Badwater 2011 – Race diary

Arun arrived in the US three weeks prior to the start of Badwater and spent the first ten days in NYC, where met some of his running mentors and friends who were participating in the Sri Chinmoy 2011 Self Transcendence 3100-mile race.

This diary begins at Las Vegas, Nevada where Arun met up with his crew and started the final preparations for Badwater 2011.

at The 2011 Self Transcendence 3100 mile race in Queens, NYC

On 4th of July Arun reaches Las Vegas and meets up with Kelvin (a three-time Badwater finisher), who will be Arun’s crew chief. Kelvin has come from Down Under and has been in Las Vegas for a few weeks. He has already rented a car for personal use, which will be used as the ‘secondary car’ during Arun’s Badwater 2011 campaign.

Las Vegas is considerably hotter than NYC and both Arun and Kelvin go for practice runs twice a day to get used to the dry heat and the burning asphalt! They spend the next few days going through the route, rereading the rules and planning for the inevitable and the unimaginable.

Arun and Kelvin in one of their acclimatization runs near Las Vegas

On 8th July, Team Arun assembles at the Henderson Inn & Suites on the Boulder Highway.  Vikram and Adhiraaj have flown in from India and Venkat from NYC. Kelvin’s partner Anna Maria has flown in from Montreal, a day after undergoing an eye surgery! Anna had crewed Kelvin twice at the Badwater and is a very important resource with vital experience of what to expect in Death Valley. Anna gradually accepts the title of “mother crew”.

It is a well-established fact at Badwater that behind every successful runner is the crew. Team Arun will have to aid Arun in anything he might need during his one and a half days of running. This means running or walking alongside him as well as constantly analyzing his physical and mental state. The crew will do what it takes to make sure Arun’s next step is forward.

With the crew in place, Vikram and Venkat head to the McCarran airport and hire a mini-van (which will be the main crew vehicle). Kelvin, Anna Maria, Adhiraaj and Arun make a trip to Wal-Mart with an exhaustive list of supplies that will be required during the run (we just wanted to buy ICE in Death Valley!).

At around 6pm both vehicles are loaded and ready to leave for Death Valley, which is a 3-hour drive headed west.

Shopping for race supplies. Thank god for Wal-Mart !!

Death Valley, here we come !

At 9:30 pm when we stepped out of our cars, it was 108 degrees and the reality of what we were here to do hit home. We had arrived at Furnace Creek at Death Valley National Park! None of us (except Kelvin & Anna Maria) had felt such hot winds that late in the day – it was bone drying hot.

10th July was scheduled for runners / crew briefings. The camaraderie and positive energies amongst all runners and crew was something to cherish. The folks from AdventureCorps held meetings and briefed everyone about the rules. Night running gear was checked, and most importantly the crew were told on how they must rotate shifts, so that those on the job remain active and fresh.

Arun at the runners registration, getting used to the legionaries cap!


With the Race Director – Chris Kostman (who speaks Hindi too)


 Group photo of all the runners – ironically by a swimming pool !

After the meetings and formalities, we got to work to deck up our vehicles with the Indian tricolour, an illustration of ‘Bharat Ma’ and mandatory runner’s name and bib  number. We set out very enthusiastically on the mini-van, but by the time we started on the sedan, the sun was thinking of calling it a day! We all wanted to see where the race starts from, and with about half an hour of sunlight remaining we decide to drive 17 miles to the Badwater basin, from where the Badwater 2011 will be flagged off the next day. Car branding would have to be finished early morning!

Car branding!

It was a speedy drive, but we knew Arun would take between 3-4 hours covering this the next day!

First glimpse of the Badwater Basin

Customary photo at the Badwater plaque

Arun calm as ever, welcomes the sunset

After doing the tourist bit we returned to our rooms and set about organizing our supplies. The van needed to have everything that Arun and the pacers would need during the run, a round cooler with only ice, a 100 quart cooler with drinks and a third cooler with “melted ice” for use with the ice towels and misting. All remaining luggage went in to the trunk of the support car.

Final checks

It was very important that everyone knew where everything was kept. By 11:00 pm we decide to call it a night after preparations, reviews and dinner. Who slept well that night is anyones’ guess!

On the 11th, at 9:30 am, we drove down to the Badwater Basin. The atmosphere was electric. Everybody was pumped up – crews, runners, race officials. After photos at the iconic Badwater sign all runners assembled for a group photo shoot.

Group photo – 10 am wave runners

One for the sponsors!

Thanks to the awesome support from our sponsors Reboot, adidas and Medica Superspeciality Hospital.

Arun’s off .. the 10 am wave starts their journey!

Arun’s Badwater had begun, he started with a moderate jog as this was going to be a very long race and the main strategy was to keep hydrated and as cool as possible.

En route to Furnace Creek (mile 17, first time station)

As per our race strategy, Arun pulls into the first time station at 1:06 pm. For someone who boasted of never having blisters even in the most grueling six and ten-day races, Arun had his first blister here – but thanks to the blister kit provided in the race pack, we attended to it without much fuss.

Blister care – tense moments at Furnace Creek

Coming up was the ‘Highway To Hell’, 25 miles to Stovepipe Wells to be covered in the hottest part of the day. Arun chose not to be paced through this stretch as he wanted to get into the zone.

With the heat rising, the crew sprayed Arun with ice-cold water at every stop (averaging 22-25 minutes) and at alternate stops, placed an iced bandana around his neck.

Slow and steady on the approach to Stovepipe Wells


Kelvin putting Arun through the strides

Before 6 pm everyone changed into the mandatory ‘night gear’ of reflective vests and flashing red lights. The sun was low in the sky, but the temperature was still high. The wind picked up from the front and it felt many times worse than the harshest Delhi loo – imagine a hot, dry wind which sucks the life out of you!

Arun ran into Stovepipe Wells (mile 42, second time station) at 7:21 pm. It was time to get in some solid food and a foot massage. After 20 minutes, he set off for the 17 mile climb from Stovepipe Wells to Townes pass (5000 feet). Everything was going according to plan and no sooner had Arun got into the rhythm that disaster struck!

Around 9 pm Arun had a supplement, something he had gotten used to during his acclimatization in the US; but in Death Valley it didn’t go down well with his system – and he threw up!  He lost a lot of fluid and his stomach started to cramp up. Not wanting to give in, we decided to walk this daunting section. It took six hours to cover those 17 miles, but worse still Arun’s stomach didn’t feel good at all.

After reaching the summit of Townes Pass, lay ahead was a descent of around 3,000 feet to Panamint Springs. Here Vikram took over to motivate his guru. In the moonlit darkness, up ahead we could notice a trail of hazard lights on the right of the road and the runners with their red blinkers on the left side – Arun was probably amongst the last runners at the end of the first night.

With the second day’s sun coming up, Arun got his dose of energy from the rising sun and ran consistently for the next 3 hours. At 8:44 am, after almost a day of running in extreme temperatures, Arun reached Panamint Springs (mile 72  and the third time station). This called for a brief sit down and some more solid food, while the crews changed shift. It had taken just short of 24 hours to cover 72 miles!

Barring the cramped up stomach, physically he was in good shape. No aches, a few pains, but generally good. Probably the worst question you can ask a runner at Badwater is ‘how are you feeling?’ We knew Arun well enough, and every time this question came up, he quipped ‘mazee mein’; literal meaning of having fun.We were a little more than half way to the finish and with a loud call to the supreme power Arun was off again. What lay ahead was the climb up to Father Crowley point. The initial climb is about 8 miles, gaining over 4,000 feet of elevation.

A view of the route across Panamint Valley from Father Crowley point

After almost 24 hours of running through extreme temperatures, this climb felt like a killer. What sort of made up for it was the spectacular view of the plains as Arun approached the pass. Here, for the first time in the race Arun crossed a few runners. Near the top, we were not prepared for such a narrow road and had a few tense moments, thanks to the huge tour buses on tight corners!

Difficult to to run on these bends – not after a day of running!

Suddenly, out of nowhere a Fighter Jet showed up to our right and in a matter of seconds turned into a pass in the opposite direction – this was nothing short of a Hollywood flick and gave us all something to take the mind off the race (and pain), momentarily.

Things went well as the day heated up again. 
Around mile 82, Arun decided to take a healthy dose of rice cake mixed with salsa dip followed by power nap of about  20 minutes.  After answering nature’s call his stomach felt better, he was so relieved that he started the journey again to stop only after crossing the finish line.

Stomach ache gone – time for the tasties

We were ready to ready to go for the next milestone – Darwin (mile 90, fourth time station) where Arun trudged in at 1:32 pm. By the time we crossed, we learnt that Oswaldo Lopez had won the Badwater 2011 – hats off to Oswaldo, who came second the previous two years, and had vowed not to repeat that feat again. Arun smiled with joy at hearing this news.

En route to Darwin, known as the worlds ‘best’ time station

Soon we were facing the second noon of Arun’s run and we still had to negotiate the daunting Owens Valley, we changed our strategy to meet Arun every mile with fluids, food and motivation. Strong headwinds were blasting us again as we move through this section – the heat and tiredness was definitely having an impact on Arun and the crew!

Around 3 pm Arun stopped to change his shoes and had a good laugh listening to ‘Bhaag DK Bose’ – surely humour plays a big part in motivating someone who is going to the test the limits of human endurance.  

Arun ran the next five hours paced by Kelvin and Vikram at a steady pace and they we soon passed the ghost town of Keeler! The scorching afternoon sun gave way to a balmy evening , but the road was still burning, before taking on the serious, final vertical assault Arun decided to walk briskly as the sun set.

The finish line was way beyond those damn mountains

It was time once again to change into the night gear and after taking a massage. The trail up Portal road was visible, illuminated by a trail of flashing hazard lights – methamorphically like the stairway to heaven. At this point, Anna Maria and Kelvin came out with the Indian flag every time Arun came in for a refill, it will remain one of the most touching moments of the race.

The Aussie & the Canadian waving the Indian flag – where else have you seen this?

”Lakshya toh har haal mein pana hai”

Arun being paced by Kelvin checked into Lone Pine at 8:44 pm, now the final 13-mile remained, which was the steepest too! We saw a few runners walking and decided now is the time to gain a few places and Arun literally took off. There is no disagreement in the fact that the hill was brutal! Just when we thought we were through the toughest part of the climb, we hit one hairpin bend after another, each one steeper than the previous. At the final few miles, the chill factor came in, the temperature dropped to below 10 °C.

View from the Portal Road – brutal climb to say the least

We were approaching the finishline and before the final bend Arun took the Indian flag and ordered his crew to cross the line together with him. Finally, history was made, Arun became the first person to come from India and get the iconic Badwater buckle.

At a time of 41 hours 6 minutes, Arun could not stop smiling and there was an incredible high amongst the crew and even the race director and his team were happy at this achievement. It felt great to hear Chris talking in Hindi whilst giving Arun his well deserved Badwater Buckle and Medal. This race will be etched in our memories forever.

Arun all smiles after a long but an unbelievable adventure.




4 Responses to “Badwater 2011 – Race diary”

  1. asha Says:

    Marvelous, amazing, no words to match to this dare soul n rock like crews, who made d history .
    wishes for many more BW victories.

  2. Shailendra Says:

    Amazing feat!!! It simply shows indomitable will power of Arun Sir!!! Its almost incredible to believe that someone from India has conquered the Badwater!!! No words, just a big salute for Mr. Arun Bhardwaj and a very big thanks to the crew members and all those who were instrumental in supporting him!!!! Thank you one and all for making all of us feel proud!

    Best regards,

  3. Sunil DeSouza Says:

    Great effort by Arun and the Crew………
    I hope to Crew at badwater some day……….

  4. Terri Maio Says:

    Very inspiring! Thank you for sharing!

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