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.
Our guest blogger, Ray Charbonneau, is a regular contributor to Marathon & Beyond magazine. In our current issue (July/August 2015), you can read his latest article, “Something to Run For: A Not-so-Short Story.”
In a world where running a Boston qualifier doesn’t ensure that you’ll get in the race, sometimes it seems like everyone is a runner. We may be closer than you think to the day when that’s a reality.
When we look back on the history of running in the US, we like to talk about ‘running booms.’ The period in the 70’s when Frank Shorter won the Olympic Marathon, road races began accepting women, and Jim Fixx had a bestseller is usually called the ‘First Running Boom.’ Then, in the 90’s, when everyone and their Oprah discovered that even penguins could run the marathon, there was the ‘Second Running Boom.’ And somewhere in the mid-2000’s, when ultramarathoning took off and the women entering races outnumbered the men for the first time, the ‘Third Running Boom’ started – a boom that appears to continue to this day.
But that’s a parochial view of the history of running. If we take a broader look, one that recognizes the long and storied history embodied by the idea of ‘the loneliness of the long-distance runner,’ those ‘booms’ are just noise in the data. What’s actually going on is no mere boom. It’s more like an explosion, a nuclear chain-reaction in the process of going critical.
Let’s look at that data.
This first chart shows the change in the number of race finishers over time, both overall and at a variety of distances, using data from RunningUSA.org and Ultrarunning Magazine. You can see that there are no real ‘boom’ or ‘bust’ cycles. With only one exception, the curves are always going up. And that one exception, a single-year dip in marathon finishers, was not caused by any loss of interest, but when Hurricane Sandy forced New York to be cancelled, wiping out 40,000+ potential finishers.
I included a line in the chart for the US population over the same period. The population is rising, but it’s obvious that the increase in race finishers is not due solely to an increase in the overall number of people.
Now picture the long, relatively flat part to left of the curves shown here, the part that represents running prior to the 70’s, a time when there were so few organized races that a single publication, pasted together manually by a single person, could track all the results. And take note of the significant increase in the rate of increase in the 2000’s, especially at the shorter distances.
When you take the entire history of running into account, it’s apparent that the overall trend of participation in running events closely resembles an exponential growth curve.
It’s not a little boom, or a series of booms (and busts). It’s a running explosion!
What does this explosion mean for running in the coming years? Let’s look at that population curve and at the curve for the total number of event finishers in more detail.
I generated best-fit trendlines for those curves, which you can see on the first chart. They confirm that the US population is increasing steadily, in a relatively linear fashion, while an exponential formula is the best fit for the finishers’ trendline. Both formulas fit the data extremely well, as shown by the fact that the correlation coefficient (R2) is very close to 1.
Now let’s extend the current trends forward into the future. Here’s a final chart:
If things go on as they have been, by 2080 there will be a race finish for every man, woman, and child in the US. It’s science!
Ray Charbonneau is the author of a number of books on running. That number is currently four. Ray’s work has appeared previously in Marathon & Beyond and many other publications. His current project is the “Runner’s Book Bundle,” a specially-priced collection of 15 indie-publishing ebooks by runners for runners. All proceeds from sales of the “Runner’s Book Bundle” go to the Vermont Foodbank and the 100 Mile Club. Find out more at www.y42k.com.
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.
Each issue, we select an “Editor’s Choice”—an entire article we share with you online. Click here to read the entire article…
With the permission of Zach Adams, we are reprinting this post about how an ultrarunner (usually the one running) takes on the role of aid station captain. For those of you who have manned aid stations, you will be able to identify with Zach. For those of you who are used to aid station workers taking care of you, well … just say “thanks” to your aid station folks next time you’re in a race. Thanks to Zach Adams and Eric Steele of Epic Ultras for letting us post this piece.
At the inaugural Flint Hills Marathon and 40 Miler I got my first taste of running an aid station for the full duration of a race, and HOLY SHIT was it a real eye-opener! Since I started running ultras about 5 years ago, I have been amazingly taken care of at almost every race I have started. I have had workers fill my bottles, give me food, and offer me everything from a sandwich from their own cooler to Tums out of the glove box of their car. I have stumbled, shuffled, and flown through innumerable aid stations, but I have never worked one. I now realize after working at one, that while I was grateful, I was still taking them for granted. Not anymore. Never again. I realize that I am not unique in that I usually run ultras so I am really excited to share some observations from my first experience from behind the aid station table.
1. It is HARD. You have to show up early and stay late. You have to rush around and get stuff ready before runners get there. You have to load and unload everything. You have to clean as you go. You have to clean, inventory, and repack everything once the last runner comes through. It isn’t running, but it is a LOT of work.
2. It is STRESSFUL. The pressure of being able to quickly and efficiently provide for all the needs of the runners while still cheering them on and infusing them with confidence takes a real toll on you. Waiting for a group of runners to come through and making sure you got them all checked in can leave you worried that you missed someone. You will question yourself. Did I do everything I could for them? Did I find the right drop bag? Did I give them the right bottle back?
Continue reading » From runner to Aid Station Captain
Jeff and Dondi Black are ultrarunners in Boise, Idaho. A couple of weeks ago, Jeff ran the River of No Return 100K, and Dondi ran the 50K. This was the inaugural year for the RONR and its first year in the Idaho Trail Ultra Series. If you’re considering an ultra in Idaho, check out the ITUS website for other races. RONR was the 3rd in a series of 8 ultras in 2014. Here is Jeff’s race report entitled “Running the River.”
“This was an inaugural race with a potent name: The River of No Return, or RONR for short. Given its close proximity to the Frank Church Wilderness to north, the main Salmon River to the south, and the towering Lost River Range to the east, the location was promisingly iconic even before arriving in Challis, Idaho where it all began. I strapped in for the long 100k course while Dondi rode the rapids on the 50k.” To read the whole article, go to Jeff’s website: http://jeffattheraces.wordpress.com/.