Monday, October 24, 2011

The Golden Hour

For Joe, who taught me that an hour is all you need.

There is an ongoing phenomenon currently happening on Facebook. In the past, it would not be unusual to see motivational quotes posted there. The ones I see are mostly those of runners. A little something to help them, and maybe others, get out the door. I admit to the occasional posting of a quote or two. But now, an almost universal and different type of posting has become very popular – the posting of images or pictures with a joke, or, more often, something deeper or motivational. Personally, I find this interesting, but not really why I go to Facebook. I had started writing this post and had decided to set it aside. Then I noticed one of those images. It said, “It is not about not having time. It is about making time.” That is the message I was working toward when I started writing this, but I did not like how it turned out. So, I was motivated to rewrite it.

This piece might inspire a few, and agitate some others. If it does at least those things, then I am happy to have written it.

What is an hour? It is one twenty-forth of the time it takes for the Earth to rotate once upon its axis. It is about three or four times longer than a typical shower. It is about one eighth of the time we sleep at night and work each day. Most of us will live, on average, about 657,000 hours before time no longer matters. If you are waiting and bored, an hour seems like a long time. If you are having fun or focused on a task, an hour seems much too short. An hour is a unit of the measurement of the passing of time. It is a creation of Man to give time meaning and duration.

An hour is golden - for in an hour, you can do something you have always wanted to do, you can take the path less traveled, you can change the course of your life, you can change the course of someone else’s life. An hour can make you happy for the rest of your life, or it can crush you. An hour is long enough to do significant things, but not so long as to make it a burden to use one for something you wish for each day. It is your Golden Hour. It is a key to happiness and a guard against regret.

An hour could have been something very different – a very different duration, or name, because it is the people of Earth who made it up. For those who have enjoyed watching Star Trek over the years, it likely is a surprise each time there is a new alien encounter, time will invariably still be measured in hours, minutes, and seconds as if there is a Universal Master Clock that measures time for all the same as we chose to do on Earth. Maybe. Maybe the Universal translator input, goes to an atomic clock and converts units to species output, so one hour comes out as 2.5679 Vulcanian tuts, or something. But, that just does not seem likely to me, especially since the translator did not come into play until the later series.

For all that an hour can be, in today’s world we seem to have too few of them in a given day to do all the things we claim we must do. The average human is, very simply, not very good at time management. But, each hour is precious, golden. Each hour we let go is an hour gone forever. The arithmetic is easy. You only have so many before there are no more. For some that end will come now, later today, tomorrow. For most it will be later, maybe thousands of hours later. Later will come. It will happen to each and every one of us. It is the way it is supposed to be.

So why do so many people say they do not have time to do something they love to do, or put off things they dream of doing? The average human is a creature of habit, routine, and excuses. We do not even know when we are doing it. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard someone say they do not have time to exercise or run, that they do not know how I fit it into their busy days. There are two things that might be happening here, maybe both. First, it might be a lack of understanding or fear of change in routine. How to make that time in your day? The other is making an excuse out of fear, ignorance, or simply a wish to not explain their choices. Those folks cannot say, for some reason, I do not want to exercise (or whatever). I want to do something else.

Find something you really want to do, that stretches your mind, or your body, or your imagination, or your spirit. That is your choice. Enjoy whatever you do. Maybe you really do not have the time. But, if you want something, it becomes about making the time. Don’t live an excuse. Accept your choices.

Making the commitment to change something is the hard part. It might be the most difficult part of the challenge to achieve something you want. Excuses just let the hours slip away, used for something else.

My wife tells me that this topic comes up again and again in publications oriented toward professional women. There are rarely answers. The challenge for many is real. But, I have to believe, based on my observations, that it can be overcome. Yes, something else might have to give way, maybe something important.

How can it be done? I am the last one to give advice on making time to an overbooked mother, a single father, or a twenty-four hour per day CEO. However, I will tell you I have seen and known each one of these type people and others find a way to make time to do something they really want. They count those hours. They do not put off. They do.

I use running as the example here. Most of my readers are runners. It is also something many people dream of doing – running a marathon. It is something that cannot be put off forever, though age is not really a limitation, it does not help.

Most people think running takes lots and lots of time. As an ultra distance runner, I will not deny that it can take up huge chunks of time. But, that is a choice I have made. It does not have to be that way for just about everyone else.

The key is the Golden Hour. That is all it takes. One hour per day. Not every day, but most days. That includes changing, putting on your shoes, and finding your keys. It does not include the shower afterward. You will do that anyway. At least I hope so.

One hour.

Think about your day that you believe is packed so full. Maybe it is very full, but I will bet you can find an hour. What is it that makes your day so full? If you want to find an hour, you will find an hour. Maybe you need to use the hour that nominally belongs to something else. I could suggest many, but I will also get arguments why those are not up for trade. I am not here to make that kind of controversy.

I am here to talk about hours. They do not grow on trees. They cannot be harvested for future use. They come, you live them, and they are gone. Forever gone. Think about that for just a moment. It will be a moment well spent.

One of the beauties of running for exercise is that it takes so little time to prepare to do, and it can be done just about anywhere. I have known dedicated marathon runners who are also “soccer moms.” They would take their kids to the game and watch while running around the field. One hour – done. Nothing to it and the kids had fun, too. That is what I mean about taking an hour that might belong to something else and using it for you, too.

Of course, there will be days when things do not seem to go anything as planned, and your hour for running somehow gets lost. Some people like to run just after getting up to make sure nothing gets in the way. I am not like that. Mornings are evil. But, when I have had to, I will run in the morning. Maybe that will be the only time you can fit it in that day. Or, it is OK to say it is not going to happen on this day. I will find time tomorrow. That is fine. Running/exercising should be fun, not added stress. If anything, it is a stress reliever when kept in perspective. Sometimes maybe you just do not want to use your hour for exercise or running. Sometimes I sit in my backyard for that hour and smoke a cigar, or watch the hummingbirds feed, or just enjoy the sun.

Sometimes in my hour of doing whatever I want to do, I think about why so many people put off doing something they dream of doing. Why, when we have so few hours in our lives do so many waste theirs doing little or nothing but dreaming of what they will do. I know the truth of this statement: waiting will end in tears for far too many. Live life now. Do not wait. Get ready for something big, and then go do it. For most, that will take little more than an hour most days.

Those of you who have followed my writings know that I have little patience for delay of dreams, and for those who suggest they think dreams are a waste of time. Time is all we have. It is like currency that we cannot earn, only spend. We can spend it on happiness, or we can spend it without thought until it is gone. Those who do not cherish their time will find only regret in the end. And regret is a high price to pay for anything.

Do not waste time. Use every minute of it for something you want, or you feel good about doing. There is no better feeling to have for the rest of your time than knowing that you have used your time well. Then your clock can run down, and you will have a smile on your face.

One hour. One Golden Hour.

It is my hour. It is your hour. Make it matter.


“Badwater” Bill
Tujunga, CA

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Giants

Ain't no chain strong enough to hold me.
Ain't no breeze big enough to slow me.
Never have seen a river that's too wide.
-- Clarence `Gatemouth' Brown 

What makes a champion? What makes a certain person an inspiration or motivator for running and for life? Everyone will have a different answer to these and related questions. I would like to share with you thoughts about those runners who have inspired me, taught me about true championship, and have motivated me in running and in life.

The winners --

There, of course, are the winners. Those who set a goal, worked hard, planned well, and achieved greatly. We are all inspired by the winners. Those that stand out for me include:

Joan Benoit Samuelson, "Little Joanie" - In 1984 I watched as she and other great marathon women circled the track at Santa Monica College, a track I had run many, many times. Joan had won the US Olympic Trials Marathon just weeks after knee surgery. On that day in August, she and the other women were finally running the first Olympic Women's Marathon, an historic event. Joan turned that into one of the greatest runs by a marathoner, man or woman, as she committed to taking the solo lead early and stayed there. A marathon is hard on any day, but doing one alone, in the lead, with no one to push you except yourself, to me is something that makes a true champion.

Then there was the man who simply would not lose, Edwin Moses. Over the course of 9 years, 9 months, and 9 days, he was undefeated in 122 races. He broke his own world record 4 times. 

The icon Steve Prefontaine. Jackie Joyner Kersee. Bill Rodgers. Too many more than can be cited here. 

These are the winners. The greats. The ones who made it happen. But, there are others for whom the winds of victory did not blow on the day. Those who gave it all and came up short. The ones whose attitude in not making the dream happen, made others dream and motivated beyond anything their position on the podium that the day could have predicted. Those are the ones that matter in the end. The ones that teach us that there is no failure in trying. There is championship in coming in 2nd or last, if on that day, you gave more than you had and did not stop. These are the ones that remain in my memory as true greats.

The ones that gave it all, and then gave more --

My first memory of someone who lived the word champion was from my high school years. Curtis Beck was my cross country and track team mate at Santa Monica High School in the early '70s. He, however, was in a different league from me, indeed a league of his own. His smooth running style, his grace in action, and his unbelievable speed always turned everyone's head when he was on the track. As a junior (16 years old) he ran from the front, with no pacers or other support, a mile in 4:04 during a meet at the Los Angeles Colosseum. That same year he ran an 8:48 two mile, also alone in the lead. These are times few have exceeded even as seniors, and those that have done so rank with the greatest ever -- Jim Ryan, Steve Prefontaine, Gerry Lindgren. He did this on high quality 25 mile weeks. It seemed Curtis would go on to track greatness. In his senior year, the team expected to have only the 4th sub-four minute high school miler. When I once asked him when he might try, he told me he would not, that he would be staying with the two mile that year. I thought that strange. His two mile times did not exceed those as a junior. Craig Virgin was the 1973 two mile star with an 8:40 best time. Curtis trained hard, smiled all the time. It was always good to be around him, and his brother Steve. Curtis never suggested there might be a problem. Years later, while wondering what became of Curtis and his promising career, I learned that he was dealing with very difficult physical issues that he never let on, or complained about. During his senior year, he was plagued with bronchitis and an increasingly painful back. At UCLA, this apparently congenital back problem prevented him from upping his training to the collegiate level. Ultimately, it forced him to stop running. 

Curtis taught me that his personal misfortune did not need to be shared or used as an excuse. He continued to give his best for himself and his team. He never complained. He just ran. Curtis, I do not know what has become of you, but thank you for being a true example of sportsmanship and grace that I have held on to for the many years since we parted ways.

The same year that Curtis was running his best, was the Munich Olympic Games. The tragedy that befell those games was imprinted on my young, still idealistic mind and will never be erased. But, what came after, in the resumed games would leave a different kind of imprint, one of greatness in the effort -- striving for a goal and never giving in to anything else. A still inexperienced Steve Prefontaine would have nothing to do with strategy. He ran from the front to win. He would accept nothing less of himself. And so was the case until the final laps of the Olympic 5000m race. With three laps to go, Lasse Viren pulled up to Pre's shoulder and Pre picked up the pace to push him back. At two laps to go the more experienced racers began to up the pace. Pre was pushed back to 4th. Unaccepting of that position, even for a moment, Pre opened up and within 50m he resumed the lead. By now the leading five runners were at full gallop. There could be no more. As the lead three crossed the line into the bell lap, Viren and Gammoudi, working off Pre, resumed the one/two position. Again, Pre came back. But, Gammoudi fought him and took the lead from Viren, keeping Pre in 2nd. After leading every lap, giving it up, and fighting back at speeds beyond his limits, Pre gave his all. As they entered the final turn, Pre's stride broke and his speed fell -- briefly. Viren attacked and Pre attacked one last time with him. But, for Pre the finish line was just 100m too far ahead. His body quit steps from the line and he fell to 4th. There would be no medal of any color for Steve Prefontaine. He ran the only way he knew how, the only way he could accept. On that day, I saw that there could be no failure in trying. And try he did, like no one else could. Steve Prefontaine would not see the next Olympics, but his lessons of how to run and how to live with passion continue on.

In 1982, twenty three year old Julie Moss was leading the Hawai'i Ironman Triathlon. As night fell on Kailua-Kona, Julie was clearly exhausted as she neared the finish line. She was in trouble and her legs simply gave out beneath her. She rose to her feet, only to fall again, presenting the strange image of a marionette with its strings suddenly cut. A few hundred yards left to complete her 140 mile journey, she rose again and walked. Soon she ran. Then, again, her body went limp and she was down. No longer having control of her simplest bodily functions, Julie Moss literally battled to regain her feet. With her legs now covered with feces, she rejected support from bystanders and moved forward again. Wobbly and weak, she went down again. Now urgently refusing assistance, she was surrounded by helping hands, hands that could bring her a disqualification. Just yards from the finish, Catherine McCarthy strode by to assume the lead and the win. She knew nothing of the drama she had just passed. Her victory gone, her body completely drained, there was nothing left for Julie to do but to quit at that point. No! That is not what she did. In perhaps the most dramatic moments in the history of ABC's Wide World of Sports, we witnessed the meaning of true championship. With a tears steaming down a multitude of faces staring astonished and moved at our television sets, we watched as Julie Moss literally crawled on all fours to cross the finish line, reaching one hand out to do so before collapsing totally. It does not matter how, or even if, one makes it to the finish line. It is the quality of the effort that matters most. Julie Moss helped me to find the finish line, no matter how hard, no matter how far, and taught me that there is dignity in effort. 

Every weekend all over the world there are stories like these being played out. They are The Unknowns, those that strive to be the best that they can be, to go where they did not think they could go, and go beyond. If you want to be inspired, go to a local race and watch. Go to the last mile of a marathon and see the people who will not quit. They are your neighbors, your friends. They achieve for no one but themselves. You will see Steve Prefontaine-like attempts to meet a time. You will see Julie Moss-like efforts to finish. If you have never done it, find a race and be there for those people, like they have been for you. You will be amazed. You will be motivated. You will be inspired. You will see things there that will surprise you. You very likely will see yourself, and you will like what you see.

For me, the greatest inspiration has not just come from the way someone ran a race, but also how they have lived their lives. Running can be a powerful metaphor of life. A run can kick you, drag you down, hurt you, and it can make you great. Life can do the same. In 1982, I read a report on the Boston Marathon. We did not get the coverage at the time in Los Angeles. Known as the "Duel in the Sun" this race is considered by many to be the greatest marathon race ever run. Dick Beardsley was a kid from Minnesota who had been having some success at the marathon. His times had made him world class. But, in this race he would be running against the best and most experienced in the world, including the likes of "Boston Billy" Rodgers and the world record holder Alberto Salazar. Dick Beardsley could not win this race. He was in over his head. Everyone knew that. No knock to Dick. His time might come later. The only person who did not know that fact was Dick Beardsley. The story of the race is the stuff of legend. I will not recount it here. The essence comes in the last half mile. After battling with Alberto Salazar for the lead in the hot sun, Dick had started to trail by a few steps. At this point, Alberto's speed would leave Dick behind and the race would be over. But, in spite of a cramp and confusion with a police motorcycle, Dick fought back. Dick and Alberto had raced away everything they had. Alberto just had a little more speed than Dick. Both could not take another step, but they had to -- Alberto had to keep the lead, Dick had to take it. Never, not once, in 26 miles, 385 yards did Dick Beardsley not try to win that race. Even after Alberto had crossed the line, Dick pushed through it as hard as he could just two seconds behind. Two seconds. A battle for the ages ended with a separation of two seconds. Dick did not lose that race. He just did not cross the line first. Alberto knew this. He brought Dick onto the awards platform with him and raised his arm in a shared victory. 

Neither man raced as well again. Both had given that one run everything they had. Alberto was taken to the emergency room and given 6 liters of fluid intravenously because he had not drunk during the race. He had some further success, but it was limited. Dick had injuries and raced only a little until tragedy would strike. Dick's leg was nearly torn off in a farming accident. His recovery was just short of miraculous, when other accidents took their toll. Dick was, to put it mildly, a mess. While endowed with great genetics for running, he was not so lucky when it came to addiction. Pain was an inevitable result of the trauma placed on Dick's body. He found himself addicted to narcotic pain killers, and not in a small way. The crisis came to a head when Dick was arrested for forging prescriptions.

If this were any other man, this story would be a tragedy from beginning to end. But, not Dick Beardsley. His local fame helped keep him out of jail, but he still had to face recovery. There is no one who can tell his story better than Dick himself, so please read his book. I will only say that that day in Boston could not have been a better metaphor of how Dick would live his life afterward. He never gave up. He was going to win that race, no matter what. Now "winner" did not mean coming in first, it meant survival. It meant everything. He could not fail, or he would be lost. When he had to, he would crawl on all fours to his meetings. It was the hardest thing to do. And he did it.

Today Dick is still with us. Still achieving. Still running. His body has been broken and put back together more than anyone's I know. His leg does not track just right. His back has more fusions than not. He has two artificial knees. In spite of all of that, he still gets up each morning and runs. It is what he does. He also still dreams and has goals for his running. His goals have perspective and are attainable, but just hard enough to keep things interesting.

I have known Dick Beardsley for about ten years now. There is no man who inspires me more. He is why I am still trying my best. Because I have a bad back, I cannot run long and fast without risking great pain and further injury. But, I can move forward. Without that inspiration and knowledge that I could do something, I would not be living my dreams in Death Valley. 

I do not know if Dick is a hero. Hero is a word that means many things to many people. Dick is just a man. He is a unique and valuable man, but flawed like the rest of us. That is one of the things I like about him best. He and I are the same age, and I thought I acted young. When I am around Dick, I feel much older, because he is the real kid in the room. 

More than anything else I have said here means more to me than these simple words -- Dick Beardsley is my friend, and he always will be.

Next week I get to share some time with him at the Dick Beardsley Marathon Running Camp. I can't wait!


"Badwater" Bill
Tujunga, CA

Monday, August 22, 2011

Making Plans

I have recovered well from my recent effort in Death Valley. There is still a bit of grieving for the early end of my adventure. The words from Jim Croce's "Operator" come into my head from time to time:

"I've overcome the blow.
Learned to take it well.
Only wish my words could convince myself,
that it just wasn't real.
But, that's not the way it feels."

The reality is I am doing fine. I think there was just too much baggage on my shoulders this year, so it is going to take a bit of time to remember always that I did my best and that I continue to live a dream when it comes to just being able to get out and try to do the Death Valley crossings.

So, as I always say, Onward! It is time to plan some events and activities for the coming year.

Here is what I have been thinking about. First step is that you might notice subtle, but important changes to this blog. It is now the "Continuing adventures of Badwater Bill...." Sort of like Star Trek after it went well beyond its planned "Five year voyage." This blog is becoming something unplanned, too.

I do not race trail ultra marathons anymore. That is just too hard on my back. While the surface is good, the twisting and constant strain is just to much for it. So, I stick to the roads in general. In my current state, I also find myself chasing cutoffs. For me, that takes away from the experience and the whole reason I do these things. These and other factors are inputs into my planning.

Aside from what I list below, I will also do a few marathons. I find them a great way to get long training efforts in and have some fun with other people. I have been able to let go of being the 3:15 runner I once was in favor of just having some fun.

* October will be a solo, just me and a small pack, trip from home to Santa Barbara, CA - about 104 miles.

* I am registered for Across the Years, a timed ultra that goes over the New Year. I am registered for the 48 hour event that starts on 30 December. I enjoy timed runs. "Go as you please" as these events are sometimes called. My goal is 150 miles.

* A double Napa Valley Marathon. I did this a few years ago, before my back problem slowed me. It rained and could have been miserable, but I was having too much fun to be miserable. Lots of good stories came out of that run.

* Maybe home to San Diego in April. This one is about 140 miles.

* The Nanny Goat 24 Hour is in late May. It is a small, very fun race run in Riverside, CA on a horse stabling facility.

* Death Valley Express III is currently planned to be a full double crossing including a summit of Mt. Whitney. I have to be flexible with this plan. How things go in the spring will tell me if I should make the attempt. More on this as it approaches.

There will be more, but these are the events I want to be the ones that dictate my training and getting ready for more fun in Death Valley. If you have any thoughts, I would like to hear them.


"Badwater" Bill
Tujunga, CA

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Two Reluctant Farewells


Little Spanish Ariel was named from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” because he was found under a bush, starving, covered with oil, and near death. This tiny young cat had been abandoned and was not making it. Cats have a way of knowing humans whom they might trust. He called to Deborah. His fear still took hold and Deborah’s initial reward for gathering him up to help him were bites and scratches. She nursed him back to health and a true friendship was born. When Deborah brought him home from Spain, he met his forced siblings, Kira and Merlin. A fast friendship in the new family was not exactly what happened, but tolerance and some comfort in each other's company finally came to pass. 

I first met Ariel not long after. He was a bit nervous about new people, but he could see in me someone that was not a worry. Deborah told me he did not like being picked up. That is the wrong thing to say to me. I moved carefully toward him, introducing myself. He was happy with that, so up he came into my arms. My first real greeting with this fine, loving cat was to have him throw his paws around my neck and put his head under my chin, purring happily. And so, another new friendship was born. 

Ariel was a heat seeker. He loved his heated bed, but he loved the lesser in temperature human warmth more. He would, usually, politely check to see if we would accept his nuzzling. Sometimes, he would just assume and take his place next to us in bed. Like all strong friendships, there were ups and downs. He could be annoying at times, and he could get grumpy if we did not do just want he wanted on occasion. But, forgiveness would immediately follow, as if we really could do no wrong. In full health, Ariel, I called him Rurr Rurr, walked like a tiny bulldog. His countenance was regal. He loved us and when not sleeping, he would show us every chance he got.

Deborah worried a bit that Ariel’s traumatic youth might take him from us early. Perhaps she was right. At 14 years old, Ariel’s kidneys started to fail. With care and the right food, it looked like he might have years. Such would not be the case. Cats instinctually hide how they are feeling when they are sick. Ariel was a pro at that. When Deborah and I left for Death Valley for my training session in July, he appeared well and we were content to leave him in the capable hands of our long time cat sitter. He likely stayed in his bed the times she visited, so she had no reason to worry, either. When we returned five days later, an Ariel made up of little more than skin and bones greeted us. His kidney function had declined drastically. We knew the end would come much sooner than we wanted. We would make his last months or weeks good ones. We finished preparations for Death Valley and we left believing we would find Ariel greeting us as always, if not the muscled kitty he once had been.

The call came Monday evening, as I headed toward Stovepipe Wells. Somehow Deborah had cellular connectively where we had never seen it before. The call was weak. She did not want to tell me what the call was about, but I read it on her face. While we were somewhere on the road to Stovepipe Wells, Ariel with dignity and compassion would be sent to cross the Rainbow Bridge. His time had come. I headed into the setting sun with a heavy heart, and determination in my eyes. The hot breeze quickly dried the tears.

“You will never leave me.
nor shall anything part us
You are my cat and
I am your human –
Now and onwards
Into the fullness of peace”
        -- Hilaire Belloc

Ariel in his beloved heated bed the day before we left for the Death Valley Express II

Done too soon

It was a grand day in the desert. The air was clear and hot. The start at Badwater Basin was shaded by the adjacent hills. The rising sun was brilliant and the distant mountains shown in glorious purple. While my crew did what they needed to get ready, I wandered out onto the salt flat feeling joy and wonder that I had once again made it to the start of a wondrous adventure. I was happy and comfortable. I was ready.

The start of a solo adventure is very much different than the nervous, almost chaotic rushing around of a race. There is no one there to tell you where to be and when. There was the usual discussion about where the start is exactly, as if a few feet really matter, but I told them where it was so that the cameras would be in place. When I was ready, I quietly walked to the start line and began.

And on we go ....

I felt fabulous!

Everything was working. The concern over my blood pressure dropping too low was soon found to not be a problem. I was staying hydrated. There was little doubt I would make it to Stovepipe Wells if I continued to be careful and stayed within myself. It got hot – about 118 degrees F near the Beatty turnoff. My urine darkened too much at one point and I stopped until I went again a much lighter color. For a period of time I was “third spacing” fluid and bloating, but that would decrease, too. It appeared the only issue was I had triggered a quick gag reflex with my very first intake of electrolyte capsules. They went in, and rapidly reappeared with that tell tale noise. My newest crewmember reacted and the others and I said, “Better get used to that!” I got them down with a Coke. That issue continued for some reason. Once it started, it did not stop and I had to take all the supplements with a Coke. At one point when climbing the hill to Sea Level at about 40 miles, my throat dried a bit and I coughed. That set me off and I left a gallon of good fluid and food on the side of the road. It did not worry me too much, but I did take a few minutes to replenish. My legs, my feet, my attitude were all great. 

Then I learned about Rurr Rurr.

Though I was sad and I felt a bit guilty Deborah and I had not been there for him, I was not going to let that stop me. I just needed to work it out in my head and keep my feet moving. I did that. It is what I had to do.

Because I had been extra careful to take care of watching my blood pressure and hydration, I was a little later getting into Stovepipe Wells than I had planned, but that was OK. I was looking forward to heading up Towne Pass in the night. I love Death Valley in the dark. The night would start with a waxing gibbous moon, giving way around midnight to full darkness, dominated by the Milky Way. That was going to be fantastic.

Near the Dunes I started to feel sick. Initially, I believed the nausea was a continuation of my sensitive gag reflex. I would rest at Stovepipe Wells and get some food, and things would settle down.

That is not what happened.

As the Sun set behind the hills, my brother-in-law joined us with his car. The crewmember that was rotating off was having too much fun and followed along, too. There was also Deborah in the Jeep, and the prime crew vehicle. In the darkness it looked like a caravan ahead of me. It was not what I wanted. The peace was broken. I was annoyed, but they all were there for me, and I did not want to say anything, so I did not. I would be alone again soon enough. I now expect the annoyance was not so much for the broken peace, but that I was feeling really sick. I threw up in the desert, but forgot to say anything in the confusion of the moment. I was starting to feel weak from not using the calories I had taken. I did not want to eat. I would wait until Stovepipe Wells. The spiral had begun.

I was happy when I got to Stovepipe. A major goal met strongly and well done. I sat at the bench outside the store as Deborah checked over my feet – good. Just a couple of little, easily handled blisters. Another major goal met. Food of all sorts was laid out for me. But, all I could get down was some Coke. It settled my stomach a bit, and it does have some calories, not the kind I needed, but something. The nausea only worsened. The idea of any other food just set me off. I went to a room for a couple hours of rest in hopes that would help.

In the room were two crewmembers getting rest for their time on later. I had a cot. It appeared like a scene out of the Keystone Cops as I watched everyone try to make room and get the cot set up. It did not happen, and I ended up in a bed while the others shared the other bed.

It took more than a couple hours, but I was headed up Towne Pass at about 3:30 am. It was beautiful. Perfect. It was a dream scene and I loved it. But, I was weak and still not eating well. Then started the diarrhea. Rich Benyo wrote of having the same during his double crossing. He had fun with it by using the parts that hang down as gun sights and shooting at small bushes.  I amused myself by doing the same and looking forward to telling him about it. OK, I know what you are thinking. But, you do what you can with what you have out there. Amusement aside, I was now losing it in both directions.

I was barely moving forward at this point.

Another mile, and all that careful intake of food and liquid – pudding, Gatorade, Pedialyte, Cytomax, water – all found its way to the roadside again. Just the thought of bringing my bottle up to my mouth for a drink was now enough to set me off.

I had to stop again. We recorded to location and staked out. I hoped a few more hours might help, but I was ready for the alternative too. It had to get better, or I was done. I was in major energy depletion mode. Forward motion was becoming more than difficult.

After 1.5 hours, I was awakened. I looked at the food next to me, and the Gatorade, and headed for the bathroom. It was not happening. A couple hours later I was not as violently ill, so I took a shower. No help. I waited for Deborah to come from Furnace Creek. I needed her. I needed to talk with her. I was going to drop, and I needed support, someone to lean on. The crew was doing everything in their power. There just was nothing they could do.

When Deborah arrived I was outside the gift shop. I saw her and I cried. I wanted to go on. I could not. I missed our cat. I would never see him again.

We had a team meeting and discussed options. I was hoping to not spew right then and there. The options were limited. I confessed that the biggest barrier at that point was that some six miles up the road, I had mentally dropped.

And so the Death Valley Express II came to an end as it started, quietly.

We had all had lunch together in the Badwater Saloon. My sister and brother-in-law joined us. A bit before, not fully understanding the situation, my sister hoped I could go again. She said she would not be here next year. I told her that I knew that. With tears in her eyes she said, “I do not want you to do it again for me.” I said, “Then I won’t do it for you.”

I hate cancer. I hate it so much.

My brother and sister-in-law showed up in the Saloon, having expected to find me somewhere close to Panament Springs by that point. With all the tact of a bulldozer accidentally driving over your car, he said, “So, you quit.” I thanked him for using that word, and headed off to lie down for a few minutes. He apologized later. If he had not, I would have forgiven him anyway. But, it was none-the-less like a spike to my heart.

This much I know – I did not quit. You cannot know without being in my body and mind, so you have to trust me – I gave it my best try. I know these things are true. That is all that matters. I know that there is no failure in that.

“There is peace in the desert, if you have it inside.” – Lisa Bliss told me that. I have it inside. I have it because I am proud of a good 50 miles in very severe conditions. We saw problems and we fixed them. My training was good, and I had fun.

My only sadness comes from the part of the adventure missed. For that I am very sad. It is like losing something loved – the three climbs, the long road through Owens Valley, pausing at Fr. Crowley Point would all have to wait for another time. As Deborah and I drove up Towne Pass, we stopped to pick up the stake. I hesitated. Then I grabbed it with certainty.

As I type this, I feel very proud. I feel pride for having done one good and difficult crossing last year. I feel pride for getting past a difficult period with my bad back this year and completing the training for another attempt. I feel pride for not giving up then. I feel pride for not giving up when giving up would have been easy. I feel pride for my crew, who gave everything they could. Michael told me that they came prepared for 135 miles, but they also came prepared for a lot less if that was what was to be. But, really, how can I, someone who should not even be doing this thing, not feel pride in just making it to the starting line, much less get past it by 50 miles.

To my crew, Bernhard, Nancy, Yi, Michael, I thank you. You helped make the event fun and successful. You gave generously, and I knew it every step.

Jenny, thank you for so well capturing in words so well what was happening. I read them with real emotion. Your contribution is lasting.

To Deborah, there are no words. You reluctantly took on the duties as crew chief last year, even though you where not fully on board with the idea of what I wanted to do. Then you did it again this year. Your organization and your care were obvious. I cherish you and everything you do. I look forward to the rest of our lives together.

To my MD, Jeff Denham, I thank you for all that you have done. I would not be out there if it were not for your expert and generous care.

To Lisa, Danny, Willy, Tim, Meredith, Kristen, Dave, Ian, Marshall and so many more, thank you for your inspiration, support, and kind words.

To Dick, Rich, and Rhonda, thank you for your years of inspiration and support. You gave me Death Valley to do with as I wished. Thank you for that.

The countdown clock at the right side of this page says emphatically what my plans are for next summer.

I will be back!!  I will be back once again, “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” – Tennyson

I can't wait!

Dreams do come true.


“Badwater” Bill
Tujunga, CA

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Journey's End ... for now

Knowing when to stop often takes more courage than toughing it out and continuing when all signs are telling you to stop.

Bill is courageous.

Together, he and his crew decided to stop after a brief trek out of Stovepipe Wells. Bill was having serious stomach issues, and without being able to eat solid food, his continuing was not only an unwise, but also an unsafe decision. One of the toughest parts of being a crew member is having to make difficult decisions. But runner safety is always top priority, and his crew served him well to advise him to stop.

We cannot presume to know or understand how Bill is feeling, but If you have ever come up short on reaching a goal, then you know a little of what Bill is experiencing. It's not the event, but your reaction to the event, that determines the quality of your life. There are no words to console…time is the only consolation.

Death Valley isn't going anywhere…if Bill decides that he is ready to go back…sometime in the future, we will all be there with him again. It's what we do. The human spirit is strong and courageous. I have a feeling that we all will be back.

Stovepipe to Towne Passe

Bill made it to Stovepipe Wells last night around 11:00. Mission accomplished - it was Bill's goal to get to Stovepipe Wells in the first day. He made steady progress from Furnace Creek to Stovepipe, dealing with temperatures in the 115-117 degree range for most of the day. He did not suffer with significant dehydration, and, fortunately, his feet are in much better shape than last year at this point.

Deborah was able to send me some photos, so here are some pix from the first leg of the journey.

Start to Finish: Badwater to Mt. Whitney

We hear Death Valley, and the first thing most of us think is "hot!" However, it is actually more than just "hot." It's obviously super hot in the summer months, but other aspects of the desert make this journey especially difficult.

Bill's goal is to cover 135 miles from Death Valley to Mt. Whitney, California, in the most demanding and extreme running/walking conditions "offered" anywhere on the planet. Badwater is the lowest elevation in the Western Hemisphere at 280 feet below sea level. Mt. Whitney Portal, where he plans to finish, is at ~ 8300 feet. Bill's trek will cover three mountain ranges for a total of ~ 13,000 feet of total vertical ascent and ~ 4,700 feet of cumulative descent.

As you can imagine, anything can happen along the way. Just getting to the starting line of this undertaking requires a mental fortitude that few possess. Add to that the desolation of the desert and the ability to see for miles and miles of what is ahead ... and you can maybe begin to comprehend the tremendous focus it takes to just keep going.

As you read this from the air-conditioned comfort of your home or office (and as I write this from my air-conditioned room), Bill is out there in the extreme heat pursuing a dream. That we are with him in "spirit" does actually help. So, let's continue to think of him and send him our positive energy as he makes his way across the desert.

Monday, August 8, 2011

In and out of Furnace Creek

This just in: Bill made it into Furnace Creek (~17.4 miles) in good shape and good spirits. The temp is only 112 degrees, so he hasn't reached the hottest part of the day yet. The goal is to make it to Stovepipe Wells (~41.9 miles) sometime tonight.

Badwater Bill is on the Move

Hello to all Badwater Bill's friends, family, and followers. I will be reporting the details of Bill's journey as I receive updates from Deborah and the crew. We talked last night before they were going to bed  - their hope was to "try" to get some rest before the adventure began. The predominant mood was "Let's get this thing started." Mentally, Bill and the crew were upbeat and ready to go.

6:15 a.m. - Today Badwater Bill began his second crossing of Death Valley to Mt. Whitney. Temperatures were expected to start in the upper 80's or low 90's. Expected high today ~118 degrees. As you can see, his feet are all taped up - no problems to begin with - just a preventive measure.

As Bill undertakes the arduous trek across Death Valley, I'm sure he'd love to hear your thoughts, comments, and other words of encouragement. And, when I talk with Deborah (whenever she can give me updates), I'll be sure to relay to her your comments to help keep Bill focused on his goal. 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Ruminations before the Ruination

"There is peace in the desert, if you have it within."   -- Lisa Bliss

As I write this, there are three days, fifteen hours, and three minutes until the start of my Death Valley to Mt. Whitney crossing. Various things are running through my mind. Some are positive thoughts, and some thoughts that are not so positive. Right now I am feeling confident. I need and will keep that feeling, in spite of an overall sense of nervousness and anticipation.

Playing next to me is the video Running on the Sun, a documentary on the Badwater 135 race that covers the same course I will be following. It serves as a bit of a reminder to not get overconfident, and that this thing I am about to do is hard, very hard.

I have thought about things I might do to get a better response to my fundraising.  I must admit to being a little disappointed. Yet, times are difficult and it is hard for many to give. I am truly thankful to those who have. I will think about that, too.

For some reason, I was thinking last night about my “Bucket List,” that list of things I want to do before I die. It is funny, really, because I do not have a Bucket List. I have always just done the things I want to do. Putting them on a list just seems like a way of putting it off, never to be done. Yet, there are two things I want. The first is to properly learn to play the electric guitar. I once played the clarinet. I was pretty good. But, I am a rocker at heart, so I lost connection with the clarinet. One day soon, I want to pick up my Stratocaster and play Ventures music (yes, that would be the dreaded surf music), a little bit of metal, and do it as if the thing were part of me.

I want, really want, to one day never know another person sick or dead from cancer.

I also have a wish. I wish one day I can say a real and final good-bye to my late brother Rick. I will never stop missing him. I wish I could do this other thing so that I could look at his kids and see them for who they are, and not see Rick and what he missed. I wish my niece and nephew could be that and only that.

I want to move to somewhere quiet and open, where the roads never end and the cars are few. I would like that a lot.

That’s about it, really. I once wanted to jump out of an airplane (with a parachute, duh!) so that I could experience flying. But, I found flying in my running.  There are some things I would very much like to do, but would be OK if I don’t. I would like to once drive a car I have built beyond 200 mph. That seems like it would be fun. Like a lot of people, I would like to travel some more. But, I have been lucky and have traveled a lot already

OK, that was more thoughtful than I was expecting…

Mostly what I think about, as I glance over at Running on the Sun, is that I want to get on the road. That is the place I should be. Last year, in Death Valley, I found my home – the place I belong. Yet, the lyrics to the theme song of the movie "The Wrestler" by Bruce Springsteen say a real truth:

“These things that have comforted me, I drive away
This place that is my home, I cannot stay
My only faith’s in the broken bones and bruises I display”

As Lisa Bliss wrote to me the other day, “There is peace in the desert, if you have it within.” I am so proud to be following in her footsteps. Her great effort still sends chills through me. My adventure will be different, yet in many ways the same.

On Monday, Rick’s birthday, I will find out if I can cover the course once again. But, if I make it one mile, or 135 miles, in the end it does not matter. I will have tried my very best. There is no failure in that. What I will have, no matter what, is the journey I have already taken to get to the starting line. That road has been filled with potholes and has been perilous at times, but all worth it.

When I take that first step on Monday morning, I will be stepping into a new unknown. How exciting is that?!

OK, enough ruminations before the ruination.


“Badwater” Bill
Tujunga, CA

"I cannot say where this might end. Yes, it is uncertain. Why should that stop me from continuing to do this thing? This thing I do is hard - it challenges every muscle, bone, and brain cell I have. Few have dared to tread where I go. Few have faced the challenges that have been placed before me. That, in and of itself, makes it worthwhile to keep going."

- Badwater Bill - Near Stovepipe Wells, Death Valley, CA, August 2010

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

And the Doctor Said, "Deal with it."

The hay is in the barn. All training is done. Now we get organized and wait. There is a lot more organizing than waiting, however. We will have a team teleconference tonight, the last before we meet on Saturday in Furnace Creek. Deborah has developed a plan for crew rotation that is based on my projected progress. As we have learned, planning is necessary, but plans are useless. Something will happen to change everything. But, with a plan there might be a smooth transition into the unknown. Deborah has worked hard. She gives a lot to my efforts. I would not know how to do it without her.

We are going into this with a small, but nagging uncertainty. My heel problem that I mentioned elsewhere has resolved. But, during training in Death Valley I found I was not processing fluids correctly. I also was getting light headed and sick. I was well hydrated, so something else was going on. At the time, this seemed like a major problem. We consulted my most capable and supportive MD. We quickly realized I likely was going hypotensive – very low blood pressure. I have controlled extreme hypertension – very high blood pressure. Over the past year, my doctor has worked to get that under control with a new combination of medications. I was on those meds during the training in Death Valley. Under normal environmental conditions, I did not notice a problem. In Death Valley, I took it to the extreme with high heat and dryness, hard effort, and long hours. With my BP normal, it was entirely likely I was going well subnormal.

We ran a test this past weekend. For those of you looking at the tracking page, you would have noticed I went to the Salton Sea. That was the closest place I could find some heat. It was not that hot, but the heat index was 117 F, so it would be good enough. It smelled bad out there and the flies were just horrible, but it had to be done.  I was off the BP meds for about 18 hours and that made the difference. Starting with predictably high blood pressure, I went into the normal blood pressure range in just three miles. I felt good and I processed fluids well. While this was a successful test, it was not Death Valley. I have to start with caution. While there is little that will stop me, the risk of killing my kidneys is not something I particularly want to take to high levels. The first twelve hours will tell the tale.

In some ways I have the cardiovascular system of an obese couch potato, or worse. Doctors and nutritionists will tell you that exercise and diet will lower your cholesterol and maintain a good blood pressure. Absolutely that is the case. Please, please do that for your health. But, it does not always work, and in some cases heredity fights whatever you do to prevent such issues. I am one of those cases.

The highest blood pressure reading I remember having taken was at the start of the Angeles Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run. Here I am in 100 mile shape getting a blood pressure measurement of 240/150. The guy doing the measurement said if I am not careful, I will pop. It was during that race that my back failed me badly, and I was out at 26 miles. I went to my (previous) doctor for my back. Here begins a story of bad doctoring that leaves me cold to think this man is still out there “helping” people. I respect doctors. My grandfather was a great doctor, the last of the house call docs. He died of a stroke on his way to his last house call. I might have been a doctor, if I did not fear blood so much.

This doctor took an X-ray of my back. I already knew this almost certainly would not show anything. X-ray’s do not show soft tissue – the most likely case given the type of compression injury I had. I do not remember why, but he also ran blood work on me. Well, the X-ray came back negative. Instead of ordering an MRI, he just told me to take naproxen and “deal with it.” He actually used those words – “Deal with it.” I told him I run 100 mile races, and that I know pain when I feel it. No help.

When it came to my blood work, my total cholesterol was around 320, triglycerides off the chart at 1600, and my BP was around 200/100. Instead of being concerned, this doctor told me all I needed was to get more exercise. Really? I had just told him I ran 100 mile races, ran 60 miles a week, trained 6 or 7 days a week. Ugh. He stuck to his guns, for whatever use they provided him.

At this point, knowing I knew more about diagnostics than my own MD, I changed insurance and found another. The recommendation I received was one of true brilliance. I also was lucky. His practice was full. I got in because of knowing the right person.

He listened to my tale of woe. When I finally got to him, I was in a lot of pain – a real lot. I was scared for my running. The previous blood work was not on my mind, only the pain and if I would run again. I got the MRI that I needed, and that clearly showed I had a badly herniated disk. I got treatment and I am where I am now, not fixed, but doing a lot better. He did not question my diet or my activity level. He worked to fix the problem. Simple, good doctoring of the kind my grandfather did. To be sure the bad blood chemistry had not done any damage, he ordered a new scan of my heart that would directly image any build up. This is where the lifetime of running did show its benefit. I have zero build up in my heart and critical vessels. None. The usual chart for such things shows me at lower than a 25 year old’s level. Nice.

What I am now working on is my weight. In photos of me, you might notice a rather large gut, especially for someone who does what I do. It is the “Latter Gut,” the place my family puts its extra pounds. Not very attractive, I must say. Most of that weight went on while I was down with my back issue. I am getting older and something changed during that time. I used to be able to exercise a little and lose a lot of weight. Now I train and train and nothing happens. Yes, cutting calories works. But, when I am training I find it hurts the work too much. I am currently much heavier than I want to be. It is a compromise for my goals this summer. After I am done, I will work to solve the weight problem in a serious way. Life is a compromise. We must choose our battles and prioritize them.

It took a few attempts to get the blood pressure to acceptable levels with the right combination of drugs. I am there now. But, as one might expect, such medications are not tested on people trying to do crossings of Death Valley in the summer. I will go off those meds a couple days before the start and hope for the best. Not wanting to “pop,” I will start them again right away afterwards.

Doctors are people – flawed individuals for sure. Just like all of us. Some should really be doing something else. But, there are many good and very good doctors. Don’t accept one you do not like or do not trust. Find a good one. Ask around. They are out there and you can find one.

Also, do not accept your status as a very active person as a reason to never worry about your heart and blood chemistry. Get them checked. If you are like most people, you will be fine. If you are like me, get the medication you need and then you are sure you will be fine. If you decide to explore physical boundaries, be careful, but do not stop trying. 


"Badwater" Bill
Tujunga, CA

Friday, July 29, 2011

Last Hard Training Session

Last weekend I completed an extended training session in Death Valley. The plan was 60 miles over three days. I did not meet that mileage, but achieved my goals and feel the training was a big success. As far as a test of readiness, this is a little like wading up to your ankles into the water to see if you are ready to swim the channel.

Here is how it went --

First day was one of those days. It was like pulling a plow. My plow was attached to my stomach. Breakfast sat like a brick. After 12 miles into the "dead zone" (the region on Highway 190 between the Borax Works and the sand dunes) approaching 115 degrees F, breakfast made a rather sudden reappearance. I felt great after that! But, Deborah (and I) thought it best to declare my effort done for that day. Fitness and heat training wise I felt great.

Second day was a good, even 21 miles from where I left off to Stovepipe Wells and a ways back. Temperatures exceeded 117 degrees F with no wind.

Third day was 11 miles into a 20 mph headwind and 120 degrees F heading from Furnace Creek toward Badwater. It was just like trying to jam myself down the nozzle of a blow drier! Given the necessary slowness -- wearing sun protection clothes in such a wind is like pulling a parachute, take a step, push forward, take another, repeat.... --  and the amount of effort required, I went on the clock, rather than total miles. Ended with 16 or 17 in about 6 hours. This was a good day overall.

While in Death Valley, we had the distinct honor of being at the start of Lisa Bliss' amazing journey (see What, Me Worry?) and again on the course. Incredible. Just incredible.

Here are some photos, just for fun!

"Badwater" Bill
Tujunga, CA

Bill in the "dead zone" climbing a hill.

Bill just ignores such warnings and keeps right on going!

Lisa Bliss setting off into history - 06:20 hrs, 25 July 2011.

The wonders of the desert are boundless.

Lisa approaching Keeler in Owens Valley, still smiling after traveling over two mountain ranges and deserts to finish on the summit of Mt. Whitney, near 00:00 hrs on July 29, 2011.
Teakettle Junction - obviously.

A race rock taking a test run at the Racetrack

These things kept trying to catch us. Good thing they are slow.