Badwater 135 Race Report

 

It's difficult to express in words the Badwater 135 on typical years but this year was even more dramatic than previous. 

The start of the race was ominous. Lightning danced in the background as we drove towards Furnace Creek. We stayed in Lone Pine about 100 miles from the start line to save money. Flash floods cut off the only road to the start only 5 or so hours from the start. Any alternate route was 5 plus hours. It was touch and go but after an hour a small road crew was able to clear a path for traffic.


The start was warmer than last year and instead of wind at our back which pushed us forward last year, the wind attacked our right side for the first 10 miles. There was a camber in the road and it further beat on my body that had experienced a significant camber in Belfast. My foot was a bit sore and I've never in my life had an IT Band issue but the force against my body and camber made it tight. I found myself stopping to stretch every few miles beginning at mile 17 the first check point. I was a bit concerned after 13 miles because I was feeling tired running a 9 minute pace. At this point, I was only concerned about surviving and finishing. I wasn't even thinking finishing in the top 10. Going into the race the night before I told Kelly I could either win or finish last. I was serious, I really didn't know how my body would respond to running ~145 miles the week before at the 24 Hour World Championship.


Harvey Lewis at the 2017 Badwater 135

Photo credit: Photographer Ron Jones - AdventureCorp

I choose to share this photo of my crew member Andy Lohn making a handoff because teamwork is so important and Badwater has so many moving elements.



From mile 17-42 I tried to maintain a fairly competitive pace but struggled. In previous years where I was fresh it wasn't an issue to run a 8:30-8:50 per miles pace in the first 42 miles. Jared Fetterolf and I ran a solid stretch in there and both shared our struggles. I struggled to maintain a 9 minute pace and ran closer to 10 minutes many miles. Keith Straw famous for his pink tutu had some very calming words for me, telling me I had nothing to prove at the race. I talked with other runners who were also struggling. I wasn't sure what was going to happen with my IT Band; if it would continually get worst and worst, force me to walk the final 100 miles and use the full 48 hours allotted or if I was potentially doing permanent damage. I was conscious to maintain as good of running form as possible in my Newton's and stretched myself a couple minutes on the ground near the gas station in Stovepipe Wells.


Once I arrived at 42 I was thankful because I could take a break from the arduous running and power March it up the mountain to Townes Pass. I was a little uneasy with this because I remember how I felt at about mile 30 when I saw a sign that said (sea level) and I felt like I had climbed so much. The idea of ascending about 5,000 feet of vertical climb from 42-58 put me in another area of unknown. How would my body respond to the IT Band? I marched to the top holding ground. I assumed at this point we were perhaps around 15th position but at this point I was just thinking survival and finish. I didn't care then necessarily where that was I just wanted to finish.


My spirits were lifted about a mile from the top of the summit by seeing my friend Nick LaBoffe and his crew. Nick has taken two trips to Portugal with my business RunQuest Travel and we have had some great experiences from training with Carlos Sa to running around Mont Blanc. He seemed to be in a better energy level than me. He was wearing a RunQuest shirt at the time I came up from behind him (he started in the 9:30pm wave, I started in the 11pm wave). I also saw his crew Joe, Cameron, Wheels and Jeremy who are all friends. We started to collaborate and go together. At the top of Townes Pass I changed into new shoes. The Newton Gravity VI I had been wearing had worn a little uneven at the Worlds 24 due to the camber so I put on a brand new pair of Newton Gravity. I also changed shorts to 2XU compression shorts. I feel they help to reduce the vibrations and break down of muscle fibers for running down mountains. I stretched but I felt pretty rough. I started the 8 mile descent with about a 3,000 foot elevation change. Nick and I ran together with our crews. For a while Joe Hamilton crewed Nick and it felt like another day in Portugal running with our friend Carlos Sa. Joe and Nick met on our first trip to Portugal with RunQuest Travel and quickly became good friends. They were part of Carlos Sa's crew for Badwater in 2014. Seeing people you know including the other teams and crews really helps. The descent is rough on the muscles. You know it's steep and far when you can smell the burn of break pads of trucks and cars that occasionally pass. It may sound a little crazy but I visualize I was on a yellow raft floating down the mountain and let gravity do the work.


From the bottom of the mountain there is about 10k across a really hot Panament Valley. Nick and I continued running together and Ray Sanchez another runner traded positions with us half a dozen times. Each time he passed me he would tag me and say your it. There's a good camaraderie amongst the Badwater racers. Making it to Panament Springs was a relief; an opportunity to get a cold fountain soda and stretch again. Nick pulled in with me and we said we could leave together. We heard arriving that Pete had had a rough stretch and lost 10 pounds of body weight but had gone back out. I had to give it to him for not giving up at that point. For the first time in the race I asked an official my position. I wasn't expecting anything great. He told me 10th place but if you keep it up you could move up. After 17 minutes, we were out of there. Nick was eager and in great spirits. I was really tired but didn't want to stop.


It's about 8 miles of serious climb to get to the top of Father Crowley. I remember telling my friend and crew member Andy my mind says I just want to run up this mountain but my body says no.


About half way up the mountain a raptor fighter jet buzzed us. It was a special force that sent shockwaves through my body and gave me the energy of a teenager at a rock concert. I said to Nick and his crew member along with my crew member Eric, "This might be stupid but some crazy shit is about to happen." I started running up the mountain like there was no tomorrow. My leg which had experienced the IT Band issue all day suddenly felt no issue with tracking. I won't say I felt fresh but I was determined and not going to relent. I had had it.


I knew Pete was a couple miles ahead at most. Part of me was competitive but part of me wanted to collaborate with Pete (as we are USA 24 Hour Teammates) and to run together to the finish. When I got to Father Crawley Cameron said Pete is 6 minutes ahead. I never stopped running. I ran stronger. When he was finally in visual view he and his crew member had started to run and pick up the pace. We ran through runners as I tried to catch up. Passing several runners. By the time we reached Darwin I had passed Pete. We pulled each other with our competition but I was tired of hammering on each other and I thought that was it. Pete was relentless.


After mile 100 the #1 crew van reappeared. I had been running hard up mountains for over 50k. I saw Pete and I couldn't hold him off. I tried to hold pace and it zapped me. I had to take a 4 minute break in the crew van or risk total shut down. I put on Eric's IPod started listening to some good tunes and started back to hammer. Eventually I came across Pete who was having another rough stretch. I wished him well with admiration for his fight. I turned my gaze forward for a top 3 finish.


The final 22 miles to Lone Pine were tough. I didn't underestimate the caliber of Pete and all along I tried to push further ahead. I received some news from the media photographer that the Italian was stopped in his vehicle and it might be possible to catch him. I never stopped. I always believed it was possible and not to give up. Each step was discomfort but I focused my mind on positive images as best as I could. I never take pain medication during an ultra largely because I feel I shouldn't be continuing if the pain is so great I can't take it. I felt it all! It hurt, it was a fight to the end but it was exciting and I even surprised myself. The final couple miles to Lone Pine were a mental challenge. Eric and I kept turning around and seeing lights. We thought it was another runner who snuck up on us. We ran harder. It took us a couple miles to figure out in our less than fully conscious state that it was the reflective poles along the road picking up our blinking lights.

Harvey Crosses the Finish Line

 Photo Credit: Photographer Chris Kostman - AdventureCORPS, Inc


We learned at the final check point if I completed the final 3.6 miles to Whitney Portal in a fast track I would beat a runner from the 9:30 wave time and take 3rd. We pushed and gave it everything. I wasn't sure we had it until after finishing Race Director Chris Kostman told me we pulled out 3rd.


It was unprecendented! I could never have predicted we would finish 3rd anywhere early in the race. That I felt tired legs almost from the beginning from Belfast made it all the further unlikely. Even Kelly said not until mile 90 did I think you had any chance for top 3. Giant thank to my crew of Eric Hunziker and Andy Lohn who both hope to run Badwater next year. Also Kelly my loving fiancé and amazing crew member for always pushing me as well as her 17 year old son Blake. They were amazing! That was a crazy, crazy race. The highest number of DNF's with 75 finishers of the 95 runners who started. Cincinnati represented very well with my friends Nick LaBoffe finishing 10th and Kyle Fahrenkamp 19th overall.

Thanks to everyone for all the amazing comments and positive thoughts.

 

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