Alene in her first Badwater Ultra (2008).  She is racing it again in July 2011.

Alene’s Adventure Into the Inferno

One-hundred thirty-five miles in 125-degree heat, from the lowest point to the base of the highest mountain in the continental U.S., on foot through Death Valley. That pretty much sums up the Badwater Ultra, one of the most extreme two-day footraces in the world. I had XXXXXXX’d out this event from my “Things I’d Like to Do Before I Die” list a while ago—heck, I can’t even run 100 miles in comfortable temperatures very well—but when my friend Alene Nitzky asked if I’d crew for her in her second running of Badwater, I couldn’t turn her down. It was not only because of my happiness to be able to support her on one of the most revered courses in the ultra world; it was an opportunity to see and experience this event first-hand without actually having to put in hundreds of miles each month in training, spend thousands of dollars on race logistics, and endure 135 miles of pavement pounding while being roasted in the desert sun like ants.

We fly out to Las Vegas tomorrow (Friday) and will be in the desert for a whole week after that. This is because Alene is not only running the race, she wants to run back to the start and hike up to the highest point in Death Valley. The hike up and down Telescope Peak is another 15 miles, so per my mental calculator Alene is going to be running, walking and hiking not just 135 miles, but rather 135 X 2 + 15 = 285 miles!

That sounds completely ridiculous, but in the ultra-world this is not unheard of. Indeed, there are several entrants planning on doing a “Double Badwater” this week alone, and it seems almost a rite of passage in itself to do all these “extra-credit” miles to prove that one is, well, even crazier than the craziest.

Alene is not just doing it for the challenge, however, and to inspire others. She is running to help raise funds for a new cancer center in Fort Collins. As I’ve had a grandfather and an uncle pass away from cancer, I fully support her in this endeavor. If you do too, please consider making a donation.

She provides more details in the letter below.

Alene’s Open Letter

Dear Friends,

I will be running in the Badwater Ultramarathon across Death Valley again this year, and I have added an extra “twist” to my journey this time that I want to share with you. I apologize if you’ve received more than one copy of this e-mail as some people are on multiple lists.

The race starts Monday, July 11th at Badwater in Death Valley National Park in California, the lowest point in the western hemisphere at 282 feet below sea level, and runs across Death Valley, crosses 3 mountain ranges, and finishes at 8300 feet elevation on Mount Whitney.

My plan for this year does not stop at the official race finish line at Whitney Portal at 135 miles. When I arrive at the finish line, there will be photographs, awarding of the belt buckle, and celebration for each finisher and their crews. But we won’t hang out too long.

We will continue our journey in reverse, back to Badwater, adding a climb of Telescope Peak, the highest point in Death Valley at 11,000 feet, on the way back. The total length of this journey is approximately 285 miles, with roughly 24,000 feet of vertical gain and the same amount of descent, over 6 days. I will be finished by mid-day on July 17th.

The race begins for me at 8 am Pacific Daylight Time on Monday. My race bib number is 72. There will be a webcast at the official race website. Live updates will be posted here during the official race only. You can keep track of my efforts there, until the official race is finished for me, by 8 am Wednesday July 13th. There will also be postings on Twitter and Facebook starting this weekend, if you search for Badwater Ultramarathon.

During our return trip, there will be Facebook and Twitter updates from the PVHS Foundation as we go along. The crew will send updates whenever we have Internet access and cell phone coverage (not consistent in Death Valley, up to 48 hours delay is possible) and these will be posted here at my blog, as well as on Facebook, and the Foundation’s blog.

This is a different journey than the route that has been taken as the traditional “Badwater double” route to the small handful of people who have ever done multiple crossings on the Badwater course. That traditional route has included Mount Whitney, highest point in the lower 48 states.

When I first told a few people with longtime ties to the Badwater race about my plans, I was initially met with some skepticism, comments and questions like, “You should do Mount Whitney”, or “It’s not REALLY a double unless you do Mount Whitney.” “This run is about going from lowest to highest”.

Well, I’m not like everyone else. I’m not doing this to compare myself to others or follow anyone else’s tradition. My journey is about crossing the desert, and that’s one of the reasons why I’ve chosen Telescope Peak.

Anyone who has been through cancer can tell you that their own journey is not like anyone else’s.

I’m doing this in support of the Poudre Valley Cancer Center project, raising funds to build a comprehensive cancer center in the Fort Collins community. This Cancer Center has been envisioned and planned by local cancer survivors, and will provide top-quality medical and wellness services in a facility that will serve the needs of people impacted by cancer, for prevention, diagnosis, treatment, post-treatment, and getting back to a healthy, thriving,active life.

The Cancer Center is important to me because it will provide a link between the often disjointed steps along the journey from a cancer diagnosis to treatment to moving beyond treatment and regaining health and wellness, something that is a difficult process for many.

Recently a group of several cancer survivors and a few others were in a meeting, talking with a local artist who wants to build a sculpture for the cancer center. As we were discussing the sculpture, a common theme was the transition from being hunched over and withdrawn, wrapped up deep within oneself, to healing and growing through care and treatment, reaching out past one’s own self, and finally reaching out wide, arms outstretched to the sky, welcoming all that life has to offer and living every day to the fullest.

My philosophy is to live each day as an adventure, and to make the most of every day. I plan to do this as long as I have my health. Running across the desert in some ways is a metaphor for going through cancer treatment. But the “trip through hell” for me is by choice. For others, their trip through hell is not by choice, and it’s real. They can’t stop at the finish line, because there is no finish line except for hope.

Even after cancer treatment, life has changed forever, and the trip back to wellness is as much a double crossing of the desert as navigating across through cancer treatment the first time is. The Cancer Center will provide resources to ease the transition into survivorship, wellness, and thriving beyond cancer. No one does this alone, it requires a team of dedicated, positive people to help.

My run is also entirely a team effort, I could not do this alone. I have a fantastic crew of 5 people, Stephanie Willingham, my crew chief, my brother Nathan Nitzky, Ed Green, Felix Wong, and Dan McGlothlin. Training has been going well. 120+ mile weeks, hours in the sauna, and trips to Florida and Arizona to run in the heat have all been part of the preparation for this year’s run.

Some people have asked what else they can do to help me with my run. The best way to help me is to support the building of the cancer center, with donations to the PVHS Foundation, and by spreading the word. Messages of support to this e-mail address [email protected] during the race are always welcome, I apologize that I won’t be able to answer any e-mails until I get back to Fort Collins, but I will be able to receive them when I’m out there, whenever we are able to download them.

All this year, we have been raising funds throughout the community with the Save Change to Create Change initiative, with 100% matched funds by Poudre Valley Health System. The generosity in this community has been incredible. If you have not already, will you consider making a donation to the PVHS Foundation, in honor of my efforts in Death Valley? Please tell someone else about it and spread the word about the Cancer Center. Online donations can be made directly at the PVHS Donation Page. Donations can also be called in to 970-237-7400, or text ENGAGE to 90999 from your cell phone to make an automatic $5.00 donation.

I will be giving several presentations this fall with a video and slides from the trip, and lots of stories to tell. I’ll pass those details along later. My crew will be providing updates along the way wherever we get Internet access, which is unreliable and far apart in Death Valley, but we will do our best to keep you informed of our journey and how it’s going.

Please, spread the word to everyone you know who has been touched by cancer, wants to support the Cancer Center, or is interested in supporting my journey.

Thank you,


The Route

Here is a map of what the 285 miles will cover.

The Badwater Ultra goes from Point A to Point B (135 miles). After Alene is done with the race, she will run back from Point B to Point A (another 135 miles).

En route to Point A, at Panamint Springs we will make a detour (presumably by car) to Point C, where we will camp. We will hike from Point C to Point D (ignore the blue “car route” lines here—we will hike the way the crow flies) and back (7.5 miles). After we drive back to the Badwater course, Alene will resume running back to Point A.

Follow Alene’s Progress

You can follow Alene’s progress on the following links:

July 11 (8:00 a.m. PDT) to July 13 (8:00 a.m. PDT): Badwater Official Site. Alene is racer #72 (note there will be several hours delay from real time as updates get posted).

July 13-July 17: Alene’s blog or PVHS Foundation blog (note there will be long delays, up to 24 hours, in between areas of cell phone/Internet access in Death Valley)

I will also be tweeting to my Twitter account during this time.

Alene in her first Badwater Ultra (2008).  She is racing it again in July 2011.
Alene in her first Badwater Ultra (2008). She is racing it again in July 2011.