Note: Every year, I neglect to mention a deserving runner (or multiple runners) in my preview article, who inevitably go on to get on the podium at Badwater or even win the race. So if you're a competitive runner and feel slighted, please prove my predictions wrong . . . it won't be the first time (and yes, I'm looking at you, Nikki Eadie!) Also, I tore my AC joint in my shoulder playing "touch" football yesterday morning (some of my friends apparently didn't get the "touch" part of the memo), so if I'm wrong on any of the following predictions, I blame the pain meds! Okay, on to the race:
Yes, two-time defending champion -- and course-record holder -- Pete Kostelnick (Hannibal, MO) gets his own category in this article. In 2015, Pete broke the tape and took the win in 23:27, one of the fastest times in the illustrious race's history. He won by a full two hours over the next-closest competitor. That year, the author of this article was actually the second American to cross the finish line, but almost a full 5 hours behind Pete. (So Pete finished the race, checked into his hotel, watched Star Wars as well as The Empire Strikes Back, and then came back to the finish to congratulate me :) To say Pete dominated the race would be a massive understatement...
So what has Pete done since his course-record performance last year? Essentially nothing. Um, well, except shattering the U.S. transcon record in September 2016, running from City Hall in San Francisco to New York City Hall in 42 days, 6 hours . . . taking a mind-blowing 4 days and 2 hours off of the old record, by Frank Gianno, Jr., held for 36 years (since 1980).
After recovering from his amazing transcon run -- one, in which, incidentally, fellow elite Badwater runner Harvey Lewis met with Pete to run with and encourage him as he passed through Ohio -- Pete has been logging insane weekly miles in 2017, gearing up for both the World 24-hr championships as well as Badwater.
Well, Pete didn't have the race he envisioned in his first international race in Ireland. He experienced stomach issues and his day was forced to end early. That result was lucky for all the other competitors in the 24-hour race, but will likely be decidedly unlucky for everyone who lines up against Pete at Badwater this year:
Let's see: (1) Pete is the two-time defending champion of the race, (2) he is the course record-holder, (3) he has won the race by about two hours each of the last two years, (4) he's trained harder than ever this year, and (5) he's chomping at the bit to get back "out there" after his 24-hour race this past weekend...
Um, yeah, you don't bet against the king (ever), especially when the king is pissed off.
-Prediction: We have the first ever "three-Pete" winner of the Badwater 135, and Pete maybe even lowers his own course record in the process.
3. Podium favorites.
-Oswaldo: 24:36 (2nd)
-Oswaldo: 25:05 (2nd)
-Oswaldo: 23:41 (1st)
-Harvey: 30:08 (11th)
-Oswaldo: 23:32 (2nd)
-Harvey: 26:15 (4th)
-Oswaldo: 25:27 (3rd)
-Harvey: 25:49 (4th)
-Harvey: 23:52 (1st)
-Oswaldo: 25:28 (2nd)
-Harvey: 39:12 (Harvey was likely slowed by the fact he was carrying an engagement ring the entire race, and proposed to his (then) girlfriend at the finish line!!)
-Harvey: 23:40 (2nd)
-Oswaldo: 27:59 (8th)
-Prediction: Both Harvey and Oswaldo are in phenomenal shape. They have had different build-ups in 2017 . . . like Pete, Harvey just ran the 24-hour World Championships in Ireland. On the other hand, Oswaldo seems to have been training intently (and intensively) just for Badwater this year, as his "A-race." Given their fitness levels, their massive experience on the course, and their histories of unquestioned success at the race, I don't see many scenarios where both of them don't reach the Badwater podium...
4. The ubiquitous Spartathlon runner making his Badwater debut.
So there is naturally a lot of overlap between Badwater and Sparty. Yet VERY few runners have enjoyed success at both races. Over the last few years, some truly top-notch international runners -- who have enjoyed podium finishes at the insanely-competitive Spartathlon -- have tested their mettles at Badwater, with mixed degrees of success. Last year (2016), Dan Lawson of England (2nd place overall at Sparty, 2015), came to Badwater for the first time, and absolutely CRUSHED it, finishing in a tie for third place (only getting beaten by Pete and Harvey). In 2015, however, Piotr "Polish Rocky" Kurlyo -- who finished second to Scott Jurek at the Spartathlon in 2005 (the "Eat and Run" year) -- bowed out of Badwater by Mile 50, with intense stomach issues. The bottom line: you just never know how top-level European runners will handle the oppressive heat of Badwater.
And that brings us to this year's international stud: Marco Bonfiglio, an Italian runner with tons of incredible results in the European road running ultra scene, punctuated by a second-place overall finish at last year's Spartathlon in Greece. He obviously has the "chops" to hang with anyone at Badwater, but Badwater is a highly-strategic race, and experience tends to matter out there in the unforgiving Mojave Desert.
One advantage Marco has, however, is the fact he lives in Italy (which is 9 hours ahead of California time). With Badwater now being an 11pm start (for the elite wave), Marco has a HUGE potential advantage over his American counterparts. If I were coaching him, I'd tell him to stay on Italy time for his trip to Badwater. The hardest part of an 11pm start is that most runners have been up for 15 or so hours, BEFORE embarking on a 135-mile race through the most extreme place on the planet. Should Marco stay on Italy time, however, the race will start at 8 am for him (i.e., a normal "morning" start)...
Prediction: Marco's talent and experience is undeniable. If he adopts a solid sleep strategy for race day (prior to the gun going off at 11pm), it's hard to imagine him finishing any worse than 4th overall (and possibly higher).
5. Top-ten favorites (Ian Sharman Division).
Sometimes, there seems to be a bit of a "divide" between the elite trail runners and the elite road ultrarunners in the United States. I, for one, think it's a tad silly, as each group of runners are world-class, and are just incredible athletes.
One of the top-level trail runners who has helped bridge that gap is Ian Sharman. He and I were on the same crew at Badwater in 2014 for my buddy Eric "Drakkar Noir" Spencer (more on him in a bit). For the few people reading this that don't know, Ian is a world-class ultrarunner, and -- perhaps most notably -- has finished in the top-10 at the Western States 100 for each of the last seven years (and yes, that level of consistency is amazing).
Along the same lines, there are two runners in this year's Badwater field who are "Sharman-like" in their consistency at the race: Grant Maughan and Mark Matyazic. Like death and taxes, they are as close to a "sure thing" as you can get as far as a top-10 finish at Badwater:
-2013: 2nd place
-2014: 2nd place
-2015: 9th place
-2016: 6th place
-2011: 6th place
-2012: 5th placce
-2013: 8th place
-2014: 15th place
-2015: 10th place
-2016: 13th place
-Prediction: Both Grant (who has run basically every race on the planet by this point, and has the strongest "mental game" of any ultrarunner you will ever meet), and Mark (i.e., the "man with the muscles") are simply really experienced veterans with huge records of success at Badwater. Both will almost surely finish in the top-10, and have the potential to finish in the top-5 if everything clicks...
6. more top-ten favorites.
-Prediction: Don't be surprised to see Jared push his way into the top-5. He gets better every year, and his talent is evident.
One of the nicest guys you'll ever meet, Mike (Marina, CA) came in 7th place overall in the 2015 race. After taking last year off to crew for a friend (who crewed for him in '15), Mike is back in the mix this year. A professional caddie at Pebble Beach, Mike is humble, hard-working, and -- from all indications -- has been training his butt off all year in preparation for this year's race.
-Prediction: Mike improves upon his 6th place finish, and gets into the top-5...
While not known in the Badwater running community (yet), my guess is Jim "announces his presence with authority" (name that movie quote!) and bursts his way into the top-10! As an aside, Jim has completed the grueling Furnace Creek 508 ultra-cycling race three times (2001, 2003, 2005), so he is well known to the AdventureCORPS community!!
7. Other notable runners.
- Dan McHugh (Key Largo, FL): The runner-up at the absurdly-hot/humid Keys 100 in 2016, Floridian Dan McHugh is also the two-time defending men's champion of the Everglades 50-miler (which, as with the Keys 100, is put on by Badwater legend Bob Becker, who, in 2015 became the oldest person to ever complete the Badwater "double" (292 miles total, from the Badwater basin to the top of Mt. Whitney, and back!). Dan has steadily moved up the ultrarunning ranks over the past few years, and -- as a Floridian used to high heat/humidity -- is well-positioned to make his mark on the race this year!
- Ray Sanchez (Sacramento, CA): If I'm not mistaken, this will be Ray's 10th year in a row at Badwater. A consistently-solid performer, Ray always finishes near the top of the field. Expect nothing different this year.
- Brad Lombardi (Panamint Springs, CA): The lone entrant who actually lives along the Badwater 135 course, the "Salty Peacock" has become a living legend in the Badwater community. This will be his seventh year in row at the race (two years crewing, five years as a runner); he knows the course better than any other entrant. And he has talent too . . . punctuated by a 17-hr finish at the competitive Iron Horse 100-miler in Florida, a few years ago. Don't be surprised at all to see Brad's name high up on the results list.
- Eric Spencer (Miami, FL): Known throughout the ultrarunning community as "Drakkar Noir," Eric has massive experience at Badwater. A veteran of the 2014 race, Eric has also crewed the race three times (2013, 2015, 2016). Under his tutelage, his runners came in 2nd overall (2013), 5th overall (2015), and set the women's course record (2016). So to say Eric "knows how to run Badwater as efficiently as possible" is a massive understatement. From all indications, Eric is massively-fit for the race and looking to apply all of his accumulated knowledge to his own benefit!
- Luigi Dessy (Puerto Rico): The sixth-place overall finisher in 2015, Luigi is a phenomenally-experienced runner, having completed Badwater multiple times, in addition to running the 153-mile Spartathlon, as well as several other high-profile races in the United States and overseas. Luigi is intimately-familiar with the Badwater 135 course, and his experience will likely carry him to a top-level finish next week!
- Joshua Holmes (Los Angeles, CA): The founder of the hugely-successful "Run It Fast" running community, Josh has continually lowered his times at Badwater, each of the last three years he's run the race (2014-16). A "sub-30" race for Josh this year is definitely in the realm of possibility (and sub-30 is usually good for a top-10 finish). Go get 'em, Josh!!
8. the badwater legend.
Known worldwide as the "Zen Master" of ultrarunning, Marshall has finished the official race 20 times, and has numerous expedition-style crossings of Death Valley, both on and off the roads! Here are just a few of the highlights of his illustrious career:
- The first Quad (4 consecutive crossings from Badwater to the top of Mt. Whitney (584 miles total) the first Solo (Badwater to the top of Mt. Whitney with no assistance whatsoever), South to North crossing of (the then 1994) DV Monument 133 miles in 28:01, and the 425 mile Circumnavigation. Also a reverse crossing which was not a first;
- 1991 p.m. BW 135 record 26:34, and record to the top of Whitney that still stands at 33:54;
- 1992 another BW 135 p.m. record at 26:18;
- 1993 BW 135 p.m. win at 28:53 (he sprained my ankle and ran on it for 70 miles icing it every two miles);
- 1996 BW 135 a.m. record 33:01.
- 1999 Solo and Badwater in the same year
- Over the course of four years Marshall did the Seven Summits as well as Badwater those years calling it “The Journey to Extremes”. 2002 Denali & BW 135, 2003 Kili & BW 135, 2004 Everest and Elbrus & BW 135, 2005 Vinson and Kosi & BW.
- 2008 BW 135 and Ran Across America 52.5 days @ 57 years old.
All in total, Marshall has logged over 4600 miles of completed events that include a Death Valley crossing in one way or another. So for those of you who will be at this year's race, you will be sharing the course with the living legend of the Badwater community!
Okay, we hope you enjoyed this year's preview!! See everyone next week for the big race in Death Valley!!