Marathons Reviews

Trip Report – Badwater 135 (and how to turn airline inconveniences to your benefit)

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I started running in 2006 and ran my first marathon in 2007. In 2008, I heard about some crazy thing called Badwater 135 – a 135-mile road race from the floor of Death Valley to portal of Mt. Whitney in JULY!!! Once I heard about it, it became one of my goals to run it someday. Given my schedule for training, I knew it wasn’t going to be for some years, but that didn’t stop me from wanting to still participate in this legendary event.

In 2010, I posted on a Badwater forum as a runner willing to be a part of a crew and pace for a registered runner. A runner contacted me and I was going to Badwater! I was really looking forward to helping this runner in particular. His name was Elad and he had run some really incredible races before this! We were able to meet in Rochester before the race and I was really excited about helping this excellent runner in this race. Now all I had to do was to get there! I had told Elad that I would get there on my own. I had some miles with Continental, so I started planning my trip.

Travel Report

The only award availability on the outbound was with US Airways (you know what’s coming with them!) and First Class. I didn’t totally mind that because up to that point, I had never flown in First Class. Being that I would hit the ground in Las Vegas the day before the race started, I thought the First Class would be very helpful in allowing me to get extra rest before the race began. So, I had a First Class ticket from Rochester – Charlotte – Las Vegas and would return 3 days later on a red-eye in Economy by Las Vegas – Cleveland – Rochester.

I was returning from a trip the day before my flight to Las Vegas and received an alert via Tripit (will write about this fantastic app later) that my flight had been cancelled. US Air did not bother to notify me at all. I pulled over and called US Airways and was told to call Continental (since I had booked the award trip through them). I called Continental and was escalated to a supervisor. She told me to call US Airways. After calling US Airways yet AGAIN, I was told they could not help me. I insisted on speaking with someone who would help me. Finally, I got a helpful US Air supervisor who told me they could rebook me on a different flight that left a few hours after my scheduled flight, but there was no First Class from Charlotte – Las Vegas. I asked them why they had cancelled the flight and was told it was “weather”. That was an unusual thing because the airplane was already at the airport that was supposed to be my flight and that was the only flight to Charlotte that had been cancelled. That bothered me, because if the airline can say weather instead of mechanical or crew issues, it doesn’t have to play by the same rules it would otherwise.

So, I got to the airport the next morning and everything went well on the trip out to Las Vegas.

Fast forward three days (Race report is below) and I was back at Las Vegas airport way earlier than I had originally anticipated. I was a little frustrated that I had lost my First Class portion of the mile redemption (it cost me 32,500 Continental Onepass miles for the First Class on departure and Economy on return vs. 25,000 miles for all Economy), so I thought I would see if the Continental ticket agent would be willing to put me on First Class on the return portion of the trip since I didn’t have it on the way out. Turns out that there was no availability (I did not realize, at the time, about elite upgrades and when they get processed). I was a Silver elite member on Continental at the time (which is the bottom tier), but Silver members did not get upgrades on award tickets. Instead, she gave me a window exit-row seat (my favorite seat in Economy). The trip was uneventful.

When I got home, I called Continental about what had happened with the US Airways portion of the trip. I had called with the hope of getting 7,500 miles refunded since I did not get the upgrade on the long flight. However, I knew that I would probably only get 5,000 since I had been in First on the Rochester – Charlotte. I was very polite on the call with the agent who apologized for the inconvenience. I explained the situation – I did NOT tell what I was looking for. It is better to withhold from revealing what you really want until you hear the offer. The offer turned out being a refund of 25,000 miles (the cost of a one-way Saver First Class redemption)! That was way more than I had thought I would get!

Summary:

Do not be afraid to talk to customer service when the travel experience is not as it should be. However, always be polite, but firm (when the occasion calls for firmness). Would I have enjoyed First Class all the way? Sure! Did I appreciate even more the refund? Absolutely! Yes, the cancellation of the original flight inconvenienced me, but just remember that when the airline has a cancellation, it gives you a lot of flexibility. For example, if I had been wanting to cancel my ticket but didn’t want to pay the $75 (at the time) redeposit fee, the airline cancelling my flight would have allowed me to get my miles back for free. With Continental, you are allowed to change your award ticket (as far as dates of travel and class of service) as often as you want until you are within 21 days of the originating flight. At that point, you pay a change fee. A lot of people end up having schedule changes that do not occur until they are within that window. In that case, if I had wanted to change my flight to leave the following day, the airline cancelling my flight again would have given me the liberty to reschedule. It is a pain when a cancellation or an extreme airline schedule change occurs, but if you keep your head about you and look at your various options, you may realize that was really a blessing in disguise.

The ticket itself would have cost me $420 (in economy) if I had purchased the ticket. Flying as originally ticketed would have cost $930. I originally used 32,500 miles + $10 for the originally ticketed flight. I ended up having to pay 12,500 miles and + $10.

Totals: As ticketed, mile value was $0.28 per mile redeemed. Again, a decent fare redemption for domestic. What I ended up having to pay for the flights I actually flew – $0.033.  Pretty good – just for calling to turn the inconvenience in my favor!

Race Report

This will not be an in-depth report since I was not the actual runner in this race, but would like to give an idea of what Badwater consists of.

First of all, this race takes place in the hottest place in America at the hottest time of the year. The race starts in 3 waves – 6AM, 8AM, and 10AM. We started in the 8AM wave with the mercury at 110 degrees! Our crew was made up of Badwater novices and we were crewing for a Badwater rookie, so we planned the best we could but knew that we would have to adapt. Adaptation started 2 miles into the race. 🙂 We found that we were going to have to crew for him every 2 miles instead of the original 4 we had thought. It was so hot that Elad’s water would get so hot that it was somewhat undrinkable after a time. We had to keep changing his water out and soaking his hat and bandanna in ice. At Badwater, you are allowed pacers after mile 17. We were prepared to pace him from there to the finish line. I was his first pacer and was somewhat taken aback by how hot the air was to breathe in. Thankfully, there was no humidity, but the heat did climb throughout the day. By the afternoon, it was 130 degrees. Elad had a lot of heat problems in the afternoon, enough that we were finally able to persuade him to drop his marker and go on ahead to medical to take care of his dehydration. After we got back out on the course, Elad was doing a lot better and the sun was beginning to sink behind the first of three mountains we would have to ascend.

During the night, it was a lot easier to run. It had gotten quite cool – down to about 100 degrees :). It was absolutely beautiful at night! To see the stars in the natural lighting was quite stunning. We could see the lights of other runners miles away. We went up the first peak and down it in the darkness. We dealt with some bats dive bombing us and got to see some of the desert wildlife as they love to come out in the cooler night.

We had another peak to climb after that. From the top of that one, we could see about a 40 mile stretch of the road that we would have to cover before we reached the end of that road and just about 17 miles to the finish. Elad did an excellent job in spite of having additional physical issues along the way. It was quite amazing to see what he persevered through! By the time we got the bottom of Mt. Whitney (and 13 miles to the finish), Elad was running on almost nothing. It had been about 40 hours since he had started running and he had not slept at all. He was down a lot of weight and he was running on pure grit at this point. He finally crossed the finish line – 43 hours and 59 minutes from the time he started that epic journey 135 miles before. He ran the numbers when he returned home and found that the 7 months of training leading up to the race had him averaging 30 miles per week! That is a very low amount – it was an amazing thing that he had even completed it on that mileage (his work schedule had been so tight to not allow him more training time than that). He really did run that race on determination, grit, and guts. Great job, Elad!

Badwater was an incredible experience and one that I look forward to one day enjoying as a entrant. In the meantime, it was definitely an event that will live in mind and I would not have been able to go and take part in Elad’s crew had it not been for my mile programs.

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About the author

Charlie

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