It was getting hot again, nearing 100 degrees Fahrenheit, as I reached the 109-mile mark in the Badwater 135. I felt that I was overheating and wanted to take a break at the car to cool off, but the team said no. They reminded me that I’d asked them not to let me take too many breaks. Part of me was thankful for my team intervening when my body couldn’t be trusted to tell the truth about its ability to go on; but the other part of me thought this was a different sort of need. It was not that I felt tired, but that I needed shelter from the sun to cool down for a minute. I decided to keep going, ignoring my better sensibilities.

I told my crew member Maryanna how I was feeling, since she was still pacing me, and warned her that I didn’t think I’d be able to run much, feeling as I felt. She was great about it, saying, “Take your time, walk as much as you need, and if you want to try and run some, then try and run some.”

Feeling increasingly terrible, I told her, “Okay, I’m going to try to run a little bit, just to that sign up there.” I started to run, but all I could think about was how hot I was and how I really, really needed to get out of the heat. I asked Maryanna, “How far is it to the car?” I suddenly needed a break now, not later.

Maryanna started to call the crew captain, Andrea, but as the phone was ringing, Maryanna said, “Wait, I think that’s them up there. Let’s run up to that car, and if it’s not them, I’ll call them.”

“Okay,” I said, thinking that it might be a trick to get me to run a bit further. It was them though, and I couldn’t have been more grateful, not only because much needed relief was at hand, but also because it meant that we had covered the full three miles. In just three more miles, I’d be at the Lone Pine check in, and then it was just a 13-mile climb up to Whitney Portal from there.

As soon as I got to the car, my crew brought me sponges soaked with ice water, an icy bandana for my neck and another for my face, a bottle of ice water, and even ice chips. They had all the bases covered. I drenched myself with the sponges and then climbed in the backseat to lie down, asking Andrea to put 15 minutes on the timer for me. I put my feet up on the side door and the icy handkerchief over my face. It was the best feeling I’d experienced in a long time and it instantly refreshed me.

When the 15 minutes had passed, Andrea peeked into the car to let me know that it was time to get rolling again. I was feeling entirely refreshed and ready, so I hopped out right away. With only a few miles remaining to the checkpoint, I decided to run hard when I reached a long downhill. I pushed myself to run 10-minute miles, passing several other racers who were walking. It seemed the heat and distance were getting to everyone. I thought that the checkpoint was at the end of the downhill, so I made an effort to push even harder toward it. It wasn’t actually there though, and my motivation dropped instantly when I found this out. I could only push so much and was near the end of my rope. Fortunately, my Dad came in for the race and his hotel was only a few hundred yards away. I was still a mile and a half from the checkpoint, but at least I could get some motivation from him before keeping going.

Dad greeted me in the lobby of the hotel with a grilled cheese and potato salad, which was exactly what I needed without me even telling him. He had remembered my cravings at the Keys 100 and figured I might want the same things. Although my stomach feeling a bit off, it was too good of a meal to pass up. I ate a few bites as quickly as I could and then prepared to move on.

I started to say goodbye, but Dad had something more that he wanted to say. “Katie, I want you to know that I’m really proud of you. What you’re doing is mind blowing, and you’ve worked so hard for this. This is your moment. You’ve come a crazy long way already, so just keep it up and it’s yours.” Dad’s words meant more to me than I could tell him, so I just gave him a hug and thanked him for being there for me. I told him how much his support meant, and how much it helped to see him. Then I set off again, aiming for the checkpoint in Lone Pine, just a mile and a half away.

I walked almost all the distance to the checkpoint, as I was having major stomach issues now on top of everything else. It felt a bit lame to walk in to the checkpoint with everyone cheering me on, and even more lame when I headed straight to the car because I was overheating again. I wanted to be one of those runners breezing through, grabbing a water bottle, and then chugging along. But I had to pay attention to how I was feeling.

When the time came to get going, any lingering pain and fatigue evaporated and I was left feeling astonishingly great for having 122 miles and almost 34 hours behind me. The short break combined with adrenaline had wholly revived me, and now I was ready to take on the last half-marathon of the course.

I charged ahead, all the while thinking: I’m almost there. I had a ways to go, but the miles were passing easily. It might take me six hours to finish, but there was no way it would take longer. The way I figured it, nothing in the world could stop me from reaching my sub-40-hour goal. As soon as I admitted this to myself, I had that moment that I experience in each race when I realize without a doubt that I am going to finish. I felt the familiar warm tingle of pride wash over me, rippling all the way to my fingertips.

As I headed up the mountain, the sun tucked away for the night, disappearing beneath the horizon. For once, I wasn’t sad to see it go. I admired all those ahead of me, but I also pitied them for having to take on the Whitney Portal climb mid-day. My journey would be much easier in the cool dark.

I felt I was making good progress, but couldn’t be sure. My crew was making more frequent stops, due to the incline, but I didn’t know whether it was every two miles or just one. I didn’t want to ask, either. I was trying to ignore the distance, telling myself that it didn’t matter. Sometime after nightfall, I reached what my crew understood to be the 132-mile checkpoint, under a sky full of stars. We overheard, however, that the finish might be a bit further than three-and-a-half miles away, maybe as far as seven miles. Since I didn’t want to count on anything and be disappointed, I ignored the distances all together and kept climbing.

Up ahead of me was a tall mountain with very faint red lights snaking up it in the distance. That’s where we’re going, I realized. It seemed impossible that we could still have so much further to go, but there was no other explanation for the lights all in a row. Just as I was settling in for the long haul, assuring myself that I still had it in me, a car drove up and the driver rolled down her window. “I hear you like macarons,” she said, reaching her hand out to me with one of the French pastries.

“Yeah,” I said, confused. Then I did a double-take. “Lauren? What are you doing here?!” I asked, completely in shock as I realized that my sister had driven all the way from Los Angeles to see me.

“Well, I had to come see you finish.” I couldn’t believe she was there. I couldn’t express how much it meant to me. “We don’t want to get you in trouble, as I know there are rules about cars driving alongside, etc. But I just wanted you to know that I’ll be there for you at the top. Keep it up. You’re almost there!”

As she drove off, I was so touched by what she had done that I actually cried, again. To say that I was re-energized is an understatement. I was completely revived, and suddenly felt ready to take on the rest of the course. I charged towards the lights in the distance, now eager to join them as we made our way to the finish.

Climbing that last mile, I kept pausing to gaze up at the sky. The stars were so vibrant. I couldn’t take my eyes off of them, until something else caught my attention. From my vantage point high on Mt. Whitney, I looked down and saw a caravan of runners and crew vans snaking up behind me. I could see their red and white lights for miles, curving all the way back down to Lone Pine. It hit me: all the work that every runner and crewmember had put into this race, all the effort, all the endurance. I thought of the many miles we had all traveled together and of the many friendships forged along the way. All of the acts of kindness, all the words of support to perfect strangers, all the empathy. We may have been out there for different reasons, but we were now a community of kindred spirits.

I knew that Maryanna and Byron were waiting at the finish so we could all cross the line together. So when they appeared beside me, I knew I was close. As we saw the finish line come into view, Maryanna whispered, “Do you think you have it in you to run?” I said no at first, but then I reconsidered. “Okay, yeah, let’s go.”

I could see Dad and Lauren waiting on the other side. With my team by my side, we broke through the tape, 38 hours and 52 minutes after it had all started. The relief was unlike anything I’d ever felt. It was overshadowed only by my sense of appreciation for the people standing around me, and up in Heaven, who had made it all happen.

About Explore Unbound

Explore Unbound is a database of epic adventures. Think of it as a curated list of adventure ideas, ranging from the world’s hardest ultras to the most scenic ski touring regions. Depending on your style, you can explore by destination, time of year, or type of adventure. Poke around a discover the world’s top mountains, treks, ultra marathons, ski tours, and more!

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