Successful 20th Crossing of Death Valley to the Summit of Mount Whitney

Dedicating his crossing to his father in-law, Rory Vose, who is battling kidney cancer, kept Marshall moving across Death Valley on the first day (July 23) of the Badwater Ultramarathon despite dehydration, complications from his asthma, and heat exhaustion. Oh… and *maybe* doing a good part of the Untamed Adventure Race in Virginia and traveling from June 6-10; finishing third in the team competition in the 150-mile Gobi March in China June 12-25, including three days of travel on both ends, and getting a nasty stomach bug to boot; climbing around Mount Blanc and the Matterhorn, coaching Olympian hopefuls in Switzerland, and completing the Verbier Ultra Run July 3-18; then traveling to do Badwater July 21-27 also had something to do with it? Recovery? What recovery? And, jet lag? Uh? What’s that? In addition to this being Marshall’s 14th official Badwater race, this was also his 20th crossing of Death Valley… if he could recover.

You see… although the temperatures were relatively cool – only 114°F (official temperature at Furnace Creek) compared to typical temperatures over 120°F – from the start at Badwater, at 242 below sea level, through Furnace Creek (17 miles) and towards Stovepipe Wells (42 miles), Marshall complained of “sluggish” legs, breathing difficulties, and difficulty moving forward. Murry Griffin, Theresa Daus-Weber, and Alex Nemet had crewed him from Badwater to Furnace Creek, where Denise Jones – “First Lady” of Badwater, and newest member, along with her husband Ben Jones, the “Mayor” of Badwater, of the Badwater Hall of Fame – spelled Theresa. Having only been stopping every mile up to Furnace Creek, Murray decided that the interval was too long in the heat of the day, and reduced the stops to every half mile. Yet, Marshall was not recovering – he continued to decline. By 6 p.m. when Theresa and I (Heather Ulrich here, Marshall’s wife) went out to check on his progress and prepare for another shift change, he was only nearing the 35 mile mark on the course, the turn off to Scott’s Castle.

It is incredibly difficult to see someone you love with all your heart in the condition I found Marshall in, sitting in the van, trying to cool off and recover. His eyes were severely sunken in his head, there was no strength in his voice, he was sweating profusely and suffering from severe leg and foot cramps, and he was having difficultly breathing. However, I knew that he could – and would – recover, so I never lost faith. The first thing he asked was, “How is your dad? Have you heard anything?” and expressed concern that he was making this miserable on everyone else. Murray pulled me aside and advised that I should go and get Ben, a doctor as well as a long time friend, to come out and talk to Marshall and convince him to stake out (place a stake at the point he was on the course so that he could return to the exact spot to continue on along the course) and get medical attention at Stovepipe. So, I returned the eight miles to Stovepipe, found Ben, and took him back to Marshall. I knew the level of Marshall’s suffering when it only took about two seconds for Ben to convince him to stake out and go to medical, which is what we did.

Arriving at medical at about 7 p.m., Marshall had lost 6 of his 162 pounds, indicating significant dehydration, but his vital signs were all good and his lungs sounded clear. In reviewing the crew log, medical thought that he had not been taking enough salt/electrolytes (200 mg/hour, while they recommended up to 1 gram/hour). He started drinking the first of two liters of oral rehydration salts (ORS) and was told that he could leave after he had urinated and gained two pounds. By 9 p.m., he was headed out of medical and back out to the course. At 9:43 he started again, having only completed 35 miles in almost 12 hours. He had 100 miles to go… but… he was BACK!!

Theresa, Denise, and I crewed Marshall through the night. We watched in amazement as he ran into Stovepipe and then flew up and down Townes Pass, passing several runners along the way. Marshall was running into Panamit Springs (mile 72) by the time Murray and Alex arrived for the daytime crew shift. As Marshall persisted through the second day – which was hotter than the first day (official temperature at Furnace Creek was 117°F) – he continued to pass numerous runners, later commenting that, in a way, suffering the first day was really a good thing as it provided him the opportunity to meet many runners along the way on Father Crowley’s (mile 80), through Darwin (mile 90), past Keeler (mile 107), and turning into Lone Pine (mile 120). Always looking at the positive side: that’s Marshall alright! Marshall passed the time station in Lone Pine (mile 122) at 11:21 p.m. the second day of the race (July 24)… only the 13 miles and 4,750-feet of elevation gain up the Portal Road to the finish at 8,360 feet to go!

Fatigue was setting in. Marshall’s only sleep during the entire race was a 15 cat-nap near Keeler after Denise tended his feet and I provided a quick leg massage. He just kept going. No complaining. No whining. Just moving forward, thanking his crew for taking care of him. Due to back problems, I was limited mostly to watching from the van, but I could see that Marshall was starting to fall asleep on his feet, as he would occasionally stagger from side-to-side. Alex was strong and effective as he paced him up the Portal Road, keeping an eye on Marshall, ensuring that on-coming cars saw his headlight – if not Marshall’s since his head was often bowed down – and taking care of his hydration, caffeine, fuel, and electrolytes needs. I was able to walk a few short pieces with Marshall and I, at least, was DEFINITELY awake when Marshall casually said, “Look at that,” pointing to my feet. YIKES!! I must have jumped at least 3 feet – at least that’s what some of the rest of the crew reported – when I looked down to see a HUGE scorpion RIGHT at my feet! Seriously. This thing was at least 4 inches long, brown, with its tail curled up, ready to strike! It was a memorable first (for me) encounter with scorpions, and I was a bit surprised that it happened several miles up the Portal Road and not out in Death Valley. Not to mention surprised that it was right at my feet! Gads!

The scorpion got me – and Alex – going. A competitive drive propelled Marshall. He passed friend Chris Frost, who was suffering with hamstring problems, and when Denise told him that Lisa Smith-Batchen (fellow Stray Dog, training camp partner, and dear friend – whom Marshall “loves like a little sister”) was only a couple of miles ahead, Marshall’s amazing, long-strided, up-hill POWER walk was back! Alex worked hard to keep up with him as Marshall was able to catch up to, and pass, Lisa with about 3 miles left to go.

We left Marshall in Alex’s capable hands and drove up to the finish, where the entire crew (Murray, Denise, Theresa, Alex, and I) walked across the finish line at 3:44 a.m. on July 25th, 41 hours and 44 minutes and 135 miles after the start at Badwater. He finished in 42nd place out of 84 runners,
meaning that he passed about half of the competitors on the second day. What an AMAZING recovery! And, despite some doubts expressed by a past Badwater finisher who was working as a race official this year, he easily received the Badwater buckle, only given to those that finish in less than 48 hours (the final race cut-off time is 60 hours).
NEVER count Marshall out – that is a lesson that I have learned. He has an amazing ability to suffer, learn from it, and come back even stronger.

Marshall was thrilled to attend the awards ceremony that night where he got to catch up with more of the runners and dear friends – all of those mentioned here, as well as Charlie Engle, Tom and Therese Triumph, Art and Chris Webb, Lisa Bliss, Frank and Nilsa McKinney, Scott Weber, race director Chris Kostman, and so many others) – and to meet the new record holder, Brazilian Valmir Nunes, who blazed through the course and shattered the hold record of 24:36, completing the 135-mile course in only 22:51 – unbelievable!!! Marshall has been following Valmir for several years and, when Marshall heard that he was going to be a Badwater, knew that he would be a contender to win. Marshall was thrilled with the outstanding accomplishment. Joining host Chris Frost and friends for a celebration dinner for Ben and Denise, who had been inducted into the Badwater Hall of Fame, completed the day… but not the journey.

Doing things “old school,” Marshall ALWAYS continues the additional 11 miles to the 14,495-foot summit of Mount Whitney. This is in tribute to the original idea of the race, which was to cover the distance from the lowest point in the U.S., Badwater, to the highest point in the contiguous U.S., the summit of Mount Whitney. Each of the previous 15, 135-mile crossings from Badwater – including his self-contained, unaided solo crossing – were followed by reaching the summit, and this year would not be any different! (Note: his other crossings of Death Valley include three reverse crossings of the Badwater course from the summit, two as a part of his 584-mile Badwater Quad, and one with Lisa last year as he paced her from the summit all the way back to Badwater during her successful double; as well as a south to north crossing). That’s 146 miles from Badwater to the summit, with almost 19,000 feet of elevation gain (he doesn’t bother to count the 11 mile return trip down the mountain). So, there was still work to do – for Marshall, for the Sisters, and for my dad.

At 3 a.m. on July 26th Marshall, Theresa, and Alex drove up the Portal Road to the official finish line of the race, and the start of the Whitney Trail. In just under 6 hours they climbed 6,135 feet over 11 miles and stood at the summit of Mount Whitney!!! Marshall’s 17th time on the summit, 16 of them after doing the 135-mile Badwater course through Death Valley (plus one summit last year before pacing Lisa back to Badwater). As a special surprise, Marshall was presented with a one-of-a-kind metal made by Phil and Kari Marchant with “20X Badwater, 1990-2007, 2990 MI” on it. He was thankful, and touched, more than he could say. What thoughtful friends the Marchants are – like so many of our “surrogate family” at Badwater. After a few phone calls, they descended in about 4 hours, for a round trip time of 10 hours. Total time from Badwater to the summit: just under 72 hours.

The 2990 MI on Marshall’s metal from Phil? Marshall has covered 2,990 miles on foot across Death Valley! Twenty crossings of the Valley, 14 official Badwater Ultramarathon finishes, and 2,990 miles! All world records. And… don’t forget the record 4 Badwater wins, and his still-standing record of 33:54 to the summit of Whitney via the Whitney Trail set back in 1991. Yep. NEVER count Marshall out.

But…WHY cross Death Valley 20 times?

That’s the question he’s most often asked – about many things. Why?

I’ll let Marshall share some of his thoughts about that… later.

For now, I know that the only thing that got him through that first day, the only thing that didn’t break his spirit – when his body was broken, and he was in last place – came from outside of him: thinking of the women and children that suffer every day due to no fault of their own – but suffer only because of where they were born and the environmental, medical, and economic conditions they face – and hoping that his suffering may motive you to donate generously to the Religious Teachers Filippini so that they may continue the real work of peace and justice: providing an education.

And, this year, even more than the fundraising, the motivation came from dedicating the race to my dad. As Marshall posted on my dad’s Caring Bridge Web site (go to http://www.caringbridge.org/cb/visitAPage.do and enter roryvose under site name to learn more) on Sunday, July 22, 2007 as we were in Las Vegas getting ready to head out to the race:

Rory,

As you know, tomorrow I will start my 20th crossing of Death Valley at the Badwater Ultramarathon, then continue up to the summit of Mount Whitney. In the past – and again this year – I have used Badwater, and other extreme events such as mountain climbing to help the Religious Teachers Filippini raise funds for their mission work around the world. You have always understood this and supported it very generously – thank you.

I will never forget returning to base camp on Mount Everest and you saying, “Don’t I know you from somewhere?” I can’t tell you how much it meant to me having you there!

Little did I know when Heather and I married that you and Janis would be so supportive of Heather and my efforts, and that you would be such a huge part of our lives. Having you and Janis on the summit of Kosi in Australia when I completed the Seven Summits, and the special celebration party arranged was, perhaps, the kindest thing anyone has ever done for me.

I would like to dedicate my race this year to you, Rory. Your spirit epitomizes what this years’ crossing will be about. I love you and will be thinking of you every step of the way. Thank you for being such a mentor for all of us.

marsh

My dad continues his amazingly strong fight against his kidney cancer. We are proud of him.

And, I am proud of Marshall. For his accomplishment, yes; but, even more for who he is, why he does what he does, and the values and strength of character he shows to everyone along the way.

THANKS for checking in!
Love,
Heather

If you can, please send a donation to:

Religious Teachers Filippini Mission Fund
Reference: Marshall Ulrich
455 Western Avenue
Morristown, NJ 07960

THANKS to all of you who already have donated!!

EVERY penny you have so generously provided will go to help the women and kids! 🙂

Sister Mary Beth, Mission Director for the Teachers, reports that $92,885 has already been received, and the total is and climbing! Now THAT is unbelievable. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!

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