Hi everyone! Click below to listen to Dave chat for a few hours on "Ten Junk Miles" with show host Scott Kummer!!!
(2016 and 2017 Badwater champ -- and course-record holder -- Pete Kostelnick)
Welcome to the third-annual ZWITTY ULTRA STYR Labs Badwater 135 race preview! Last week, we previewed the women's race (click here for the article). Now that the recent World 24-Hour Championships in Ireland have come and gone, it's time to take a look at the men's field...
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:
Last year, for his encore performance, all Pete did was win the race again, and in a record time of 21:56. Pete took almost a full hour off of the course record, and again won the race by almost two hours (against what is widely considered the deepest and most-competitive men's field in the history of the race).
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.
Even though Pete is in phenomenal form and the clear favorite, there are two other runners who have been mainstays on the men's podium for the better part of the last decade, and are also in peak shape for this year's race: Harvey Lewis (Cincinnati, OH), and Oswaldo Lopez (Madera, CA). Let's look at some of the results for these two Badwater studs:
-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.
Badwater and the 153-mile Spartathlon (from Athens to Sparta, Greece) share the designations of being the world's two most prestigious LONG-distance road ultras. (Yes, Comrades in South Africa is a huge race, but it's a 50-miler, and dominated traditionally by elite marathoners who are a tick below world-class level at the marathon distance).
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.
We will say it right now . . . last year's runner up, Brenda Guajardo, will be this year's Badwater 135 champion.
Even though she is running against one of the absolute best female road ultramarathoners the world has ever seen (more on Szilvia, below), no woman in this year's field can match Brenda's combination of talent, big-race experience, and specific Badwater experience.
In addition to her 28:40 second-place showing last year at Badwater, Brenda has been an absolute force in the international ultrarunning scene for years:
She also won the overall title at last November's "Authentic Pheidippides" run -- a running of the Spartathlon course from Athens to Sparta, and then turning around and running back to Athens -- for a total of 306 miles! (This is, after all, what the fabled Pheidippides was said to have done...).
-Prediction: Simply put, there is no one in the field with Brenda's long-distance road racing experience, combined with her on-course experience at Badwater (she also finished the race in 2012). Look for her to top the field and earn her first victory at this storied race on July 11th.
If anyone can knock Brenda off from the winner's circle at Badwater, it's the "rookie" entrant from Hungary, Szilvia Lubics, making her debut in Death Valley this year.
We put "rookie" in quotations because while she is a first-time Badwater runner, Szilvia is a world-famous road ultrarunner, who -- until two years ago -- held the women's course record at the prestigious Spartathlon in Greece.
The main question for Szilvia will be how she adjusts to the harsh and unrelenting climate of Death Valley. Many Europeans who have enjoyed success at the Spartathlon have come to Badwater to test their mettle, and have seen mixed degrees of success. Recently, England's Dan Lawson (2nd place Spartathlon finisher in 2015) ran the 2016 Badwater 135. He finished in a tie for third place, a smashing success. A year earlier, however, Piotr Kurylo (i.e., "Polish Rocky"), who finished second to Scott Jurek in the 2007 Spartathlon (memorialized in the book Eat and Run), came into Badwater as one of the race favorites. But the course had different plans for Polish Rocky, and he was out of the race by Mile 50 with stomach issues.
-Prediction: Szilvia's ability to figure out Death Valley will likely be the main factor in deciding whether she reaches the podium and contends for the win, as her talent and track-record is undeniable. She will figure it out, reach the podium, and finish in 3rd place.
3. The Blazing Rookie.
Perhaps the most physically-talented woman in this year's field, Noelani Taylor routinely runs 20-mile training runs in 2 hours flat and barely breaks a sweat.
She is the two-time defending champion of the DAYTONA 100 ultramarathon (a flat, fast, and scenic ultra in North Florida in December), including a blazing 16:00:03 finish in 2016. She also came in third place at the hot/humid Keys 100 last month, and has won the gorgeous 51-mile Badwater Cape Fear race on Bald Head Island, NC.
Regardless of how she finishes, one thing is for sure . . . Noelani will savor the experience and have a huge smile on her face pretty-much the whole time she is at the race. (Along with longtime Badwater runner Oswaldo Lopez, she will be one of the two nicest people you will ever meet at Badwater . . . one of our favorite games is trying to get Noelani to say a swear word . . . it rarely happens (the closest we've ever gotten was to get her to say "Holy F!" Seriously, the most she can bring herself to say is literally the letter "F") :)
-Prediction: Noelani's undeniable talent and unflappable positivity shines through, and she lands on the podium in her first Badwater 135, in second place.
4. Top-5 contenders.
Fellow Ponte Vedra, Florida resident Amy Costa (who we just ran into a few days ago doing bridge repeats for 6 hours on a bridge near our houses), looks to be primed for a big result at Badwater this year.
She's been running ultras for over a decade, and her storied career has seen dozens of wins at the 50-mile and 100-mile distance. She's also run Badwater every year since 2013, and has finished 8th (2013), 4th (2014), and 5th (2016), so she knows the course and how to run it.
Amy is super-fit, evidenced by her 17th place finish at the hugely-competitive Marathon des Sables stage race in Morocco this past April.
Haling from Colorado, rookie entrant Chavet Breslin is looking to make a splash at this year's race. Judging from her recent results, she's in fine form to do so:
On New Years 2016, she won the Across The Years 24-hour race, with 119 miles. She also finished in the top-5 at the highly-competitive Desert Solstice 100 in Phoenix, running a very respectable 18:12.
More recently, she finished as the 5th woman at the popular Rocky Raccoon 100 in Texas (21:36).
Another ZWITTY ULTRA athlete in the field, Sandra Villines has steadily progressed up the ultrarunning ranks over the past two years. In addition to finishing last year's Badwater 135 (8th place), Sandra is the two-time reigning master's champion of the Keys 100, as well as the master's champ of the 2016 Daytona 100.
In 2017 alone, Sandra has already run 4 100-mile races, and has consistently placed in the top-5:
Another rookie making her Badwater 135 debut, Los Angeles-based Nelva Valladares has largely stuck to racing ultras in and around California.
And she has had some great success, including wins at the 200-mile Born to Run ultramarathon (2015), the 2016 Wild Wild West 50-miler (Lone Pine, CA, which is now directed by Badwater legend Brad "the Salty Peacock" Lombardi), and the 2016 Mt. Disappointment (CA) 50-mile run.
-Prediction: Nelva continues her strong showings at California races, and finishes her rookie Badwater run between 4th and 7th place.
5. The Badwater Hall of famer.
Already enshrined in the annals of Badwater history, Lisa is one of the true pioneers of the Badwater 135, finishing the race nine times, and winning the women's race twice, with a winning time of 37:01 (1997) and 37:33 (1998).
She's also the only woman to ever complete the "Badwater Quad," which is 4 consecutive crossings, over two weeks, between the Badwater Basin to the summit of Mt. Whitney (a total of 584 miles).
6. men's Preview: coming next week...
We will publish our preview of the men's race next week, after the conclusion of the World 24-hour Championships in Belfast, Ireland (some of the Badwater favorites are running the 24-hour race, so it makes sense to see how they fare in Ireland before predicting how they will do at Badwater...)
Well, it's mid-May in Florida ultrarunning, and that can only mean one thing . . . it's time, yet again, for the KEYS 100, one of the very premier Florida ultras (and, one of the two "prime-time," point-to-point road 100s run along beautiful coastline scenery . . . hint . . . the other one is in December . . . .) :)
Seriously, Bob Becker is the gold-standard in race directing, not just in Florida, but in the United States. The KEYS 100 should be on everyone's "must-do" list, and, if you're not signed up yet, there's still time. (Click here to do so). This is the 10th anniversary of the race, and to mark the occasion, Bob has planned all sorts of cool stuff, including the band Sister Hazel, who will be running the relay race and then performing on Sunday for us! How cool is that???
In addition to awesome entertainment, this year's version of the KEYS 100 features the most-competitive and deepest field in the history of the race. While the "Queen of the Keys," Aly Venti, will be sitting out this year's race (she's 8 months pregnant), the firepower at the start line on Key Largo on May 10th will be nothing short of world-class. Leading the way will be the two DAYTONA 100 champions from 2016, Marc Burget (whose 14:40 winning time was good for the 4th-fastest 100-miler in the entire country last year), and Noelani Taylor (whose 16:00:03 winning time was good for the 7th-fastest female 100-miler in the U.S. in 2016). Lining up next to them, among the 200 or so starters, will be about a dozen other runners who all have their eyes on the ultimate prize . . . the coveted KEYS 100 conch shell for the winners:
(The prize for winning the Keys 100 . . . Alex not included . . . sorry guys!)
This is the fourth year in a row I've written this Keys "Playbook." The basic premise behind it is although I'm a coach and have about two dozen Zwitty runners coming down to the Keys this year to compete their asses off, I fully believe there should be no "secrets" in this sport, so I have always tried to share all of my accumulated knowledge of this great race with anyone and everyone who wants to hear it. I believe that is what this sport is all about . . . helping each other, building each other up . . . keeping it . . . what's the word I'm looking for . . . classy. :) (And for reference to why I chose that word, click here).
Seriously, I absolutely consider it an honor to be able to help a lot of runners -- formally and informally -- to reach their goals in our amazing sport. With that in mind, here is this year's edition of The Playbook. For the 2014 edition, click here. For 2015, click here. And for 2016, click here.
This year's Playbook's five tips will focus primarily upon perhaps the most-important factor in determining success versus failure at the race: pacing . . .
Tip #1: the "peacock" award.
And for Noelani, I coach her, and one of her "staple" workouts is she will run 20 miles on a treadmill . . . in two hours flat. (Yes, that's a 6min/mi pace, or a "10" on the TM). She considers that workout "easy." Again, if you're in that kind of shape as well, feel free to tag along with the "Smiling Assassin." (She is seriously the nicest person ever; trying to get her to swear is one of my favorite pastimes!)
(The Dynamic Duo)
The point I'm oh-so-subtley trying to make is RUN YOUR OWN RACE. In a 100-miler, you are certifiably fricking insane if you let another runner dictate or change your pace for (at least) the first 80 miles of the race. With 100-milers (or longer races), I like to pretend I'm a passive character in a movie for the first 80 miles. I think it's utterly unrealistic to say "don't pay attention to what others are doing . . . just focus on yourself" during these things. Of COURSE you're going to be paying attention to others; we are on that course for so damn long, we need something to occupy our minds. So just pretend you're in a movie for the first 80 miles, watching the action unfold around you. If, by Sugarloaf Key, you find yourself in a race with someone or multiple people, then, by all means, become the lead actor/actress in your movie, use strategy/race tactics/etc. Until then, however, if you let someone else dictate your pace, I guarantee you it will end badly.
Which brings me to the 2017 KEYS 100 PEACOCK AWARD!! If any man not named Marc, or any woman not named Noelani is the first one to reach Aid Station 1 (Mile Marker 90, Mile 10 of the race), he/she will become the official KEYS PEACOCK!!! (You don't want the award, trust me!) Seriously, run your own race. If you don't trust me, listen to the smartest man in ultrarunning...
2. find your "forever" pace, and never go faster during the race.
Bob is over 50 years old. Bob ran the Spartathlon last year and finished in the top-15. His last 13 miles were faster than anyone else in the entire field. Last month, he ran 152 miles in a 24-hour race, finishing agonizingly-close to making the U.S. 24-hour team, battling at the World Championships next month in Belfast, Ireland (Bob was beat out for the last spot by a few hundred yards . . . think about that for a second...)
Bob's marathon PR is around 3 hours, which is WAY slow for someone who just about made a national team in running. And he's over 50 years old . . . while ultrarunning is certainly not a kid's sport, Bob is definitely not in the prime of his athletic career from a physical standpoint. So, how in the heck did he become a world-class runner -- and make no mistake about it, he's world-class -- and how in the world did the guy run 152 miles in 24 hours?? Training? Sure, that's a given with everyone at the top of the sport. Bob's main advantage, however, is his (very big) brain: while Bob may own a Ph.D. in artificial intelligence, he is the world's foremost expert on pacing strategies. He figures out his "forever pace" (i.e., the pace he can run all day long), and he never goes faster. Here is the graph of his pacing from his 24-hour race last month, a race he dubbed his "masterpiece":
Seriously, in his race, each lap was a half-mile, and every third lap, he walked for one minute (that's why you see two dots at 4.5 and one dot at 5, repeated for a long time). Bob figured his "forever pace" was 9-min miles, so he never ran faster.
As an aside, if any of you want to pick my brain about what your forever pace is for the Keys, feel free to hit me up! I deeply love this sport and really like hearing from you guys :)
3. "Do not underestimate the powers of the emperor, or suffer your father's fate, you will..."
The heat down there is just different. I ran the Keys three years while living in Miami (i.e., 30 miles away from Key Largo). The heat/humidity is noticeably different even from Miami. "Sunny and 85" in Miami, or Jacksonville, or Austin, or wherever the heck you're from is not the same as "sunny and 85" in Marathon or Islamorada or Key West. The heat in the Keys is disgusting, it is all-encompassing, and it is unavoidable.
So what does this all mean for you? Again, don't think because the race is flat and on a road, you'll "crush it" and set the course on fire. Find that "forever" pace, and never, ever, evah deviate from it. You can thank me at the post-race party :)
4. walk the walk so you can talk the talk.
During the run, the one thing that Dan was most-surprised about was the amount of walking we did during those 30 miles. Dan wants to finish LIGHTHOUSE in under 24 hours (which, I'm sure, is a goal of most of the people reading this, for the Keys). I finished the 100 miles in 20 hours and change, and we walked at least 30 percent of the time. Think about it . . . for a 20-hour finish, you need to run 5 miles an hour. That's a 12min/mi pace. If you want to finish sub-24, you need to run a tad over 4 miles an hour. That's basically a walk. If you are properly trained, there is no reason you can't reach those goals.
The problem, coming from a marathon background, is that "walking equals failure." Because in a marathon, if you walk, that means you've "bonked" and are having a terrible race. But what Dan learned that day, and I hope everyone learns, is that unless you are planning to run Keys in under 15 hours, you will be walking at points during the race, so why not choose those times yourself, versus being forced to walk/crawl/sit because you pushed yourself too hard?? Again, look at Bob's chart above. Every 1.5 miles, Bob walked for one minute. He still got to 100 miles in around 15 hours. There's probably a lesson to be learned there...
5. "Clear eyes, full hearts..."
Those of you who have been following this blog for a while know of my affinity for all things "Taylor," including "T-Swizzle" (Taylor Swift) and Coach Taylor from "Friday Night Lights."
I fully believe the best way to run ultras is to honor the rallying cry of the fictional Dillon Panthers . . . "Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can't Lose"!!! If you are well-trained, have a rational goal, and think clearly about how to accomplish it, you are well on your way to getting there. And when you're running, run with love in your hearts, for your crew, for your fellow competitors, and for the fact you're accomplishing something absolutely amazing that 99.999% of the world can't even comprehend. If you have that mindset in the back of your head during the race, I promise you, you "can't lose."
I know, it's not easy to feel "love" when you're in the "Corridor of Death" in those f--king mangroves at Mile 44, and it's easy to lash out at your crew or others when you feel that way. But believe me, the one thing that can get you back to feeling good again is to take the focus off of yourself, and focus on all the people who sacrificed to get you the chance to do something so audacious as running 100 miles in the Florida Keys. In those dark times, focus on them; focus on those who will always believe in you, no matter how long the odds.
See you next week!
I've averaged 4000-5000 miles running a year since 2001. The overwhelming majority of those miles have been run on roads in populated areas, so I'm no stranger to running in traffic with cars whizzing by me; it's honestly a minor miracle I haven't been hit prior to Saturday.
At any rate, with my nerves completely frayed, I decided to call it a day at Mile 50, so I DNF'd (i.e., "Did Not Finish") the race. I felt great physically the whole time, and was winning the race at the time I stopped. (I also own the course record at this particular race from my run two years ago). But I just could not muster the motivation to stay on the road any longer; I had no "reason" to be out there anymore.
It still was a great weekend overall. My friend Lauren was in town from Philadelphia (she's also the very first Zwitty coaching client ever), and so Lauren, Alex, and I spent Saturday night at a great restaurant near home, and then had a fun Sunday afternoon with more great friends. I woke up today feeling awesome, and looking forward to a fantastic trip this weekend to Bald Head Island, North Carolina, for the 51-mile Badwater Cape Fear race, with about a dozen Zwitty runners who will be there as well, in addition to so many really good friends from the Badwater family. In other words, I had already turned the page on the debacle of this past weekend.
Then I saw this...
One of my favorite aspects of ultrarunning is that it's an almost-universally positive sport: the runners are not professional athletes, and we participate in the sport to find out more about ourselves, enjoy the activity we love, and -- perhaps above all -- be part of a fabulously-supportive community of people. In large part, ultrarunning is a "judgment-free zone": we all run for different reasons, we all have different motivations, and we all have different goals and aspirations. So it really makes zero sense to attack/call out another runner's decision to call it a day. Zero.
Unfortunately, the subject of DNFs often can evoke negativity among ultrarunners. A small but vocal faction of ultrarunners consider it a "mortal sin" to DNF a race, and would rather drag a broken leg for miles on end than make the sane/rational choice and stop for the day. Which is fine . . . I guess . . . if you want to stick to a "bright-line" rule that quitting an ultramarathon is never an acceptable option, more power to you. I know a ton of people in this sport, and many of my good friends pride themselves on having never DNFd a race. But my friends also would never attempt to publicly shame someone else, or a group of others, based upon their own personal philosophies.
3. "this. sick. beat."
Which is why Mr. Classy's Facebook post really bothered me (initially, before I realized it gave me an excuse to write about the power of positivity). Our sport should be a place where we find solace from the poisonous negativity that pervades our daily lives, not a place where we must confront that ugliness.
Judgment is silly. So don't judge. And when encountering judgment/negativity, I encourage you to follow T. Swizzle's lead and "Shake it Off"!
I have run about 30 races now of 100 miles or longer. I've had great successes (such as finishing a 200-miler a month ago, finishing the 175-mile UltraMilano-Sanremo in Italy twice (and in about 33 hours the first year), finishing the 153-mile Spartathlon in Greece, finishing in the top-5 at Badwater, and running the Keys 100 the past 6 years in a row, winning the men's race in 2013.
I have also had some pretty spectacular failures in the sport (a Badwater DNF, for example). I've finished races I should have stopped (like hobbling the final 45 miles at Iron Horse 2013 with a stress fracture, to "prove" my toughness (pure idiocy, looking back). I've stopped at races I should have finished. And pretty-much everything in-between.
My point is our motivations in any given race are just that . . . our own. For example, this past weekend, I was running to lower my course record by a few hours. But after getting hit by the car (after several very close calls before that), I just didn't care about that goal anymore. Do I have reasonable friends who would have kept going in the same situation? Of course. Do I have reasonable friends who would have stopped? Of course. Does that make one group "better" than the other? Of course not.
We are all unique, and reasonable minds can differ. So why on earth would anyone in this sport want to publicly judge someone else regarding a DNF? It just seems so mean-spirited and counter-productive to why we are in this sport in the first place. Sure, we are all entitled to our own opinions -- after all, opinions are like assholes (i.e., we all have them . . . and apparently some in this community are them) -- but in the sport of ultrarunning I love, public shaming/judgment is just awful. Keep it positive; it's really pretty darn simple.
4. team zwitty.
One final point: Mr. Classy's attack on Team Zwitty was not just silly, but its implication is dead wrong. Since starting Zwitty Ultra in 2014, we have had over 250 runners (living in 43 states and 6 countries) come through the program, making it one of the most-successful coaching programs in the country. Our runners have achieved absolutely stunning and amazing things, from winning some of the most-prestiguous ultras on the planet, to setting distance/time PRs all over the globe, to reaching their own goals . . . by training hard, training intelligently, and having lots of fun along the way as part of an incredibly tight-knit and supportive community.
Along those lines, if you want to learn more about the program, I encourage you to explore this website. And I can't wait to see the dozen Team Zwitty members who will be running at the beautiful Badwater Cape Fear race this weekend in North Carolina!!!
the reward for 28 7.25 mile loops...)
It's a fair question. Set in the middle of nowhere (Clewiston, one of the cities on Lake Okeechobee in central Florida, which is one of the poorest areas of the state), the Skydive Ultra course consists of a 7.25-mile trail loop through a bunch of farming fields that surround an airpark. To say the course is "nondescript" would be the understatement of the century . . . it is flat, plain, and the terrain is non-technical. (Seriously, I didn't fall once in 203 miles, and anyone who knows my disdain for technical trails will quickly realize the Skydive course must have been the smoothest trail in the world (which it basically was).
As you can see, notably absent from the course are the sweeping vistas and inspiring views of some iconic point-to-point races, such as the Badwater 135, the 153-mile Spartathlon in Greece, the 175-mile UltraMilano-Sanremo in Italy, the Keys 100, the Daytona 100, the inaugural Lighthouse 100, and basically every other point-to-point ultra in gorgeous locations that I've run in my life. Also absent was any real competition: only 4 brave runners started the race, and we started a full 40 hours before the vast majority of the runners doing shorter distances (from 100 miles on down to the 10k) started on Saturday morning. (The 150-milers started 26 hours after us, at 5pm on Friday). So that meant for the first 26 hours, there were a grand total of 3 people on the course (one guy dropped after 50k, citing boredom and the fact he (completely rationally) thought there were better ways to spend his birthday weekend.)
After 26 hours, 10 or so more people running in the 150-mile race joined us. In other words, I ran the first 153 miles of the race almost completely alone, with nothing to look at, no one to talk to, and no one pushing me, competition-wise. So, as I explained to the Skydive RD (and founder of the Florida Ultra Runners (FUR) Facebook group) Eric Friedman, this was a race with no "external" motivation or stimuli. We 200-milers would only have the motivation we packed along with us, nothing more, nothing less.
And therein lies the primary answer of why I chose to run this race: I wanted to put myself through the most lonely, mentally-tough, repetitive, rationally-pointless endeavor I could possibly find. I figured if I could get myself through this race in one piece, I could accomplish anything. Well, I succeeded in that respect . . . this race's brutality was all I knew it would be!!
Now that six days have passed since finishing the race, I've had plenty of time to recover, for my blisters to heal, for the soreness to subside, and for me to reflect upon what transpired out there. Rather than a traditional "blow-by-blow" race report that seems to be all the rage in the ultra world these days (e.g., "and then at Mile 128, I took 3 SCaps, an Apple Cinnamon Hammer Gel, and took three minutes to defecate..."), here are 5 take-aways from my race I think contributed greatly to my ability to finish the race, and things that apply to any ultra out there:
1. "EVERyone has a plan until they get
punched in the face."
That's probably one of my favorite quotes ever; the fact Mike Tyson is the one who said it only makes it more unique to me. Iron Mike was on to something, though . . . we can spend as much time as we want plotting and planning our races, and exactly how they will unfold, but it is when the shit hits the proverbial fan that we find out what we are really made of...
The Skydive 200 started at 3pm on Thursday. It was 85 degrees with high humidity. The forecast for the race was temps around 60 degrees Thursday night, a high of 70 on Friday, with lows in the 40s on Friday night, and then temps around 70 again on Saturday. So the three hottest loops of the entire race would be the first three.
Based on my results at some other super-long races I've run, including the 175-mile UltraMilano Sanremo in Italy, in 33.5 hours, I initially was shooting for a sub-48 finish at Skydive; I thought that was well-within my abilities.
(Celebrated philosopher, M. Tyson)
I fully believe that more than anything, it is this pacing decision that allowed me to have a strong and successful race. My first 50-miles were 11:30, and my second was 12:15 (anything under an hour between the first half and second half of a 100-mile race is considered really good). While I definitely slowed down in the second 100, and was forced to take breaks off of my feet (which I never do in ultras), my decision to scrap my initial plan was absolutely key to my race.
The key is to be able to quickly assess the race, the conditions, and how you feel, and then adapt your plan accordingly.
2. "play this game with fear and
I could write a whole article on "The Wisdom of Bull Durham," and the above quote is one of the best from the movie; it is advice given by the grizzled veteran catcher (Kevin Costner) to the talented airhead rookie pitcher (Tim Robbins) on how to succeed in baseball.
We all have our insecurities/fears when it comes to our ability to get the job done on game day. The "do I even belong here" self-doubts. The "I'm going to be exposed as a fraud" feelings.
Those feelings are important and serve an important purpose: to help us train as hard and effectively as possible for an event. Those feelings can get us out of bed when we don't want to for an early-morning run before work, or get us to the gym for a nighttime session after work, when all we want to do is go home and put our feet up.
In other words, fear is an important pre-race tool. But once the gun goes off for your race, now is the time for supreme confidence. You have to believe you're the best runner you can possibly be, and nothing is getting in your way today. For a long ultra (100 miles or longer), no other attitude will suffice. You need to be able to say "I'm finishing this race today, no matter what, and nobody can stop me."
"Arrogance" is probably the wrong word to describe this feeling, because it implies a sense of confidence that is unfounded. What you need is confidence based in reality, which you will have if you train as diligently as intelligently as possible going into the race. For me, I averaged 125 miles per week in the month prior to Skydive . . . while I largely took it easy in 2016 (only completing 4 races of 100 miles or longer), I knew from my last month of training that I was "back" to where I needed to be for this race.
Based on my training, I knew I was going to finish the race and do well. So I adopted the "nothing is stopping me today" mindset . . . any other result besides a strong finish was simply unacceptable. Fear and doubt have their uses, but not on race day. Train hard enough to leave them behind where they belong . . . on the miles and miles of training roads and trails.
3. "Too many mind."
That is the opposite of a "winning" mindset. Just as Capt. Algren was repeatedly getting his butt kicked by Ujio because he couldn't maintain focus on the one important thing in front of him, you too will get torn apart by an ultramarathon unless you are hyper-vigilant about staying in the present. If you feel like crap at Mile 25, your only thoughts should be about diagnosing what is wrong, and the immediate steps you can do to start climbing out of your hole. That's it. If you feel good at Mile 25, then just focus on the next segment of the race, and reaching the goal you set for yourself in that segment.
The Skydive 200 is 28 loops of 7.25 miles. I further divided it into about 15 segments per loop. That's 109 individual segments throughout the race. One of the most popular questions I've gotten this week is "what went through your mind, being out there so long for so many miles?" Well, 99% of my thoughts were about those 109 segments, and reaching my goal for each one of them. ("Okay, from here to the aid station is one mile; let's do it in 10.5 minutes. We've got this.") We can handle the concept of running a mile. No one can handle the concept of running 200 miles (especially on a loop course). But you don't have to handle that concept . . . just stay in the present and focus on the task in front of you right now; sooner or later, the task in front of you will be "cross the finish line and receive your belt buckle."
The Skydive 200 taught me to be laser-focused on the present like no race I've ever run before. As my body got more and more tired throughout the race, my focus became more and more narrow. I developed a wicked sense of tunnel vision, where all I could basically even see/acknowledge was the segment of trail directly in front of me. Sue Edwards, who volunteered at the race over the weekend, took this great picture of me on Friday morning . . . it perfectly encapsulates what the course looked like to me, in my head, for the final 50 miles on Saturday:
4. rewards are good.
Finally, long-time Zwitty runner and friend, "Magic Pat" Hrabos showed up at around 3:30pm to run the final three loops with me. It was an absolute life-saver, as while I was never in danger of stopping, I was getting very tired at that point (I only had 1.5 hours of sleep between Thursday at 6am when I woke up, and Saturday night). So it was great to have someone else to talk to and share the last 22 miles with.
Pat's presence also provided a fair bit of comedy, and showed me just how much of a "running robot" I had become throughout the race. On our first lap together (Lap 26), Pat noticed all sorts of things on the course. ("Hey look, what kind of tree is that?" "What is that building over there") ("Uh, Pat, I've never seen that tree (even though I passed it 25 times already); there's a building over there??") It definitely made me smile when I realized how narrow my vision had been throughout the race!
5. It's a team sport.
I say this all the time: if you ever start to lose faith in humanity and the basic goodness of people, attend a local ultramarathon; my guess is your faith will be restored quickly and resoundingly. Skydive was no exception to that rule . . . in fact, it has one of the best atmospheres of any race in Florida. Eric Friedman does a wonderful job of creating a supportive and festive atmosphere at the start finish line, and he was cheering me on throughout the entire race, as was race timer Mike Melton. As well as hundreds of others. Most notably, Scott Richards and Jamie Woyton took me under their wings and got me anything I needed until Alex and the kids could show up. And encouragement from others such as Tom Grinovich went a long way to keeping my spirits up and keeping me moving!
So thanks, everyone, for a wonderful experience of self-discovery! And for everyone coming up to the Jacksonville area next weekend for the Donna 110, I'll see you out there!!!
And in the last two years, over 100 runners have done just that!!! We have had dozens of first-time 100-mile finishers, countless marathon and ultra PR's, too many podium finishes to count, and . . . most-importantly . . . have had a ton of fun along the way!!!
Here are just a few pics from Team Zwitty's first two years! Congrats everyone!!! We can't wait to help even more people over the next two years and beyond :)
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
Welcome to the second-annual ZWITTY ULTRA Badwater 135 race preview. This year, we start with the women's field. (Tomorrow we will release our preview of the stacked men's field, where about a dozen of the guys have at least some realistic chance of winning the race).
By contrast, however, this year's women's field is top-heavy, and there are three women running Badwater who are clear favorites to finish on the podium. Now, the order in which they will finish is anyone's guess, and there are a handful of women ready to jump up and grab a podium spot should any of these ladies falter. So let's get right to it...!
1. The three prohibitive race favorites.
Let's meet these three race favorites:
Nikki knows that Aly and Brenda both possess immense talent, and I am sure she has been absolutely training her butt off this year to defend her crown. Unlike last year -- where I (in)famously stated that there was "only one world class woman runner" in the race (a fact Nikki's crew mercilessly (and deservedly) reminded me of as she blew passed me during the race -- I will NOT be surprised at all this year if Nikki winds up defending her crown. She is fierce, determined, and tough as nails.
Given that Aly pulled out of last year's race at about Mile 100 due to an injury, Aly is likely very motivated to reclaim her spot on the top of the Badwater podium. Will this be the year that Ms. Royal Caribbean cruises her way to the title?
She is also a finisher of Badwater and the Spartathlon, and has won many other ultras, including a blazing-fast overall win at the 2012 Graveyard 100 (16:33), as well as the overall win at the 2013 Keys 100 (17:16, where she smoked yours truly by 14 minutes) :)
Brenda is a classic front runner, who is most comfortable when leading the race, and she appears to gain more and more confidence the longer she stays in front. This means Nikki and Aly will have to pay close attention to her at all times, because Brenda has the speed and experience to pull away and never look back.
This should be the best -- and most hotly-contested -- women's race ever at Badwater. Personally, I cannot wait, and like last year, I hope to have a front row seat to their race :)
2. Other Top-10 favorites.
- Kathy Youngren: a longtime ultrarunner who has run Badwater years ago, Team Zwitty runner Kathy has aggressively trained for this year's race, and her results so far this season have evidenced her fitness. In April, she won the Strolling Jim 41-mile race (one of the country's oldest ultras), in the blazing fast time of 6:22. She followed that up with a finish at the 130-mile Ultrabalaton in Hungary last month. Expect Kathy to have nothing less than a fantastic race at Badwater!
- Sada Crawford: the winner of the 2016 Brazil "135+" (and this year, that "+" meant the race was 160 miles!), Sada followed that effort up with a third place female finisher at this year's incredibly hot Keys 100. She will unquestionably be ready and raring to go at this year's race...
- Sandra Villines: the masters' champion of this year's Keys 100, Sandra is yet another one of the Team Zwitty runners participating in this year's Badwater 135. She is also one of the Badwater 135 runners who is gunning for the Badwater Ultra Cup (which means running Badwater Cape Fear, Badwater Salton Sea, and the Badwater 135 in the same calendar year). Expect a very solid race out of Sandy in her Badwater debut!
- Sandy Suckling: I don't know anything about Sandy except for the fact that she is Australian (see my above comment on Aussies). That's enough for me to put her among the contenders :)
This will be one of the most fiercely-contested women's races in the history of Badwater, and because of that, Jamie Donaldson's course record (26:16) is in serious jeopardy. My bet is that the record goes down, perhaps by as much as 60-90 minutes (seriously, that is how talented the three women are at the top of this year's field). No matter how the women's race shakes out, however, it promises to be a race for the ages at this year's STYR Labs Badwater 135.
Tomorrow, we will post our preview of the men's race . . . and the men's field this year is the deepest and most-talented in the illustrious history of the race...
Welcome to the Zwitty Ultra (www.zwittyultra.com) Badwater "Playbook": ten tips to help you perform to the absolute best of your ability when you run the World's Toughest Footrace . . . the Badwater 135 Ultramarathon.
It is no secret in the world of ultrarunning that Death Valley in general and Badwater in particular have a very special meaning for my wife Alex and myself. So much so that we named our son "Witt," after the race's finish line on Mt. Whitney! And despite only being 4 years old, our daughter Zoey has already been to Death Valley twice . . . and she is the inspiration behind the "Badwater Baby" onesies you can buy at their online store :)
Additionally, in the past few years, Alex and I have become more and more involved with the race and gotten to know race director extraordinairre Chris Kostman pretty well, which has only added to our love of the race and Death Valley!
Personally, this will be my 5th year in a row at the race (I crewed in 2012 and 2014 for other runners, and I ran it in 2013 (14th place, 30:53) and 2015 (5th place overall, 2nd American, 28:09), so Alex and I have definitely picked up a lot of "dos" and "don'ts" along the way...
So without further adieu, here are our top 10 tips to kicking ass and taking names at the 2016 Badwater 135 Ultramarathon!
1. You need a race-day sleep strategy.
This is one of the primary challenges of the "night start" the race now employs . . . how to get a significant amount of sleep during the day of the race so that you are fresh and ready to go when the gun goes off. The earliest you will be starting is 8:00 pm (if you are in wave 1); the "elites" don't start until 11:00 pm, so getting sleep on race day is of paramount importance. And cruelly, the runners that will have the hardest time relaxing enough to sleep on race day will likely be the rookies (the group that needs the sleep the most).
So what sleep strategy will you employ? Whatever it is, start thinking of one now, and practice it a few times between now and race day. Here is mine from last year: I finished an appellate legal brief the morning of the race. I could have written it at any point in the week leading up to the race, but I waited until race day, because nothing puts you to sleep like reviewing a 1000-page trial record and forming a coherent argument out of it for a panel of appellate judges! And after I spent 3-4 hours finishing that brief, I immediately headed over to the Corkscrew Saloon and pounded two pints of beer. 30 minutes later, I was passed out for the next 6-7 hours. Mission accomplished :) (As an aside, if any of you want to write an appellate brief for me out there in Death Valley this year, come see me!)
Seriously, though, think about that thing in your life that never fails to make you sleepy. Bring it with you to the race . . . it can be the difference between success and failure.
2. Do Not Underestimate the night start.
With the night start, the race is now a lot harder (and don't take just my word for it; ask any veteran who has run both the day and nighttime starts, including the authority on all things Badwater, Marshall Ulrich). In addition to being forced to wait until the end of the day to start running (leading to runner fatigue before the gun even goes off), the race is harder for several more reasons:
1. Badwater is now a second half "heat race" instead of a first half one. With the traditional morning start, yes, the first 42 miles to Stovepipe are really hard, as is the climb up to Towne Pass, but things really start to get easier once runners get into Panamint and beyond. With the night start, however, while the first 58 miles are undoubtedly easier, the rest of the race is undoubtedly harder. The Panamint Valley is only a few degrees cooler than the Death Valley floor, and instead of hitting the "heat" with fresh legs, now runners get to experience it after running over 60 miles. Believe me: there is not a single section of the "traditional" course that is as difficult as the climb from Panamint Springs to Father Crowley (Miles 72-80) on the "night start" course.
2. The crucial Darwin to Lone Pine section (Miles 90-122) is much harder as well: For those of you with aspirations of doing really well at Badwater, and maybe even getting the win or earning a spot on the podium, the race is won and lost every year on this slightly downhill 32-mile stretch into Lone Pine. If you can run this stretch in 5 hours, you'll likely win the race. If you can run it in under 6 hours, you'll finish in the top-10 (at least). In other words, it is an absolutely pivotal stretch of the race . . . and it is a lot harder now that the majority of it is run during the daylight (for the front-runners). With a traditional morning start, the leaders usually go through this section in the middle of the night, and are spared the mental anguish of staring at Mt. Whitney and the rest of the Eastern Sierras for 30+ miles, with the mountains never seemingly getting any closer. This section can really mess with your mind.
3. The Portal Road and the Switchbacks: Okay, here's something you need to wrap your head around . . . you are going to be dragging ass on the final stretch between Lone Pine and the finish line (Miles 122.5-135). Last year, no one "ran" this final stretch quickly (I use quotes because if you power walk at 4mph for the 9-mi Portal Rd. section, you will be WAY ahead of the curve).
With the night start, the course just takes its toll on every runner. So when you find yourself swaying on the road, barely able to move in those final miles, just remember that everyone else is feeling the exact same way.
3. respect but not awe.
One of the greatest challenges that I face as a coach to prepare first-time Team Zwitty Badwater runners is to make sure they keep the race in the proper perspective. I have witnessed world-class runners toe the line at Badwater for the first time, literally shaking because they were so nervous. Sure, Badwater is a lifetime goal for most, a "bucket-list" race that they have been dreaming about for many years. And yes, the race is every bit as hard as advertised. So leading up to the race, you need to give Badwater the respect and awe it deserves by training your ass off, as well as steeling your resolve for the journey that awaits. (And if anyone wants help in those regards, hit me up...).
But once training is over and you are standing at the Badwater sign on the evening of July 18th, the time for awe is absolutely over. You have put in the work; you are ready. You already know how to run 100+ miles, and how to overcome difficult situations and obstacles. In other words, when you start running the actual race, you cannot be in awe of it anymore. Rather, you have to just go about your business, get into your routine, and systematically make your way towards the finish line . . . just as you would in any other race.
I'm not going to debate what ultra on the planet is the "hardest" or "toughest." But as far as road ultras, I have not run a single race that demands more out of you than Badwater. So train accordingly. But during the race, lose the "awe" factor, and just get down to business...
4. for God's sake, have fun!
We were told to comb the desert...")
I highly-suggest the opposite approach: spend the few days before the race socializing with all the other amazing people out at the race. Do all the touristy stuff, like play on the Mesquite Sand Dunes, hike on the path to Jabba's Palace (Golden Canyon). Stay up late one night and catch the starriest sky you've ever seen in your life (Death Valley is one of the only certified "dark skies" in the country). Go to Lone Pine and pay a visit to "Badwater Ben" Jones, who has forgotten more about the race and its history than any of us will ever know. Take a team picture at the Badwater sign at the start line and walk a mile or so into the salt pan.
There are so many cool things to do and see out in Death Valley; it would be a shame not to experience them. Plus, you paid a lot to be out there . . . might as well get your money's worth!! And, as an added bonus, the more stuff you do the few days before the race, the more likely you'll be able to sleep during the day on race day!
Bottom line: have fun out there!!!
5. the "immutable truth."
Rather, the core teaching of ultrarunning is that when we are in the middle of a race and facing unimaginable lows, the voice inside our heads that tells us there is no way we can possibly go on . . . IS ALMOST ALWAYS WRONG. In other words, ultrarunning teaches us that we are always capable of more than we think. Sure, if you break a leg during a race, you are a fool to continue. But 99.9% of the time, we can always still keep moving, get through our rough spot, and come out on the other side feeling much better.
You need to have this mantra seared into your consciousness: no matter how bad things get, if I just keep pressing forward, they will get better and I will persevere.
Now (I know), we can all accept that premise as logical and rational when we are feeling good and thinking clearly. But how about at Mile 72, when you are throwing up on the side of the road at Panamint Springs, it is 120 degrees outside, and you can barely walk because of how blistered your feet have become? How do you convince your brain -- which is actively conjuring up all sorts of sensible reasons why you should quit -- not to listen to those reasons?
Here's the key: do not trust your own brain during these "low" spots in a race. Rather, recognize that you are not thinking clearly, and fall back to your mantra (things will improve if I just press on). And then do exactly that . . . get moving forward. Take your thoughts out of the equation, and simply start moving. It is that simple. You will eventually feel better, I promise...
6. there are better things to do with your time than "Heat Training" in a sauna.
Here's why I am not a big fan of sauna training: it is not really "training" at all. At no point during the Badwater 135 will you be earning points by sitting down outside in the sun. And at no point will Chris Kostman allow you to haul an elliptical or trainer out on the road. In other words, by sauna training, you are not training yourself to run for long periods of time in extreme heat. Rather, you are just tiring yourself out when you could be improving your fitness, running tempo runs, raising your heart rate, and improving your V02 max and lactate threshold levels.
Plus, how much does sitting in a sauna, a few times a week, for 30 minutes or less, actually "adapt" you to the conditions you will encounter in Death Valley? (You are still spending well over 95% of your day in non desert-like conditions). To see some tangible effect of sauna training on your ability to withstand extreme heat, you would likely need to spend absurd amounts of time in there, which is both dangerous to your health and counter-productive. Yes, you may -- marginally -- improve your tolerance to heat by sitting in a sauna occasionally, but you are also dehydrating yourself, and making it harder for your body to recover for your next hard training workout. I would much rather have my runners feeling 100% ready to kick ass on their next tempo run than only be at 80% because they spent an hour or two in the sauna the prior day.
The fittest runners are the ones who tend to do the best at Badwater. Sorry, but it really is that simple. I will take a well-trained athlete who lives in Alaska, has a smart and intense training block leading up to the race (80+ miles a week, with regular tempo/speed work), but never sees the inside of a sauna, over someone who runs 40 miles a week and spends 20 hours a week sitting in a sauna. It's not even close. Further, if saunas actually improved your fitness, everyone would be doing it, and it would be some new fitness craze (which, thankfully, it is not).
Yes, you may -- marginally -- improve your tolerance to heat by sitting in a sauna occasionally, but you are also dehydrating yourself, and making it harder for your body to recover for your next hard training workout. I would much rather have my runners feeling 100% ready to kick ass on their next tempo run than only be at 80% because they spent an hour in the sauna the prior day.
Focus on improving your running fitness in training. If you have an extra 10-15 minutes a few times a week to sit in a sauna, knock yourself out. But do not make it a main part of your regimen: it really does not constitute "training." (Still don't believe me? Next time you are in the sauna, look around you. Do the majority of people around you look like LeBron James? Or more like Kevin James? My strong suspicion is the latter...) :)
7. Um, Okay, if no sauna, then what do I do to "heat train"?
Some people choose to take a trip or two out to Death Valley in May or June before the race, and train on the actual race course. The problem, of course, is that such trips are very expensive, and you are already likely paying a lot of money for the actual race weekend.
The solution I have come up with over the years: spend a long weekend in June training in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area in Arizona. In June, Phoenix is every bit as hot as Death Valley (often hotter), there are thousands of miles of hot roads to run on (with gorgeous scenery), and the mountains surrounding the valley offer excellent replicas of the famous climbs you will encounter at Badwater. (My personal favorite mountain to train on in Phoenix is South Mountain, the highest peak in the "Valley of the Sun," which actually has a road (Summit Rd.) that you can take all the way to the top. It is perfect Badwater training...)
And the best thing about a weekend in Phoenix/Scottsdale in June is that it is very affordable. People that live in the Phoenix area take their vacations in June and July to escape the heat and bolt off to San Diego or Denver. And since -- besides us -- no one is crazy enough to actually want the heat and vacation in Phoenix in June, hotel prices are dirt-cheap (less than $100 for a 4-star hotel in Old Town Scottsdale). Car rentals are about $100-150/week. And all of the prime training locations are within a 15-mile radius from Sky Harbor Airport, so logistically, it is far easier than planning a trip out to Death Valley to train.
With all of these factors in mind, we are proud to announce that starting next June (2017), we will be hosting the first official Team Zwitty Badwater Training Camp in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area! Details will follow in the coming months, but you can expect 4 days of running, strategy sessions, and a tour of the best and most-distinctive restaurants the Valley of the Sun has to offer! Stay tuned :)
And for this year, for those of you with flexible work schedules, we will be hosting a free Badwater training camp in Phoenix, from June 17-20 (next weekend)! All are welcome to attend . . . if you are interested in getting in a lot of quality miles, learning key tips about Badwater, and basically spending a long weekend with like-minded individuals, just let me know, and I'll forward you the details!!
8. Blister Prevention made easy.
If you feel any of the above things work for you, great, by all means, keep doing what works. I'm not going to offer any opinion on the efficacy of any of those strategies or products. Rather, I just want to highlight the one thing that absolutely WILL minimize your chances of getting blisters at Badwater, regardless of what "race day blister strategy" you employ:
Run as many miles as possible during training in race-like conditions. It really is that simple. As humans, we are adaptive beings. We respond to training. When our feet get used to running on hot roads in dry conditions for long periods of time, they won't blister as much anymore (if at all). The more you can get your body (and feet) used to running in hot/dry desert conditions, the better equipped you will be to handle Badwater.
9. the "n of 1" mistake.
In ultrarunning in 2016, it seems like every weekend, a new "coach" is announcing his or her services, imploring his or her clients to pull tires (or even cars . . . seriously) for hours on end, or otherwise giving advice based on that person's own experience, rather than objectively looking at training in a scientific way, combined with the experiences of hundreds of athletes and what they respond to in training.
My point: when training for a bucket-list race like Badwater, it is important to (a) gather as much information out there as possible, (b) question everything from an objective point of view, (c) think like a scientist, and (d) come to your own conclusions about what is sound advice and what is not. All advice is not created equal.
In my articles on this website, while of course I have certain habits and strategies that work for me in my own running, I do not simply recommend them to my runners unless (1) they are substantially validated by science, and (2) scores of other runners have responded positively to the particular advice/strategy. Coaches need to take their own personal biases out of the equation in order to avoid the "N of 1" mistake.
Correspondingly, runners need to be aware of this problem as well, and not just say, "Well, Chris Roman cuts the toe boxes out of his shoes, and he's an awesome runner, so I'm going to cut the toe boxes out of my shoes." It may very well turn out that cutting the toe boxes out of shoes is an objectively-valid blister prevention strategy. But it is not objectively valid just because I say it is or Chris Roman says it is . . . you need to do your homework to ensure what you choose to do in training and on race day is in your best interest.
10. savor the experience.
I cannot wait to see everyone next month, especially all of the Team Zwitty athletes and crew members who will be at this year's race (over 20 strong)! Train hard, train smart, and if I can ever help in any way possible, please do not hesitate to reach out!
Hi, welcome to the Zwitty Ultra Endurance Coaching Program!