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.
On July 11, I volunteered at the Beaverhead Endurance 100K & 55K Runs in Salmon, Idaho. As most of you know – whether it’s through running or volunteering at an ultra event or in reading about it in M&B – any part of an ultra race can be a transformational experience. At this year’s 55K, running friends – Kristine Goodman and Nellie Pryor – exemplified what toughness is all about. I’m including Kristine’s race report here because her and Nellie’s experiences can be an inspiration for everyone out there who may dream of someday doing an ultra. Here is Kristine’s account of the Beaverhead 55K.
Ah – Beaverhead – This course is unforgettable, breathtaking, and full of surprises!
Last year this race nearly killed me, physically and spiritually. My friend Nellie and I rolled into the last aid station well after dark. I was angry and bonking and wanted to quit. I had suffered from IT band issues for miles and the descent was proving to be brutal. I called my husband and told him I was quitting to his reply of “You only have 5 miles – everyone is waiting for you.” So I finished the race at 2 am, defeated. Then, of course, I signed up again – determined I could finish stronger.
This year I was more prepared with having been on the course before. I knew my head could be my biggest friend and having a pre-race pep talk by Travis Macy, the author of Ultra Mindset, solidified that knowledge. It was a surprise and a treat to listen to him talk! I started the day with a detailed plan – a new strategy for me. I knew how long I had between each aid station to finish before 10:30 pm – a stretch goal of taking almost 3 hours off my previous time. I also had learned that my recurring injuries rear their ugly heads when I am dehydrated so I really focused on drinking a lot of water and eating every 45 minutes. Those 3 strategies, combined with better weather held big promises for reaching my goal.
The day started at Lemhi pass with lots of friends. We were bused up to the start at 8358 feet. After bathroom breaks and getting race numbers, we all took turns taking pictures of each other at the start then patiently waited to begin.
At 7 am the race started. Immediately, the trail ascends a very steep hill climb for about a half mile. It’s here that the different paces spread out. I quickly found myself where I should be and was able to relax and enjoy the climb. For the next 18 miles – the course follows the Continental Divide Trail. For about 16 miles of that it is mostly nice, rolling single and double track through the trees. Simply amazing! We made good time and put lots of time in the bank for the skree field later in the race.
I was feeling pretty good through most of this part, and we were keeping on pace. I started to get tired around mile 10 so I ate some sport beans. I suddenly was craving candy like crazy!! I don’t usually eat a lot of sugar so this was very odd for me. I decided to go with it, and it seemed to work. At the 2nd aid station they had Swedish fish and Mike and Ike’s. Along with my regular nut butter and potato chips, the super sugary candy fueled my entire run. I’ve learned over the few ultras I have completed that while it is not smart to try something brand new on race day, I do better when I eat what I crave as this is probably an indication for something I’m lacking.
It is also here that the trail starts to change, and we began to see a lot more rock. We stopped to check out the views a few more times, but we had a big goal this year – so lots less time for pictures.
Eventually, we made it into the Gold Stone aid station. The volunteers were so welcoming. They filled us up, and we were on our way – 2 hours earlier than we had been at that aid station the year before. It was amazing to be that far in a race and not here one word uttered from a volunteer about a cutoff!
Finally, we headed out to the toughest 6 miles of the course. These 6 miles are what make this race different from every other race I’ve participated in. We climbed to the top of that point and then quickly began navigating a 3-plus mile skree field topping out at 10,047 feet.
At this point we had several people starting to pass us from the 100k (I’ve never considered myself fast). Each of them commented on how tough the skree field was, and no one was running. The skree field follows the Continental Divide – one side is Montana, and one side is Idaho. It’s absolutely breathtaking while at the same time terrifying and excruciatingly slow.
Soon, we came to the section where we started to descend, and we saw a trail again. It was a fantastic sight, although this year, I was a little saddened to leave those brutal 3 miles.
Continue reading » Beaverhead Endurance Runs – 55K
RAVEN is celebrating the 40-year mark of his streak run on December 31, 2014, right in the same place
he has been running for 40 years. Runners from all over are coming to join in this remarkable celebration to meet and run with RAVEN on the beach at 4pm at the 5th Street Lifeguard Station in South Beach, Miami, Florida.
Raven has the world’s record for running 8 miles every day for 40 years in hurricanes, storms, very high temperatures, and humidity! He is the only runner in the world who has run his entire streak on the sand and also in the same location. RAVEN is one of the only 8 runners in the world to have completed a 40-year streak run.
- Raven has logged over 117,000 miles on the sands of South Beach—enough to circle the earth nearly 5 times.
- More than 2200 runners ranging in age from 6 to 83, from more than 78 countries and at least 2 runners from every state in America, have completed at least one 8 mile run with Raven on South Beach.
HOW I STARTED INTO RUNNING
I started running as a kid mostly inspired by my dad, also named Bill Smith. Dad was, in many ways, an over-achiever. He ran the mile and the half mile for North Kansas City High School, usually both in the same meet, and he always had a lot to say about running and training. At the time I was less interested in running, but I idolized my dad so if he had a high opinion of running, I was going to run, too. In those days we kids rode a bike or walked almost everywhere, and I just ran there because it got the whole thing over with a lot quicker. Once every year I would run to my doctor’s office for my annual summer camp physical and always “fail” the pee test because of the run.
After college I took up running again in about 1972, but this time I liked it, and my dad was enthusiastic about it, too. I became a member of the Kansas City YMCA and ran on their indoor track every night. It was a wood-slat inclined and concave track elevated over the basketball court, 26 laps to the mile. I kept that up for several years until one day a friend told me about a 10K on the weekend. Dad and I went to the 10K (he had never run one either), and there was an old friend of dad’s named Jerry Morrison running it. I looked at Mr. Morrison and thought, “All I got to do is stay with this old guy?” The race started, and I stayed with Mr. Morrison for a couple of miles. Jerry Morrison, I found out later, was an age group world record holder in the marathon. At age 57 he ran something in the 2:40s! Wow! Wow again, too. Mr. Morrison ran a 35 that day and I think I did a 40, but I was hooked on the competition aspect of running!
For the next many years, I ran one to three times per day. There was always a noon run with fellow runners at work, and often also a morning run with them. Running in the 1980s with those guys at work was very formative and influencing for me. That was an extremely competitive group with one very good former college miler, another college half miler, and a part-time college coach. The small group of us would run one or two 10Ks every weekend, and it was what I call friendly-fierce. We all wanted to beat each other in the worst way, and it developed training technique and speed. The running boom back then was different than now. No one went to a race just to finish. Everyone went to a race to win in some manner: Win outright, win your (10 year) age division, be first female, or just to improve your PR. One of my goals was always to beat the first girl. Wish I could still do that.
MY FIRST MARATHON
In 1980 a guy from work trained and ran a marathon. I had never thought of doing that before. And, obviously, by that statement you know that I also didn’t know how really fast Jerry Morrison was either. But I thought if they can do that, then I can do that. In 1981 there was no Internet or any other kind of social media, so you had to wait for the January issues of Running Times and Runner’s World to come out to see a one-page printed marathon schedule in the back of the magazine. You kept your copy for 12 months just so you had a schedule of marathons. So, in that schedule I picked out Heart of America Marathon as my first marathon. My goal was to get in under three hours. Anyone who knows Heart of America is probably rolling in laughter right about now. It is a really tough course. I wore a Timex with a chrono in it, and I wrote my required splits upside down on my number so I could see them. At the half I realized that I was behind schedule so I “caved in” to accepting a slower time and not accomplishing my goal. I don’t really know what happened, but I just started feeling better and better after that, literally charged up Easley Hill, and ran a negative split to a 2:59:35 finish. I remember the front runners got stopped by a train for a while, and that 12-year-old Wesley Paul ran it. That was my first of many. Hooked again!
Continue reading » On My Way to 100 Marathons
Kenneth A. Posner
© 2014 42K(+) Press, Inc.
In 1977, Al Arnold became the first person to run the 146 miles from the Badwater Basin in Death Valley (which, at 282 feet below sea level, is the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere) to the summit of Mount Whitney (which, at 14,505 feet, is the highest point in the continental USA). In 1989, Tom Crawford and Rich Benyo conceived the idea of doubling this feat and became the first people to complete the 292-mile round trip, which is referred to as a “double” (Benyo 1991). In 2001, Marshall Ulrich set a record for the double of 96:07 as part of his celebrated “quad” crossing (Ulrich 2004). I set out on July 1, 2014, with the goal of completing the double and—if all went perfectly according to plan—of improving on the record. If successful, I would contribute in a small way to the tradition that Tom, Rich, and Marshall established of seeking out extreme challenge in the beautiful but unforgiving environment of Death Valley and the High Sierra—and then raising the bar.
After the experience was over, my crew and I identified several lessons learned that we thought might aid other Badwater runners in such areas as planning, crew leadership, pacing, nutrition, and footgear. We offer these ideas with the goal of inspiring others to take on the Badwater course and to further improve the times for single, double, and other crossings. But first, here’s what happened.
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