Some of the competitors in my group are walking around dressed in white, heat-shielding clothes. It gives the scene a crazy feel: I am among aliens. Despite the shock and otherworldly weirdness of the scenario, I feel confident. OK, I’m a little terrified, but at the same time, good.
I just want to get moving.
I have two goals as the race director readies us for the start: The first is just to survive the race and 120-degree temperatures. The second is to shoot for the buckle, which is awarded to all competitors who finish the race in less than 48 hours.
The race starts fine. I feel really good running through the first checkpoint. But at Mile 24 — nearly one whole marathon into the race — I develop severe heat cramps in my legs and stomach. My crew assures me that I am taking in plenty of electrolytes and salt, but my body doesn’t seem to be processing it properly.
I start deteriorating quickly. My fluids are just sloshing in my stomach, and I feel bloated. I projectile vomit. I will repeat that process for the next 40 miles.
I’m absolutely miserable. Depressed. I wonder if I’m going to make it. I can’t help but think about how much farther I have to go.
Fifteen hours into the race, I’m still puking. I haven’t urinated, and it’s starting to freak me out.
As night falls, we reach Panamint Springs to rest. I finally pee. Some flat Coca-Cola settles my stomach. A little chicken noodle soup and a high-sodium drink get my electrolytes back to normal, but I still feel like I really got my ass kicked.
My feet are a mess of blisters. I close my eyes for some rest as one of my crew works on them, popping the blisters and sealing them with duct tape, then it’s back to the race.
I pass into the company of another runner, Marshall Ulrich, who has made the Badwater crossing more than 20 times. He tells me I’m doing great, that from our position I could walk it and come in under the cutoff time for the belt. This encouragement keeps me moving — sometimes very slowly, butmoving.
At Mile 85 I feel good in my mind, and I’m sure I can finish this, only to quickly lose all positive thoughts again at Mile 90. The highs and lows of this race are extreme and exhausting.
A mile later, my crew senses my drop in confidence and gets me off the road. I’m in bad shape.
I feel like I’ve arrived at the gates of hell.
Still, somehow, I am able to gag down a bit of turkey sandwich and a few Pringles. I feel numb and defeated. I watch as 15, 20 runners pass me by. Suddenly, I am angry at myself.
All I’ve done the whole race is cry and moan to my friends and crew, and I think,F--- it! I’m going to finish this race or die. And with that resolve, I’m out of my chair, putting my headphones in place and running again.
I don’t know what’s in me, but I run steadily to Mile 122, Portal Road, the last checkpoint before the 13-mile, 4,500-foot climb to the finish line at Whitney Portal. Here, I’m joined by my friend and crew member, Aron Ralston, who encourages and paces me at a great clip to the finish. The race was like running in hell then finally breaking through into life.
Out of all the runners, I had the seventh fastest time for the last 50 miles. My time for the entire race: 39 hours, 18 minutes and 6 seconds. Good for 27th place.
I survived. I finished. I got the buckle.