While the women's field is top-heavy -- with three clear favorites -- the men's field features the most-talented and deepest field in the illustrious history of the Badwater 135: about a dozen guys have at least some legitimate shot of not only a podium race, but winning the race outright. At least 6 former champions return, including each winner from the past three years. We start with them...
1. The Favorites to Win.
Since Badwater last year, all Pete has done is run an incredible 163 miles at the Desert Solstice 24-hr run (held on a track in central Phoenix), making him one of the top 24-hour runners in American history. And just last weekend, Pete -- a road runner from flat Nebraska -- finished the venerable Western States 100 in under 20 hours.
Now, Pete is attempting something only Scott Jurek has accomplished in ultrarunning history: following up Western States with a win at Badwater just three weeks later. Can he do it? I -- for one -- will not be betting against him; he has the talent, the experience, and is wearing bib number 1 for a reason.
Like Brenda Guajardo on the women's side of the race, Harvey is most-comfortable as a front runner, and will gain more and more confidence the longer he leads the field as at the race progresses. So the field will need to keep an eye on him at all times, as Harvey possesses the leg speed, experience, and drive to simply run away from everyone else. Will this be the year Harvey breaks the tape on the traditional course? Time will tell. One thing is for sure: it will be a monumental upset if anyone but Harvey is leading the race after Mile 1 . . . per Harvey's tradition, he clocks the first mile somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 minutes!
This year, all Carlos did was finish an amazing 8th place overall at the 150-mile Marathon des Sables stage race in Morocco. (It is exceedingly rare these days for men from the U.S. or Western Europe to finish in the top 10 of MdS . . . the race is always dominated by Moroccans and other desert-based runners).
It would shock no one to see Carlos Sa standing atop the podium when the dust is settled at the end of the race.
This year, Oswaldo has likely trained harder than ever before. And in full disclosure, he is the guy I will be pulling for to win, given that (a) he is -- easily -- the nicest runner in the field (seriously, he's one of the nicest guys you will ever meet), and (b) Mexicans such as Oswaldo who live and work in the U.S.A. have experienced a lot of vile and nasty things said about them recently by one of our major presidential candidates and his supporters. So I would like nothing more than for Oswaldo to win the race, and in the process, send a "deport this, you bloviating hot air bag!" message to Mr. Drumpf!
Lawson has the "big-race" experience to perform very well at Badwater, and even win the race. The only X-factor is whether this Brit will be able to manage the intense, otherworldly heat at Badwater, that has taken out several former Spartathlon top runners from Western Europe (including last year's Badwater race favorite, Piotr "Polish Rocky" Kurylo of Poland). If he can thrive in the heat, however, Dan certainly has the chops to be the one to break the tape at this year's race.
2. The OTher Top Contenders.
Reports are that Mick has trained much harder than ever for this year's race, and is looking to improve his placing from his incredible finish in 2015...
While Grant may not possess the pure leg speed of some of the race favorites like Pete or Harvey, he more than makes up for it with perhaps the strongest mental resolve of any runner in the field . . . the guy has a superhuman ability to knock out 8-9 min miles forever, despite his level of suffering. He simply presses through the pain and does not slow down.
Grant has spent much of 2016 going up and down some of the biggest mountains in the world, so we know his endurance is in top form. He also has a history of putting up big results when the spotlight is on others, so do not surprised at all to see him on the podium this year...
-michele "mickey" Graglia:
Even though this is his first attempt at Badwater, do not be surprised at all to see Mickey at the front of the pack...
He is perhaps the biggest wild card among the race contenders, however, as he has done very little racing in Western Europe or the United States. Can his prowess on the sand translate to success on the road? We will find out in two weeks...
Despite this success, Jared apparently prefers to stay under the radar, as he indicated in his race application that he didn't even want to start the race in the elite (11pm) wave, but rather run the race "Ferg Hawke-style," and contend from the middle wave!
Given his year so far, do not be surprised at all to see Jared finish in the top-10 or even top-5 of this year's race.
-George "the heartland heat" myers:
If you are looking for a dark horse contender who could sneak into the top-5 or even the podium, Heat Myers might just be your guy!
3. Other notable runners.
- Luigi Dessy: Puerto Rican runner who finished in sixth place at last year's Badwater 135, narrowly getting beat for 5th by some bum from Florida! Luigi has run some major international races, including the Spartathlon, and he has the experience and know-how to do very well at Badwater once again;
- Mark Matyazic: The "man with the muscles," if Badwater were a MMA-style fight instead of a 135-mile run, he would be the prohibitive favorite. Turns out he is a hell of a runner as well, almost always finishing in the top-10 for the past five years at Badwater;
- Ed Ettinghausen: Known globally as "the Jester," Ed holds the world record for most 100-mile races in one calendar year (40, I believe, which he accomplished in 2014). His 100-mi PR is under 15 hours, so he possesses the speed and experience to be a factor in any race he enters;
- Jimmy Dean Freeman: The head of the "Coyotes," an L.A.-based running/coaching group, Jimmy returns to Badwater as a runner for the first time in several years, and looks to be in top form;
- Marcus Berggren: Swedish runner who has won the 135-mile Arrowhead Ultra in Northern Minnesota (2015), Marcus is a gritty and experienced runner who always puts forth a solid performance at any race he enters;
- Brad Lombardi: Known throughout the ultrarunning world as "the Peacock," ex-Floridian Brad must have realized peacocks are actually not very rare in South Florida, so he moved to the desert in June 2015 and now lives and and works in a village on the Badwater course (Panamint Springs, Mile 72). By all indications -- the "Desert Peacock" is now primed to make his own mark on the race :)
So, how do you think this year's race will shake out? Any other runners that deserve mention?
One thing is for sure . . . with the best and deepest field in Badwater 135 history, the drama will be high in the desert in two weeks! #seeyouinfurnacecreek