Every ultrarunner thinks about it. Most of us dismiss it as foolhardy or crazy or something so beyond our grasp that we can't take it seriously. Badwater, we tell ourselves, truly is a race only for "really crazy" runners -- an exercise (exorcism?) in masochism that would be comical if it weren't so scary.
Well, I'm about to get a close-up look at Badwater -- and I am simultaneously thrilled and terrified. I have the honor to be a crew member/pacer for Leigh Corbin, a dear friend, super lady, loving mother, and special soul.
The Badwater Ultramarathon has evolved into mythical proportions. Even non-runners have asked me, "Have you run that Death Valley thing?"
The race unfolds every July during the heat of summer in the hottest, driest place in North America. Temperatures at the starting line this year are expected to be around 120 F, and dropping to the 90s at night. The race starts Monday morning, July 13. Our crew is heading out Sunday and we will be back Thursday.
The 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon begins in a long, narrow basin 282 feet below sea level and winds up through high, steep mountain ranges, ending at the portal to Mount Whitney, some 8,360 feet above sea level.
The entire race is run on simmering asphalt.
Leigh just wants to finish within the 60-hour cutoff time. I will be joining crew chief and friend George Velasco, as well as fellow crew members Alexa Dickerson and Robert Baird, and two other women (both veteran runners), Kira Matukaitis and Lynne Hewitt, who I have not had the pleasure of meeting.
I plan to file dispatches if my laptop does not melt and if there is reception, but who knows?
The desert is a place is mystery. I fully expect my Badwater experience to reach a spiritual level of surrender.
I am just crewing; I can only imagine what it's like to actually run Badwater, a word that triggers a rush of conflicting emotions -- dread mixed with a seductive sense of danger, terror tinged with a tingly sense of excitement.
Leigh is primed to finish in beautiful form. She has the chops to conquer this beast. Among her many running accomplishments are Western States (2007), Marathon des Sables (2008), Coyote 2 Moon (2009) and the 100-mile San Diego One Day (2005).
Leigh blames Robert for getting her into Badwater.
"He called me one day and said, 'Leigh, when you run Badwater, I want to be on your crew.'
"'But Robert,' I said, 'I don't ever want to run Badwater.' And that is how it started."
Leigh's birthday is tomorrow, Wednesday, July 7. Please wish her a happy birthday, and good luck at Badwater! We love you Leigh!