My 20th Badwater 146

Crossing the finish line in 42 hours, 30 minutes after running 135 miles across blazing hot Death Valley was not a record setting time for me. The iconic Badwater ultramarathon starts at the Badwater basin, the lowest elevation in North America at 282 feet below sea level, and now officially ends at the 8,360-foot Whitney Portal trailhead on the mountain.

At the 2015 AdventureCORPS Nutrimatix BADWATER®135 race, I did set a record by completing an unrivaled 20th Badwater 135 races. I ran my first Badwater Ultramarathon race in 1990. Why 20 Badwater ultramarathons?

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. 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, at age 64 I was still a competitive applicant. In 2012 I 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. I rank that expedition, completed with Dave Heckman, as tougher than ascending Mount Everest, but not as challenging as my 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 my memoir, “Running on Empty.” I’ve also completed a fully unaided solo crossing and a 586-mile “quad” run across Death Valley.

All told, I’ve crossed Death Valley on foot, in July or August, a record 27 times. I’ve won the race a record four times. But, I also did not finish (DNF) three times: first in 1994 when I was diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma, in 2000 when I decided to stop at 51 miles (Wild Rose) as I had an adventure race the next week and decided I couldn’t let those teammates down by pushing myself at Badwater; and then again in 2009 when I wasn’t recovered from injuries obtained during my trancon.

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, I placed 63rd of the 97 starters. Eighteen athletes did not finish (DNF) the race. Why such a high DNF rate?

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.

In addition, the AM start records (22:51 for men and 26:16 for women) did not fall, as many predicted. However, my 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 my race did not stop at the Portals. For every one of my 20 crossings I have 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, I obtained the necessary Forest Service wilderness permits and summited MUlrich Westergaard 2015 Whitney Summit-touchedupt Whitney in a total time of 65 hours from my 8 PM race start on July 28th.

On the top of Mount Whitney with another “Badwater purist,” Danny Westergaard, who also went to the 14,505-foot summit to complete the original Badwater 146 couse (lowest to hightest). 

My 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. Why do I always go to the top?

For me it’s a matter of honoring the people that came before me. I guess I’m just old fashioned that way. Sadly, only about four people continued to the top, 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.

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How we like to celebrate this kind of anniversary

Chapter 13 RestHappy anniversary to us!

It’s been five years since Heather and I ascended the steps at New York City Hall together–nope, not to get married, but to celebrate the finish of my 3,062-mile run across America. (I tell you, I was never so happy to take off a pair of shoes!) Continue reading

Posted in Book, Running on Empty (2011), Run Across U.S., SFO-NYC (2008) | Leave a comment

Ulrich Badwater 2013 Report, Comments, and Tips

Home in the Colorado mountains, the heat and challenges of Death Valley seem almost a dream. Or, is it a nightmare? For some runners, the latter proved to be more accurate at this year’s Badwater Ultramarathon, as 15 of the 96 competitors did not finish (DNF), including several veterans. Many people have asked: Why? Why more DNFs this year? I’ve given this a fair amount of thought and would like to share some ideas.

Ulrich Crew: Perry, Roger, Jill, Karen

I couldn’t have done it without my amazing crew. Thanks Perry, Roger, (me) Jill, and Karen.

First, every time I do Badwater I’m reminded that running 135 miles across Death Valley in the heat of summer is never a given. For me it’s a privilege to have competed the Adventure Corps race once again, and I’m grateful to race director Chris Kostman for continuing to put on a world-class event. I’m also grateful to my crew: Perry Gray, Roger Kaufhold, Jill Andersen, and Karen Risch ; and to the desert – and the mountain – for helping me along the way and allowing me to complete the journey.

This year, going up Townes Pass was especially challenging, both physically and mentally. Just after Stovepipe Wells at about mile 42 and at sea level, runners have to travel almost 17 miles to the 4,965-summit of Townes Pass (with Father Crowley’s and Mount Whitney still ahead; Badwater is not a flat race!). At about mile 50 I began to ask myself, “Why the hell am I doing this again?” In the heat of the moment (pun intended) it’s typical to question why anyone would want to compete in such a race, and even harder to convince yourself to keep moving on towards the finish when all you really want to do is quit. For me, when that happens, I have to do a bit of self-imposed brainwashing to quiet my mind and refocus to more positive thoughts in my life. It’s okay to think about quitting. Acknowledge those thoughts, and the realization that the event is very difficult, but then move on. Continuing on must become a singular focus; a focus that can serve us well in life, not just in ultras. Continue reading

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