Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Life Got A Little Messy

Our local grocery store sells some amazing homemade salsa. It’s so delicious that gas stations could sell it as a fountain drink. One night I was eating some tortilla chips with that amazing salsa, when suddenly I could feel a hair in my mouth. I fished it out of my mouth, and then did what any red-blooded American male would do: I pretended that never happened, and continued eating my salsa. 

Much to my dismay, a few bites later I strung another long hair through my teeth. Okay, this is starting to get a little ridiculous. Two long hairs in one container of salsa?!? It was frustrating. But being an ultra runner has taught me to be determined. I don’t give up when things get hard. So I set that second hair aside and continued eating. Just because it’s hairy salsa doesn’t make it any less delicious. And then catastrophy struck. A third hair.

A four letter word probably popped out of my mouth. I grabbed the container of salsa and threw it in the garbage. I was livid. I mentioned this frustration to my wife later that night. While I was relating my story, my daughter piped up with a confession. She had been eating salsa earlier in the day and accidentally dropped the container of salsa onto the carpet. Not wanting to waste the salsa, she scooped it off the carpet and back into the container, then put it back in the fridge.

Needless to say, I didn’t need to floss my teeth that night.

Right now, my life is like that container of furry salsa. It is really great. Really great. But there are a few unexpected hairs in the mix. Those hairs are called Common Variable Immunodeficiency Disorder. A few months ago I found out that my body has a glitch. Basically my immune system works as well as a Close Door button in an elevator…which is to say: not at all.

This isn’t great news. My primary care doctor seemed genuinely concerned and sympathetic when these results showed up in my blood work. Apparently this sets me up for some potentially serious health issues including pneumonia, bronchitis, and pulmonary infections. Since then there has been more blood work. More doctor appointments. And a few visits with an immunologist. I don’t dig the kind of diagnosis that shows up on the National Institutes of Health list of Rare Diseases.

The only option for treatment is immunoglobulin infusions. The immunoglobulin is from people who have donated plasma, and this is supposed to help build up my immune system. The doctor said that these infusions will be needed for the rest of my life. The options I was given were to 1) Do subcutaneous infusions once a week at home, or 2) Do IV infusions at an infusion center once a month.

I selected option #1. Here’s the problem with all this nonsense: I’m terrified of needles. To me, needles are scarier than snakes, truck stop bathrooms, and Celine Dion music…combined! I have a bad reputation of passing out when I get my blood drawn. So the idea of needle sticks weekly for the rest of my life is super unawesome.

I had my first infusion two weeks ago. A nurse showed up, put three needles in my stomach, then an hour and a half later the infusion was done. The next day I tried to jog a mile, but couldn’t because my stomach hurt too bad. The day after that I tried to jog again. No go.

Last week Mel did the infusion. Three needles in my upper thigh. Ugh. 70 minutes later it was done. As Mel was taking the needles out, my world started getting fuzzy. As darkness started clouding my vision, I slapped my cheek trying to keep from passing out. Mel said “Hurry, let’s walk to the couch so you can lay down.” I knew I couldn’t make it that far. I was suddenly dripping sweat and ripped my shirt off. I barely made it to the dining room floor, clammy and sweating. But I didn’t completely pass out. WIN!

I tell you all this because I’ve been thinking about how life isn’t always 100% awesome. (Duh!) I tell you this because you can’t have a story of triumph without overcoming something. Here’s the thing: I don’t know if there even WILL be any overcoming! I want to run the Jackpot Ultra Marathon in two weeks with Mel who is going for her first 100 miler. I want to run every mile with her. I want to run the Zion 100 in April. I want to run the Vol State 500k in July. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have any doubts. These hairs in the salsa are making things a little trickier.

Of course the priority is to take care of myself. Don’t worry. I’ll do that. Health is more important than a buckle. Maybe ultra running has prepared me for this point in my life. Ultramarathons have taught me to be strong and brave and determined. And now I’m at this moment where I can utilize those tools in a real life setting. I’ve never been one to back down from a challenge. Now is the time to fight.

Monday, December 10, 2018

The Annual Reese Family Christmas Letter


Merry Christmas and happy holidays from the Reese family! I’m assuming 2018 has been exactly the same for you and your family as it has for us. Of course I’m referring to the fact that Despacito has been playing EVERY SINGLE TIME you have turned on the radio all year.

Aside from the unwelcome assault on our family from Despacito, here is a summary of 2018:

Kylee is in ninth grade. Her artistic talents have increased exponentially over the past year. She creates stunningly beautiful art and paintings. She is like a female Bob Ross. (Minus the dreamy bushy hairdo.) She is also a budding photographer, and is part of the middle school yearbook staff. Ky is attentive to details, compassionate, and a hard worker. These attributes have made her a coveted babysitter in the neighborhood, and she is quietly amassing a financial empire. In September, she came to Ohio with me and Mel when I ran the Donut Trail 100 miler. Since this was a solo run, she designed my own unique belt buckle to award me when I finished. Whenever I’ve had a rough day and need the soothing of a gas station fountain drink, Kylee is always willing to join me.

Danica is in tenth grade, and this is her first year at the high school. To the best of my knowledge, she hasn’t been stuffed into any lockers. (Yet.) She is on the high school swim team and lives at the pool. I swear the kid has gills. She has competed in swim meets all across southern Utah and finished in first place in many of the events she raced. Dani recently completed her Driver’s Education training. She has become experienced at driving around the church parking lot. We’ll now be transitioning to city streets. Pray for me and Mel. A few months ago we took her to a big checkup at Primary Children’s Hospital to follow up on her rheumatic fever from years ago. Thankfully the cardiologist gave her heart a grade of A+. Her highlight was seeing the Michael Jackson Cirque du Soleil show in Vegas.

Jackson is a senior in high school. He remains the piano player in the school Jazz Band and plays Billy Joel songs so beautifully that it could make you cry. This year the band even went to Holy Land of churros and long lines. That’s right: Disneyland. Jackson is like Rain Man when it comes to sports trivia. We’ve gone to three Utah Jazz games this year. Typically our seats are so high that they include a complementary bottle of oxygen. Jackson loves to play racquetball, pickle ball, and tennis. He was on the high school tennis team again this year, and relishes every time I go play with him. These outings usually result in me getting mouthy, then telling him I’m going to destroy him, then making bets, then losing bets, then owing him money. In September he ranked #1 for the Top 10 Most Active People for the month at the local gym.

Melanie got a new job this year that she loves. She works as a nurse practitioner seeing patients in rehab and assisted living facilities. She is so smart, and is so good at what she does. She is personable, caring, and her patients love her. Earlier in the year she went to a U2 concert with Jackson. We saw the play Hamilton. (Aaaamazing.) She has been doing a lot of running, including running the Baker’s Dozen Half Marathon this month. She has a big goal to run 100 miles at a race coming up in February. We celebrated our 20 year wedding anniversary with an epic trip to Banff, Canada. While there, we hiked some of the most beautiful trails on the planet, laughed until it hurt, and exceeded the Surgeon General’s recommendation on human pizza consumption.

I continue working as a medical social worker. I released my second book called “Into The Furnace” about Badwater, the 135 mile race across Death Valley. I also managed to run five 100 milers, including the legendary Western States 100 where I finished a comfortable (cough, cough) four minutes before the cutoff. I’m still a columnist for UltraRunning Magazine which I love. I got some bad news a few months ago with the diagnosis of Common Variable Immunodeficiency Disorder. (Say that ten times fast!) Basically my immune system works as poorly as a “Close Door” button in an elevator. This also resulted in one of my crappiest days of the year. That’s right. I’m now a member of the Colonoscopy Club. Soon I’ll be starting weekly plasma infusions which will continue for the rest of my life. I don’t plan on letting this slow me down. (At least any slower than I already am.)

Our Great Dane, Little Debbie, and our poodle, Aunt Jackie continue to rain down destruction and chaos in our house. Debbie chewed a hole in our wall, just because she was bored. She stole my rack of ribs off the table when I turned my head. They slobber. They wake us up early. They eat Mel’s ear plugs. If we have running clothes on, they won’t let us walk out the door without them. We mostly still love them.

We’ve always tried to place priority on experiences instead of things. Instead of buying stuff, we want to buy memories. We want to live for the moments you can’t put into words. This year, we’ve had some pretty awesome family adventures.

In February we all ran the 48 hour Jackpot Ultra Running Festival. The course is a 2 mile loop and you basically run as many miles as you can within 48 hours. In the end, I finished the race with 130 miles, Mel finished with 52.5, Jackson finished with 65, Dani finished with 40, and Kylee finished with 50 miles. I’m not sure I’ve ever been so proud of them for their hard work and perseverance. What they each accomplished is truly remarkable. I hope this is an experience they will carry with them for the rest of their lives, and fall back on it when times get tough. I hope it reminds them how strong they are, and that they can do anything they put their minds to.

In March, we saw one of our favorite musicians Mat Kearney in concert. In April, we went on a California Coast cruise, checking out San Francisco, Alcatraz, San Diego, Ensenada, and Monterey. Our time together walking through the redwoods of Muir Woods is a moment I’ll never forget. I decided to be adventurous (“adventurous” is just another word for “foolish”) and ran a 100 miler on the deck of a cruise ship which took 1,600 loops and almost 28 hours to complete. That helped justify all the soft serve ice cream I ate.

In May, we enjoyed an amazing road trip to Capitol Reef National Park. We continued our 4th of July tradition of inviting the whole extended family over to our house to watch fireworks from our front lawn while eating ice cream sandwiches. The past few years we’ve brought a huge speaker out to the porch to blast music during the fireworks. This year’s musical selections included “Party In The USA”, then “Thunderstruck”, then Neil Diamond’s “Coming To America” on repeat over and over again. Because nothing screams patriotism more than fireworks, ice cream sandwiches, and Neil Diamond on repeat. In September, we made a spontaneous decision to jump in the car, drive to Los Angeles, and go to a NeedToBreathe concert.

The greatest experience of the year was probably a few weeks ago when we took the kids bowling. We found out that $10 will buy 17 songs on the bowling alley juke box. So we bought 11 plays in a row of Toto’s song “Africa”. Then, just for the fun of it, one play of “9 to 5” by Dolly Parton. Then 5 more Africas. After 8 Africas, an employee pushed something on the machine and skipped Africa. Then they skipped Africa again. They must have thought they fixed the juke box glitch when the sweet sound of Dolly Parton filled the air. Much to everyone’s chagrin, Dolly was immediately followed by the rhythmic drum beats of Africa. This earned a prompt skip from the employee. Then another skip. Then another skip. And we decided that this was the best $10 we’ve spent in a long, long time. I will NEVER hear the song “Africa” again without thinking of bowling with my family. We are thankful for the love and support from you, our amazing friends and family. May you slip a $10 bill into every juke box you come across in 2019!

Love, Cory, Mel, Jackson, Dani, and Kylee

Monday, October 8, 2018

How To Run 100 Miles Fueled By Donuts

If you want the Reader's Digest version of how to run 100 miles fueled by donuts, allow me to consolidate everything into five easy steps: 1) Go to Ohio. 2) Start running. 3) Begin shoveling donuts into your mouth like a toddler who has just tasted sugar for the first time. 4) Ignore the gag reflex when your stomach tries to tell you that it's already full of donuts and there is no more room at the inn. 5) Stop when your Garmin beeps at 100 miles. (Here's an insider pro tip: any time you burp for the next 30 hours, it will taste like a raspberry fritter.)

A few months ago THIS video was released on Facebook about an 80 mile route in Ohio that hits 12 gourmet donut shops along the way. I had so many people send the video to me saying "You should totally run this! You love donuts more than your children! Okay, many not more than your children. But definitely more than your dogs. So you should totally run this!" (The video has more than 11 million views.)

Then over the next few months I began working with Amanda Ensinger and the Butler County Visitors Bureau who provided a gracious invitation to come and run the Donut Trail. I can't thank them enough for their hospitality.

So a week ago, Mel, my daughter Kylee, and I headed to Ohio for the sugar-filled adventure. We started at Holtman's Donuts on Saturday morning. The sweet smell of donuts filled me with happiness.

The shops had a huge variety of donuts, including s'mores, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, cookies and cream, lemon meringue, Lucky Charms, and pink frosted donuts that looked like they had been delivered right from a Simpson's episode.

One of my favorites was this little morsel of heaven: a cheesecake donut. Let's just say, hypothetically speaking, that Publisher's Clearing House showed up on my porch with a human-sized check for one million dollars. I would promptly get on an airplane, go to Ohio, and purchase one million dollars worth of cheesecake donuts.

Some donut shops were nearby, within a few miles of each other. Some were more spread out, ten or eleven miles apart. I was really digging the small town vibe as I ran from town to town.


Almost all the donut shops had long lines. They start making donuts early in the morning, then when they sell out, they close for the day.

In the afternoon I was starting to get a little jittery from all the donuts. (Shocker!) I was ready for some real food. So Mel stopped and bought some mid-run pizza. Because if an ultramarathon fueled by donuts is good, an ultramarathon fueled by donuts and pizza is better.

When drinking alcohol, people try to walk a straight line to determine their blood alcohol level. When people are pounding donuts, they try to walk a straight line to determine their blood frosting level. I determined that my blood stream was now 60% frosting.

After running for many hours, I saw this big vulture or buzzard on the side of the road. Maybe it was just a coincidence, or maybe I was looking like I was about to drop dead.

Mel and Kylee were such an amazing support. They helped me with directions on the route, and they would drive ahead a few miles at a time, then wait for me to arrive where I could refill my water.

By the afternoon, I was in a pretty rural part of Ohio. Sometimes I'd go quite a while without seeing another person. The scenery was stunning.


The Donut Trail isn't actually a dirt trail. It's all on roads. The route isn't really designed for runners. Nobody had ever run the whole route before. Most of the roads had a pretty small shoulder so it would be tough to make this into a formal race.

I was very lucky to have nearly perfect weather for the run. I loved the simple beauty of the places I was running.

I wasn't feeling too great for the first 15 miles. My energy felt drained and my legs were stiff. I was apprehensive about how the rest of the run would go. Thankfully I loosened up after 15 miles, and felt pretty good for the rest of the run.

Because we knew we'd be hitting some donut shops in the evening or night after they were closed, we kept an extra surplus of donuts in the car for me to eat at the closed shops. In the evening my stomach was less enthusiastic about eating more donuts. Toward the end, I could only handle a few bites of each donut.

Around 6:00pm I was nearing a town. Mel had driven up ahead and called to ask if I wanted some ribs at the grocery store. I told her I'd pass, but then called her back and told her that actually, some real food sounded pretty good. When I caught up to her, she had ribs, mashed potatoes, and steamed vegetables. I ate every bite. Because if an ultramarathon fueled by donuts is good, and an ultramarathon fueled by donuts and pizza is better, then an ultramarathon fueled by donuts and pizza and ribs is best.

A few miles later, I was swallowed by a sky of pink, and purple, and yellow, and orange as a sunset lit the sky on fire.

I heard my Garmin beep when I hit mile 54 of the Donut Trail 100 in Ohio. I was in the middle of nowhere. I could see my breath by the light of my headlamp. And I'd see a porch light from the occasional houses I passed. Suddenly I heard someone yell "Hey!" I stopped as I saw the shadow of a man walking toward the road where I was standing. He asked me what my name was, and what I was doing. I explained that I was trying to run 100 miles. Then he said "Come here." I protested and said I needed to keep running. I told him I still had at least twelve more hours to go. (Not to mention the fact that I didn't want to be murdered by a stranger in rural Ohio.) He insisted. "I want to introduce you to my family!" I looked past him to the garage and saw a few people inside. They didn't look like ritualistic murderers so I agreed to go say hello. When I got to the garage, everyone was so intrigued and excited to hear about the run. They said they were so impressed. And they offered me a beer and a ride up the road. I politely declined. Then they gave me a hug and said "Keep going. Good luck! You can do this!" Their kindness and enthusiasm was just the boost I needed to keep moving forward.

In the middle of the night, the cold air bit my face and I saw each breath evaporate in a cloud of steam. I was in a remote part of the state where I rarely saw a passing car. By 2:00 am I had perfected the art of sleep walking, so I found a perfect patch of grass fifteen feet off the side of the road for a quick power nap. I had been laying down for less than one minute when a truck drove down the road. And then the driver slammed on the brakes. And then he threw the truck in reverse. And then he rolled the window down. And the driver asked if I was okay. I was embarrassed, and sheepishly explained that I was trying to run through the night but got tired so I stopped to take a little nap. I got up and decided I didn't want to risk scaring anyone else by taking a power nap. I carried a big stick with me just in case one of the occasional dogs I passed decided to eat my donut-filled body for dinner.

By Sunday morning I completed the official Donut Trail. I decided that since I had already covered a bunch of miles, I'd keep going until I hit 100 miles. My friend Matt Garrod lives in Cincinnati and came over to run the last nine miles with me. I was laughing the whole time and he was a great distraction from the pain cave.

And after 29 hours 20 minutes I finished the Donut Trail 100! (Here's the route from my Garmin: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/3072620582 )The Donut Trail has passports available that can be stamped at each donut shop. For the shops that were closed, Mel made a note of what time we arrived.

If you hit all the donut shops, you get one of the official Donut Trail shirts:

Kylee drew me this awesome belt buckle. Of all the buckles I've collected over the years, this is one of my favorites. We had an absolute blast in Ohio. I'm praying that Publisher's Clearing House shows up with a huge check so I can go back and buy a million dollars worth of cheesecake donuts.

Huge thanks to Mel and Kylee for coming to crew this adventure. Thank you Amanda Ensinger, Butler County Visitors Bureau, and UltraRunning Magazine for making this all possible, as well as my amazing sponsors Altra Running, Injinji, St. George Running Center, Tailwind Nutrition, and UltrAspire.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

20 Life Lessons From 40 Years



I have three teenagers. HOW DID THIS HAPPEN??? I mean, I know how we got three kids in our house. I know what causes that. I just don't know how they were babies a few minutes ago, then I blinked, and now they're all...well...not babies anymore.

One kid will be out of the house in less than a year, and the other two won't be far behind. Knowing they will be flying on their own soon, I keep thinking about what I want them to take with them. I wrote down 20 lessons I've learned over the course of my life. These are the things I want to pass on to my kids. I figured I'd share them here too. Here are some of the most important things I've picked up during my time on the planet.

1) Find people with deep lines of crows feet around their eyes. These are the people doing the most smiling and the most laughing. The deeper the lines around their eyes, the better. Then work hard to develop some deep crows feet of your own.

2) Take pictures. And not just photos of the good times. Capture the good, the bad, and the ugly. Those snapshots are worth gold. Looking back on happy times will make you smile. Looking back on hard times will remind you that you are resilient, and that things will get better.

3) Speaking of pictures, Warsan Shire said “Document the moments you feel most in love with yourself – what you’re wearing, who you’re around, what you’re doing. Recreate and repeat.” I’ll stick this quote in the “Wow, I wish I’d written that,” file.

4) Get a dog. They don’t care if you’ve had a bad day at work. They love unconditionally. A dog is a powerful antidepressant.

5) The world will tell you that you’re not good enough. When you look at social media, you’ll see people who are cuter, or skinnier, or wealthier. Here’s the thing: being cuter, or skinnier, or wealthier won’t make you happier. What will make you happier is knowing that you are enough. You. Are. Enough. 

6) God made you. This guy knows what he is doing. You are perfect.

7) You can never know the silent pain and the inner battles someone is facing. But know this: almost everyone who touches your life is facing their own personal battle. That includes grocery store baggers. And fast food workers. And coffee shop baristas. So be kind to everyone.

8) Energy spent worrying about what others think is wasted energy. You’d be better off investing that energy into making chocolate chip cookies instead.

9) Take the path less traveled. Different is good. Embrace your uniqueness. The world needs more people who are willing to color outside the lines.

10) Enduring the Beverly Hills 90210 drama of high school isn’t just to make you smart and prepare you intellectually for your career. Enduring the Beverly Hills 90210 drama of high school is also to prepare you for the Beverly Hills 90210 drama you will experience in your adult life with coworkers, neighbors, and in-laws.

11) Choose friends who accept you for who you are. It is better to have a few close relationships than many shallow relationships.

12) The experience from childhood that haunts me the most was a day in first grade during recess. We were out on the playground and other kids were making fun of Phillis. She had red hair and freckles and worn out clothes and no friends. While the other kids made fun of Phillis, I didn’t join in on the mocking. Instead, I stood in the background looking on in silence. Since then, I’ve deeply regretted my silence. I learned from my mistake. If others don’t have a voice, be willing to be the voice for them. Have the courage to be a friend to the friendless.

13) Be frugal with your money. Credit cards cause short term happiness and long term headaches. Don’t waste money on useless stuff. There are a few things that are worth paying extra for: a warm coat, a comfortable mattress, and adding avocado to your hamburger.

14) Get good at saying “no”. It’s so easy to get roped into things you don’t really care about, and those things can suck up your time like a vacuum sucking up dust bunnies. Time is an incredibly valuable commodity. So unless it’s something you are deeply passionate about, it’s okay to say “no”.

15) Get good at saying “yes”. Say yes to adventure. Say yes to fun. Say yes to naps. Say yes to cinnamon rolls. Always yes to cinnamon rolls.

16) Be spontaneous. I’ve tried to guide my life after H. Jackson Brown’s sentiment that “When you look back on your life, you’ll regret the things you didn’t do more than the ones you did.” So far I’ve found this to be completely accurate. Some of my happiest memories came from deciding on a whim to do something adventurous.

17) Exercise almost never feels good when you’re doing it. Exercise almost always feels good when you’re done. Your brain will come up with 4,871 excuses for why you’re too tired, or too short on time, or too sore to exercise. Patiently tell your brain to shut the hell up. Then put your running shoes on.

18) Be optimistic. Things will work out. They always do. If you look back at all the things that worried you or stressed you out, you’ll see that most of the time your fears were unwarranted, and you spent way more time worrying than needed.

19) You are never too old to crank up the music and have an impromptu dance party in the kitchen. 

20) A smile is like a glowing fire in a cold, dark world. Spread that fire as much as you can.

Love, Dad

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

World's Toughest Foot Race - A Glimpse Into Badwater



This year I had the opportunity to pace and crew Andy Lohn at Badwater. (Race report HERE.) One of my fellow crew members was Luke Thoreson. Luke worked with me to write the book Into The Furnace. Not only is he hilarious, but he is also an exceptional writer. I asked if he'd like to write about his experience with Badwater, and here is what he came up with, along with some more photos I took during the race:

I walked a few steps away from the van as the rain continued to pelt down. I was at that point where you can’t really get any wetter (besides the hail had stopped), so I walked over to the edge of the road, pulled off my Nowhere Near First hat, and tilted my head up to the sky, closing my eyes. Conveniently we were parked at my favorite spot on the Badwater 135 course, the first sweeping switchback after the Portal Road check-point where the road surrounds a raised circular peninsula of rock and sand. Just three more miles. With Andy and the rest of the crew waiting out the storm by eating cookies in the van, I was alone for the first time since the race began 43 hours earlier. I reached up and wiped a few rain drops off my face. Yep, just rain. 100% all-natural, free-range, gluten-free water. Nothing but good ol’ H2O.

Just kidding. I sobbed.

They were tears of joy, of relief, of being so tired that I didn’t really know what else to do. I sank down into a crouch and pulled the neck of my Farmaste t-shirt up over my face like a bandit in one of the western movies shot in the area. Andy was going to finish. I pulled my shirt off and threw it into the air, thrusting both arms skyward like Andy Dufresne at the end of Shawshank. Andy was going to finish! Emotions, especially fueled on two hours of sleep over three days and multiple cans of Red Bull – is this number 4…no, wait there was that one outside Darwin, so that makes this number 5 - come fast and furious. Like a toddler playing with a “See ‘n’ Say,” the arrow of emotions spun around again, this time landing on “The Luke says ‘Time to get back to work.’” I walked over, picked up my shirt, put my hat back on, and started thinking about how to rearrange the van to get all five people back down to Lone Pine.

This was my fifth-year crewing at Badwater, slowly morphing from a “one-in-a lifetime opportunity” as I tried to sell my wife Kelly on the idea the first year to an annual “run-cation” that I start looking forward to the moment it’s over. During racer check-in, as Cory signed copies of Into the Furnace and posed for pictures, I’d talk to the people waiting their turn (I was also coerced into signing two books – I’m sorry for ruining your resale value).

“Wow, this is your fifth year? Crewing must be easy for you by now. None of us have been on a crew before. What advice do you have?”

First off, nothing about Badwater is easy. Nothing. It is a race that is designed to be as difficult as possible, not only for the runner but also for the crew. An evening start causes sleep deprivation issues right off the bat. Four people stuffed in a van, along with a literal mountain of candy, soda, chips, and this year for the first time in my five years, vegetables. (Cory and I were on the same page as we dragged multiple carts around a Wal-Mart in Las Vegas the day before. I’d reach out towards the Swedish Fish, glancing back at him, and he’d nod. I grabbed two packages only to turn and see him grinning with two fingers raised. Two packages is clearly the right number of Swedish Fish).
Much like Jon Snow, Death Valley likes to remind you “You know nothing, Luke Thoreson.” (Here is what Luke looks like trying to organize mounds of Wal-Mart stuff the day before the race.)

Intricately detailed pace chart where you’ve created a formula based on averaging each checkpoint of every runner from the past four years who finished between 32 and 39 hours? Cool, toss it in the trash when your runner starts vomiting. Carefully organized van with supplies arranged into multiple bins? We lost a bottle of sunscreen about mile 50 and it was never seen again. There was a show on MTV back in the early 2000s called “Diary” that opened each episode with a bunch of people saying “You think you know [what it’s like to be a professional clown, addicted to plastic surgery, etc]….but you have no idea.” Going into the race, my first year as crew chief, I thought I knew what to expect, my feathers peacocking even further out having literally co-written a book on the race.

As Andy emptied the contents of his stomach onto the still scorching hot pavement around mile 31, my first thought was for the safety of my water bottle which was…well, front row at a Gallagher stand-up special (“Sledge-o-matic!”). My second thought was that I had no idea what to do. We were less than 5 hours into the race, and already he was struggling to keep down food. I froze like the proverbial deer in headlights as the rest of the crew swarmed into action. Paul has extensive ultramarathon experience having run some of the toughest winter races in the world (and will add Iditarod, sans dogs to pull his sled, to his resume this year). Oh, and he’s also a registered nurse. If you’ve read this blog, you’re well familiar with the contents of Cory’s stomach and the variety of locations that he’s painted over the years. Finally, Erika, bringing a maternal – and spousal – truly, madly, deeply doooo (sorry, turned into Savage Garden there for a second) knowledge of her husband and unconditional love and support.

When someone asks you to be on their crew, they’re basically tossing you the keys to their dad’s vintage convertible and trusting that you’re not going to drive it into the city, pretend to be Abe Froman – the Sausage King of Chicago – and end up dancing on a float to Twist and Shout. They are trusting you with their hopes, and their dreams, and their safety. Nobody makes it to that finish line without their crew, and Andy had a great crew. Mostly, I just wanted to avoid screwing anything up too badly. Basically, I was a “Cameron” instead of a “Ferris” this year, constantly worrying, fretting, and planning on what to do and what needed to be done.

It didn’t help that Andy reenacting Pompeii multiple times left him chasing time cut-offs. As the “numbers guy,” I started checking and rechecking his progress every few miles as the buffer he had built up was shrinking with every cramp-filled step. After the explosion of joy of making the first cut-off, almost immediately I started looking at the next cut-off. It followed the van around like a black cloud following Eeyore that we just couldn’t shake. I don’t think anyone truly felt like he was safe until we made the turn onto Portal Road. It was finally time to exhale - Travis Rex even found the time to do some pacing - and the entire crew was able to relax.


Actually, let me talk specifically about one member of the crew for a minute.

“So how long have you known Cory?” my friend Derek asked as we stood around at pre-race check-in. I puffed out my cheeks in the international symbol of “well, let me think,” before announcing “Gosh it’s been…a little over 24 hours.” I didn’t meet Cory – none of us met Cory – until the Saturday morning before the race. Throughout the entire book writing process, we talked on the phone a couple of times, but mostly it was us exchanging drafts via email as I tried to sneak in as many pop-culture references as possible (“Where Al was going, he didn’t need roads” was my shout-out to Back to the Future). Feel free to blame/praise (but probably blame) me for many of those additions to the book.

When Andy was looking to build out his crew, Cory’s name came up. Andy was the one who introduced me to Cory’s writing (and I remember him nudging me one year at Badwater and saying “That guy over there? That’s Cory Reese”), and thought he’d make an excellent crew member. I was more on the fence. Nothing against Cory personally – I was thinking about being stuck in a van with someone I had never met before. What if his breath smelled? What if he didn’t want to do any work? What if…

For those of you who haven’t met Cory in person, “live” Cory and “blog” Cory are very similar. Incredibly funny. High energy. Deeply passionate and caring. He truly is an amazing human being.
And the dude knows everyone. Or more correctly, everyone knows him. Walking up to Zabriskie Point before the race, we heard a “Cory? Oh my gosh, so good to see you!” As he rejoined the rest of us, I announced “Cory Count: 1.” Trying to aw-shucks his way out of it, he explained that the only people who know him are from Utah. So when the Cory Count went to 2, I asked the person if she was from Utah (Nope). Same thing with Cory Count 3 and 4 - although to his credit 5 and 7 were both Utah…ians? Utes? Utahi? I stopped paying attention once the Cory Count hit 12.

And as nervous as we were about Cory, I can only imagine his feeling of getting in a van with multiple strangers. We might as well have painted “Free Dr. Pepper” on the side of the van just to make it seem as sketchy as possible. But Cory was not afraid of Stranger Danger and at no point did we sedate him and harvest a kidney for the black market, which I’m assuming was his biggest fear (I did think about secretly switching out his Dr. Pepper for Diet Dr. Pepper – which I’m guessing was his second biggest fear - but never mess with another man’s favorite drink).

It took all four of us, working together, tirelessly, devotedly, completely focused on getting Andy to the finish line and to the slab of metal and a black “Official Finisher” t-shirt that waited for him there. For those of us in the van, we had a front row seat to something amazing. It truly is a captivating spectacle and there is nothing like being a part of it. During those few days, there is nothing but Badwater. You wake up on Monday, you go to bed on Wednesday. And in between is Badwater.

But Badwater doesn’t end on Wednesday.

Badwater never really ends.

Badwater is more than a race. It’s more than a place. For a week each July, Badwater is embodied by 100ish runners and 400ish crew members who are united in a desire to succeed, to push themselves, to be great today. Badwater is a dream. Badwater can be a nightmare. Badwater is a way of life. I got a message from Erika after the race that read simply, “I get it now.”

One of the things that I loved about being a part of Into the Furnace (besides ranting about Arnold Palmer in Chapter 2) was attempting to put Badwater into words, and sharing what Badwater means with a wider audience. My parents – who would just ask “How was it” after previous years - were suddenly full of questions after reading the book. “How was it coming across the Panamint Valley this year? Did you see any fighter jets? Did you say hi to The Jester?”

I’m so thankful to Cory for letting me be a part of the story of Badwater, and thankful to have made a new friend. I’m so thankful to Erika, and Paul, and Cory for being part of the crew. And for Julie, and Mel, and Kelly for understanding what Badwater means to each of us and dealing with our week long absences.

I’m thankful to Andy for being great today. For showing grit and determination and focus and drive and fighting harder than I’ve ever seen him fight before.

I’m thankful for people like Al Arnold who dream and who inspire others – like Andy – to dream.