Badwater 2013 – Crewing and Pacing Ray Sanchez

Earlier this week I had the honor of crewing and pacing Ray Sanchez during his sixth Badwater 135.  The last two times I crewed/paced at Badwater, I wrote extensive summaries of the experience (here are the links for 2009 and 2010), this time I’m going to write about it less in words and more in photos.

But before I get to the photos, check out something else.  On Friday, I met up with my friend Rich Roll (who crewed and paced Dean Karnazes) in his garage/podcast studio to recap the race and discuss Badwater in general.  He published the podcast yesterday and it rocks.  Click on the photo below to check it out.  And while you’re at it, listen to his other podcasts.  He interviews all kinds of rad people in the world of sports, nutrition, health, fitness and sustainable living.

Badwater starts at the Badwater Basin, 282 feet below sea level, and the runners travel 135 miles to the Mt. Whitney Portal at 8,360 feet.  In between, runners go through Death Valley, over two mountain passes, through the town of Lone Pine, then up the 13 mile Mt. Whitney Portal Road to the finish line at the Mt. Whitney trailhead.  The runners have 48 hours to complete the race.  This year, the men’s winner, Carlos Sa, won in 24:38:16 and the women’s winner, Catherine Todd, came in 11th overall and finished in 29:55:29.

Ray finished 29th overall in 37:30:17.  And it was a friggin’ battle.  Here’s the story.

Here’s Ray with our crew before the start.  The race starts in three waves – 6am, 8am and 10am.  Ray was in the 8am wave.

In the photo are Jason Obirek, me (not sure why I’m hiding like that), Ray, Iso Yucra, Brian Recore.  We had these badass shirts from  All the lettering is reflective.  “Be Change” is the charity that Ray supports through his running.  (Runners and crew almost always wear white shirts during the race. These bright orange shirts were probably about as cool and had the added benefit of making us stand out like crazy.  When I was out on the course pacing Ray, we could see our crew from 100s of meters away while most of the other crews just blended together.)

(photo: Brian Recore)

And here’s the whole group of 8am starters in front of the sign at the Basin:

And here I am at the start.  You see how well Ray stands out in his orange shirt at the starting line!

During the first 17 miles of the race (from Badwater to Furnace Creek), runners aren’t allowed pacers, but they can be crewed.  The other two times I crewed at Badwater, we had six people on the crew, with two vehicles (that’s the maximum of each that the race allows). This year, there were four of us in one vehicle. Totally doable, but it leaves much less room for resting or catching your breath.  During the race, Iso and I were the pacers, Jason was the driver and Brian with the cast on his leg was our commander. We all shared the crewing duties.

Here’s Jason spraying Ray down as he passes by during those first 17 miles.  This part of the race is relatively flat and Ray was running at a 9-10 minute per mile pace.  He was at or near the front of the 8am starting group through this stretch.

Ray kept up a great pace for the first 30-something miles of the race.  Iso paced him from mile 17 until probably 23 and then I stepped in for 7 miles and from there on out, we alternated pacing Ray for pretty much the entire rest of the race.  At some point six or seven hours into the race, Ray started hurting and slowing down.  The heat was really getting to him.  He was cramping and suffering from stomach issues.

We crewed him every half-mile or mile.  As the day turned into night, we were all getting tired.  Since we only had one crew vehicle, there wasn’t any opportunity for anyone to drive ahead and get a “real” nap, so we caught a couple minutes here and there when we could. Ray was walking a lot and neither Iso nor I could motivate him to move any faster. There were some moments when we really worried whether he would finish and I was wondering whether I had what it would take to crew him through a second night.  At some point around 3am, we decided to see how Ray would do without a pacer for a little bit.  He took his iPod and a bottle and surprisingly, he took off moving better (and faster) than he had in hours. We let him go on his own for about three hours.  And even though he still walked a lot of this section, he ran more and hiked with more purpose.

The sunrise was amazing.  This picture doesn’t even begin to do it justice.

(6am, 22 hours into the race, a few miles before the 90 mile checkpoint)

But as the sun was coming up, we knew that pretty soon one of us would need to be out there pacing him again and spraying him and trying to keep him relatively cool.  As his time alone was winding down, Iso and I both stole a short cat nap.

Ray moved well mid-morning on Tuesday.  His stomach issues and cramping seemed to have mostly righted themselves.  We (the crew) had also found a second (third? fourth?) wind and were having more fun.  Ray ran well through the Lone Pine checkpoint (mile 122) with a smile on his face (photo here) and started up the Whitney Portal Road. The 13 mile (4,500 feet of elevation gain) climb up the Portal Road is the final part of the race.

This is how excited Jason was that we were getting close(r).

I paced Ray for the final three or four miles of the race. He was exhausted and his legs were totally shot but he marched up the steep portal road really well.

(photo, Ashley Anderson)

(photo, Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

The rest of the crew joined up with us when we were a few hundred meters from the finish. Check out how reflective those rad ZZYXXZ shirts are.

Ray crossed the finish line at 9:30pm, 37 hours, 30 minutes and 17 seconds after he started at Badwater Basin.

And here’s a link to the official team photo at the finish line.

I ended up pacing for over 50 miles, which took about 15.5 hours. Once again I had a fantastic time crewing and pacing at Badwater!

3 thoughts on “Badwater 2013 – Crewing and Pacing Ray Sanchez”

  1. Billy says:

    Good shit again on the podcast dude…and yes – let’s def do our runyon repeats again!

    Also good shit on pacing/crewing at Badwater. While the race may not be on my list, crewing def is.

    Good to see/run with ya today bud.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I’ve been a frequent reader of your blog for about a year now. I think I found it when Rich Roll mentioned you on his blog a while back.

    I really enjoyed this podcast episode; it was nice to place a voice with your face. I admire you guys for crewing during such a grueling race; sounds like the athletes weren’t the only ones testing their mettle out there.

    Reading endurance-related blogs and listening to RIch’s podcast really inspires me to swim, ride, and run further. So, thank you both for taking the time.

    Take care,

    Al in O.C.

    1. Josh says:

      Thanks Al! That’s great to hear! Happy training!

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