Badwater, the journey continues


The Journey to Badwater has not ended yet! I went into this race feeling strong, fit and mentally ready.  Unfortunately I had to make a tough judgment call to pull out of the race due to pulmonary edema.  Here’s a recap of my race. 

   My entire team and I got to the start shortly after 7:00 am and were ready for pictures at 7:30.  I felt great, I slept well, I ate breakfast, and I put in some great training and preparation for Badwater and was ready to go! The start was at Badwater Basin, Death Valley, 282′ below sea level, with temperatures already approaching 100 by 8:00.  

We were off!   My goal was to take the first 41 miles really easy with a 9-10 hour goal to Stovepipe Wells. This is the section that gets many runners with the heat and dehydration. I was taking it easy to save myself for the rest of the race. With my past experience in racing and training, I was planning to drink at least 30 ounces of water at a minimum. My crew kept me cool, as cool as one can be in 125 degree temperatures, with an ongoing bottle filled with ice and water or juice.  They kept a cold bandana around my neck, ice in my hat and jog top.

The first few hours were steady and relaxed, just focusing on keeping a 4.5 mph pace. I always like to start in the back and this time I was last in the 8:00 wave for the first section of 17 miles. By 11:30 I ran into the first checkpoint at Furnace Creek, where there is a store, hotel and gas station and my crew all together. I ran into the bathroom, which became the first of many trips. I left feeling pretty good but as soon as I left I had to stop again, this time at the gas station’s bathroom on the way out. From that point on everything I ate or drank went right through me within 10 minutes, my hands started to swell, and everything seemed like more effort than it should have. Within 10 more miles my entire body swelled up like a butterball and I started slowing down. I was trying to keep a good attitude but was concerned about getting this corrected. I had to pull off to the side at least each mile to use the bathroom, my hands were swollen that I could barely see knuckles, and my stomach was ballooning up. 9459369876_bda1eaa219_m



I have gone through some hydration and electrolyte balance issues in the past 2 years of ultra distance races and with trial and error, I found I need approximately 25 ounces of water and 1000 mg of sodium per hour. We had followed this formula for the first 20+ miles but my condition was steadily worsening and I was getting concerned.  By mile 30 or 31 I was thinking about staking out (each racer had a stake that if we choose to take a break any time during the race, this is the mark where we come back to) and going to the hotel for an ice bath and rest.  I didn’t say anything to my crew but they could see I was hurting and they were so good to keep misting me with ice water and keeping me cool. Chris and Kena each ran with me for a short bit and were being so upbeat but I just couldn’t say much to keep the conversation going. I kept toughing it out and finally about mile 35 I asked them to pull out the make shift ice bath, a 3 foot storage tray with some ice in it, to let me cool down for 5 minutes and then I would get back on the road. I didn’t want to stake out yet because I knew the hotel was only 6 or 7 miles ahead.

I laid back into the cold tray and as soon as Tom put a bag of ice on my chest I felt like I was being crushed.  Instantly I felt a moment of fear that I’ve never experienced in a race before.   I couldn’t breath and felt a second of panic.  I sat up and found that I could breathe but was still gasping for breath for the first couple minutes.   After a moment, my tears of fear disappeared but became tears of ‘what’s going to happen now?!’. 

When they saw what was happening, Tom, Chris and Kena reacted instantly, radioed Mike and Lee who just happened to be only 1 mile ahead. My van had taken some gear out to make space for my ice bath and as soon as the 2nd vehicle arrived we took off and left the gear for the other crew to pick up. In the 10 minutes that it took to get back to the hotel, I was able to breathe with a shallow breath and decided to start with an ice bath to see if I would recover from the swelling. I sat in it for a while, still could not get a deep breath in and then hobbled over to see the medical team.    

The first thing they had me do was weigh in. The racers are weighed at the start of the race so they can check along the course if the runner has lost too much weight from dehydration. My weight had gone UP 11 pounds. The medical reconfirmed my oxygen level 3 x’s as they were concerned that it was only 88 where the healthy range is 99-100.    They listened to my lungs and heard the fluid in my lungs knowing immediately I had pulmonary edema.  I had retained so much fluid and it was seeping into my lungs.    They took my blood and ruled out hyponatremia as my sodium and electrolytes were pretty normal.  Medical told me that I needed wait for my oxygen level to get back up into the high 90’s as well as pee enough to lose a lot of the 11 pounds.   Only at that time would they give me blessings to get back in the game.  I waited an hour, nothing. I felt good and had a lot of energy and just wanted to pee so I could get back on the course.  After 4-5 hours I started getting impatient as the race time was ticking and I had only peed about 8-10 ounces.  I wanted to get back in the race! My oxygen came up to 94 but since I was still up 10 pounds they said I was not ready to go. I was trying to learn and determine how serious it was and the pros and cons of continuing on in the race. The doctors’ Megan, Brady and Mike were so patient to answer all my questions and explained how serious my risks were. I agreed to be very cautious but I decided I would at least give it a chance and go back to my stake and start walking slowly to see how my body would react.   I had a glimmer of hope and optimism that I may pee or sweat it out.   They warned against it but I promised that if I felt ANY worse, I would pull out.   

Mike, Kena, Tom and I drove back and when we found the stake I started walking with them leap frogging me every 1/4 to 1/2 mile while Kena walked with me.  It was just after midnight and the temperature was between 105-110. Kena kept my upper body cool with the sprayer.  The pavement temperatures had reached 177 degrees during the heat of the day and I could feel the heat radiating from the ground.  

Within 2 miles my hands had swollen so much you couldn’t see that I had knuckles and I started to get a stinging head ache so I knew what was next.    I didn’t want to go out in an ambulance or body bag so I knew I had to pull out now.  Even though I knew what was right, it was still an extremely emotional decision. I went to the van and talked it over with Mike and then Tom and Kena.   Even after hearing all my sobbing and disappointment, everyone was relieved that I made the right decision.
It felt unreal how it was over so quick. I went into Badwater knowing that it would hurt but was confident that my team and I would finish. It’s done, now what. I got my tears out, licked my wounds, and suggested we go take a nap and cheer everyone on all the way to the finish.   
It was great!  We had a ton of food left and shared it with racers and crew along the way, the favorites being fruit cups, V-8’s and fruit juices, with least favorites being Pringles, Fritos or Frappuccino.  

We got to mile 122, the town of Lone Pine, and visited with the race officials and medical. Fortunately the medical was not crazy busy like they were at Stove Pipe and I got to visit. They saw I was still swollen but were glad to see I was slowly recovering. We put out camp chairs, an umbrella and cheered racers on til dark.  After a few hours we drove back up to the finish to see some finishers coming in. Then around midnight drove back down the grueling 13 mile hill and encouraged the exhausted racers as they went up.  It was thrilling to see them so close and digging so deep to get it done. They could smell the barn but still had a 4 hour hill to climb.
We got back to the rooms and the team went right to sleep. I was still wide awake at 3:00 in the morning so I went back out to the race headquarters across the street to check if all the racers had been through. All the athletes had been through except for one who was in Medical laying down. He was just physically and mentally exhausted and didn’t want to go on. I was able to go in and encourage him to get back on the road and within a couple of minutes his crew was taking him back on the course.

I thank the race director, Chris Kostman, and his AdventureCORPS team who did a wonderful job in planning and executing the race. They keep high standards for the event and runners with support from the best. The volunteers were incredible, knowledgeable and always ready to help. I especially appreciate the medical team who was absolutely first class. They tended to everyone quickly and with great care and nudged racers along.
The entire journey has been a wonderful experience and hopefully I will be back to see the finish. I’ve been thinking about Badwater since 2003 and really focused on it since December 2011. I would love to go back but my first goal is to get this possible kidney or hormone issue figured out. All doctors encouraged me to get checked out right away and rule out any heart or kidney issues. So far I’ve had complete blood tests, chest xray and echocardiogram and all is well with my heart and kidneys. Dr Berry, a Badwater doctor, contacted me and thinks it could be SIADH, which is an imbalance of ADH (Anti Diuretic Hormone). I have started to read about SIADH and it sounds like he hit the nail on the head. I am so thankful for an endocrinologist and a sports doctor friend who are interested in helping me determine exactly what it is and trying to put the puzzle together. I am doing an Ironman race in 10 days (with caution) and to help with further research while my body and hormones are under stress my doctor has a written request for blood work. Hopefully Ironman will honor this at the finish and this will help answer any questions of my medical team.
What next? Because I’ve had edema issues for the past 2 years in events 10 hours or longer, I wonder if my ultra endurance days are over but am being optimistic. For now, I am going ahead and doing Ironman Mont-Tremblant with the attitude of total fun and that if I feel ok, great, I’ll finish, if not, I’ll stop. For the rest of the year I’ll keep my endurance events to maybe a marathon and will focus on shorter distance and quality trainings and recoveries. I look forward to getting stronger and maybe I’ll even get some speed back!
Even though I did not get to see the finish line, I had a great time with Mike, Tom, Chris, Kena and Lee, other racers and all involved with the race organization. I am very grateful of my crew and how much they helped me to get to the start, their knowledge and quick response during the race, and all having a great attitude and fun for the rest of the race. I felt terrible that our race ended and that they would not be able to experience the full race. They were in it as much as I was and it showed in their great support. We even had permits to climb and summit Mt Whitney the day after the race but they wouldn’t go without me. They all told me that had a great experience and I really hope so.
Before, during and after I got to see old friends, meet many new ones and share ups and downs. I also got to see a beautiful part of the country and it’s extremes from Mars-like Death Valley to lush Mt Whitney. I am thankful for the entire experience. I hope to have the good fortune to go back.


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One thought on “Badwater, the journey continues

  1. Barb Geisel

    Sandy, I can feel the emotion in your words. It must have been a whirlwind for you. I can empathize with your state. You always go in as prepared as you possibly can, yet you are humble enough and wise enough to listen to what your body is telling you. That is admirable. I hope you soon discover what the issue is and I hope you can continue in whatever capacity you can. Do consider though that it may be more of a coaching role some day any way. Nothing wrong with that. Cheers to you, little sis! Love Barb XO

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