journey so much more! Believe me, I am going to love it out there!

Someone recently asked me what I was going to do to celebrate my 50th birthday AFTER I got done with Badwater.
But this is my celebration! I am with people I love and care about so much, who love and care enough about me to provide support in the middle of the desert during the hottest time of year (and one of the hottest times in recorded history).

I will be testing my limits like I never have before in all my 18,250 days on Earth.

My life’s mantra is: “So, what are you waiting for?”

Regardless of how things shake out, I know the answer to that question with regard to this journey. I am waiting for exactly nothing. I am in Death Valley, having the time of my life.


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  2. You look very fit, you've paid the price getting ready for this event, and you've got a top-notch crew willing to make huge sacrifices to see you to the finish line. How can you do anything but succeed?!

    All the best to you, Darris. I see a rewarding experience in the midst!

  3. Go get it Darris. Have a great race, a great experience, and a great birthday!

  4. Good luck Darris! Oh, and Happy 50th!!

  5. Go get 'em Darris!! I have enjoyed following your journey and look forward to the next chapter!! Happy birthday!

  6. Great post, Darris! Can't wait to hear about this adventure after you do it! Good luck and happy birthday!