Death Valley National Park, Calif – Crossing the finish line in 42 hours, 30 minutes after running the 135 miles across blazing hot Death Valley was not a record setting time for veteran ultrarunner Marshall Ulrich. A Colorado native, Ulrich is the record four-time winner of the iconic Badwater ultramarathon that starts at the Badwater basin, the lowest elevation in North America at 282 feet below sea level, and officially ends at the 8,360-foot Whitney Portal trailhead on the mountain. At the 2015 AdventureCORPS Nutrimatix BADWATER® 135 race, Ulrich set another record by completing an unrivaled 20th Badwater 135 races. He ran his first Badwater Ultramarathon race in 1990.
“The desert is never forgiving, but always welcoming to me. There’s a peace in disconnecting from the everyday, electronic world and instead being connected to the earth, your support crew, and the Badwater family,” Ulrich said. “That’s what has brought me back for so many years.”
In the field of 68 men and 29 women consisting of extreme sports athletes, adventure racers, ultrarunners, mountaineers, and triathletes who had to compete with their sports credentials and accomplishments just to be invited to the race, Ulrich (64) was a notably competitive applicant. In 2012 Ulrich finished the first-ever circumnavigation on foot of Death Valley National Park, about 425 miles in one of the hottest, driest places on earth, during the most blistering month in U.S. history. He ranked that expedition as tougher than ascending Mount Everest, but not as challenging as his record-setting transcontinental run of more than 3,000 miles from San Francisco to New York City in 52 days, which was the subject of his memoir, Running on Empty. He’s also completed a fully unaided solo crossing and a 586-mile “quad” run across Death Valley. All told, he’s crossed Death Valley on foot, in July or August, a total of 27 times.
At the 2015 Badwater Ultramarathon, where the average age of the racers was 46 among the 38 newcomers and 59 veterans from around the world, Ulrich placed a solid 63rd of the 97 starters. Eighteen athletes did not finish (DNF) the race. “For various reasons the race went back to an evening, or PM, start which is the way the race run from 1990 to 1995. While some people thought it would be easier, that wasn’t the case. Higher temperatures at the start, as well as sleep deprivation, especially for those of us that had to run through two nights, really took a toll on a lot of participants,” Ulrich theorized.
In addition, the AM start records (22:51 for men and 26:16 for women) did not fall, as many predicted. Ulrich’s 1992 male PM start record of 26:18 did finally fall – to 27 year old Pete Kostelnick who finished in 23:27. Nikki Wynd won the 2015 women’s division with a time of 27:23. The 79 runners that did finish the official 135 miles within the 48-hour cutoff earned the coveted Badwater 135 belt buckle. There is no prize purse for the “The World’s Toughest Foot Race.”
But, Ulrich’s race did not stop at the Portals. For every one of his 20 crossings, Ulrich has completed the 11-mile climb to Mt Whitney’s 14,505-foot summit that is the classic crossing from the lowest to highest points in the continental U.S. This year was no exception. After finishing the Badwater 135, Ulrich obtained the necessary Forest Service wilderness permits and summited Mt Whitney in a total time of 65 hours from his 8 PM race start on July 28th. His record for the 146 miles from the Badwater basin to the summit of Mt Whitney of 33:54, set in 1991, still stands after 24 years.
“For me it’s a matter of honoring the people that came before me. I guess I’m just old fashioned that way,” Ulrich explained. “Sadly, only about four people continued to the top,” Ulrich said, “as most runners either don’t know the history or don’t understand the original intent of those that established the lowest to highest route.”
*Photos courtesy of Teresa Reed-Barnette.
About Marshall Ulrich
Marshall Ulrich (b. July 4, 1951) is an elite extreme endurance athlete, as well as an accomplished speaker, author, trainer, and guide. Called the “Endurance King” by Outside magazine, he’s finished over 127 ultra marathons averaging over 125 miles each; climbed to the top of the highest mountain on every continent, including Mount Everest; and completed 12 expedition-length adventure races. At the age of 57, Marshall clocked the third-fastest run across America, about which he wrote his book, “Running on Empty.” A record four-time winner of the Badwater Ultramarathon, Marshall has crossed Death Valley on foot, in July, a record 26 times, including a self-contained, unaided solo, a “quad” of nearly 600 miles, and the first-ever self-supported circumnavigation of Death Valley National Park.