Pre-Race Thoughts on the Badwater Ultra-Marathon

Courtesy of Frank McKinney’s Facebook page

The Badwater 135 ultra-marathon is now an immediate 25-meter target; traveling and logistics are all working as I type. This race started out first as a Dream Race rather than a goal after I ran four or five shorter ultras in 2007. Then, when I started really studying this sport, Badwater moved itself to my “What if” category, and finally, “Why not” while I was deployed to Afghanistan in 2009.

During that deployment I was reading about the race on the Badwater website and discovered the Arrowhead 135. The two 135-mile events had an affiliation then based on their distance. I was fascinated by the distance these two events covered while traversing through extremely tough environmental conditions. Arrowhead’s deep winter conditions in northern Minnesota in the first week of February on the Arrowhead snowmobile trail, and then running across Death Valley, Calif. during mid-summer conditions starting at Badwater. My dream of someday completing Badwater developed almost immediately into a hard goal of completing the Arrowhead 135 and Badwater 135 in the same racing season.

Some travel, some logistics, and 135 miles of two-lane, Death Valley highway are all that stands between me and that goal. And . . . Heat.

Obviously, it is going to be hot. Yesterday was a high heat day at Furnace Creek – the temperature reached the outer 120s. Three significant mountain ranges to climb, including to the finish line at the Whitney Portal after 13 miles of climbing, but this is way too early to start thinking about that.

The things I am thinking about are closing out the logistics and equipment and am I trained enough?

And Heat. Thinking about Heat a lot. That searing Death Valley Heat is the one wild-card, the one real unknown for me in this great event.

That rhetorical question, “Am I trained enough?” is one I seem to have been asking myself for 20 years of Army service and in conjunction with the 50-something marathons and ultra-marathons I’ve run. Honestly though, that question doesn’t really manifest itself for non-100 mile events anymore. I’m a really average ultra-runner and I’m seldom even close to placing above the top third of any field of racers in any event. I enter a lot of races and run them as hard as I can and finish them as strongly as I can – I fight for every place I can reach in the finishing roster and my goal late in every race is to run down every runner ahead of me. I run every day and crossing the Finish Line is the reward. That’s really never a question unless I’m running in a 100-mile, or longer event these days.

Am I trained enough? I’m confident that I am, as confident as I was at Arrowhead in January. I always use races as my main training events and after notification I was accepted to run Badwater, I ran the Massanutten Mountain Trail 100 (MMT) on 12-13 May and the Old Dominion 100 (OD) on 2-3 June as my Intensive Training Cycle. After running both these events last year I was sure they’d be the right ITC to prepare for Badwater . Both races went fairly well, although both took me a little bit longer than they did last year. They gave me the race venue to expend a massive effort in a compressed period of time. As I do run every day, counting the mileage from those races themselves, I had base mileage weeks around both of those events of 135+ miles per week, exactly what I wanted to accomplish.

MMT was touch and go until the aid station around Mile 77 just before daybreak 24 hours into the race. I had to take a second 20+ minute nap to keep moving – I was a dead man walking until I got into that aid station and rested for a while. I finished MMT moving forward much better than I did for last year’s race and OD100 was much the same. I moved through a tough patch between 55-65 miles and got behind on time a little during the toughest part of the course – traversing the Sherman’s Gap and Veech Gap climbs – and arrived at the Veech Gap aid station at Mile 87 thinking I might not finish the final 13 miles in time to finish OD under the 28-hour limit. I was able to run harder during that final 13 miles, running the final 7.5 in under 75:00 to a Dead Last Finish that I was pleased with. I was also certain I could have gone another 35 miles in the next 24 hours.

So I think I’m ready. I’ve trained hard, running every day, racing some longer events and feel recovered; I’ve heat trained, and done a lot of TRX Suspension Training as my cross-training staple. This has been a long process and a longer journey. I attempted the Arrowhead 135 for the first time in January 2010 but failed to get further than 102 miles where I dropped out around 40 hours into the race. (Lost Arrowhead is archived on my site). That effort would have been my 10th completed ultra and 18th major event counting 26.2 mile marathons. I was undertrained in 2010. I was running with a small measure of satisfaction when I passed Mile 102 on Arrowhead this winter.

After doing some website research on the Badwater, Arrowhead, and Mr. Gary Wang’s exemplary sites, I believe I’ll be the 15th ultra-runner to complete both Arrowhead and Badwater, and the 11th to do so in the same season. Mr. Zach Gingerich set the highest of standards by winning both events outright two years ago. I consider that one of the most amazing and under-rated accomplishments in recent American ultra-running.

Today will be the 1671st straight day of my running streak. I’ve run in at least 31 ultras and 5 marathons since my attempt at Arrowhead in January 2010, including six 100 or 100+ mile events since March 2011. We’ve got a terrific crew and a coalescing plan. I’m not pulling a sled loaded with forty-five pounds of survival and non-survival gear, nor is this event taking place in Frozen Head State Forest. So, I like my chances.

Have I mentioned the Heat?

One Average Ultra-Runner


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  • Greg Hardy

    See you in the Heat, Bro!

  • Michael Nicolaides

    Your accomplishments are awesome!! Congrats on Badwater, but doing twice back-to-back MMT/OD100 and then also Arrowhead/Badwater in the same season is just plain badass!!!