Category: Al Arnold’s Insights

Badwater Pioneer Al Arnold Wishes the 2016 Competitors Well

Hello Badwater Ultramarathoners!

Hopefully you will be successful in your quest. But, as you meet the challenges ahead, ALWAYS stay hydrated. Its been a long time since we have had another ‘Roger Rabbit’ … Chris can explain. Remember, you are a guest and only because of the endless meetings between Chris and Government Agencies. It wasn’t easy, but you’re here and that’s what counts. I repeat: keep hydrated. Failure to do so could result in serious consequences … even death.

I’m writing a book about my life, IL VECCHIO, The Old Man. Hopefully, I will be around long enough to complete it. (I’ve already passed the actuary tables.) As I review my drafts, it’s logical that, for no apparent reason, I chose to  challenge something that hadn’t been accomplished … Death Valley. That was a long time ago. Now it’s your turn.

Good luck and stay  safe.

AL

*****

NOTE: Al Arnold is the Neil Armstrong and Edmund Hillary of ultramarathons, the first to run between Badwater and Mount Whitney, back in 1977, after two failed attempts in 1974 and 1975. He became the first inductee into the Badwater Hall of Fame in 2002, on the 25th anniversary of his historic run, and remains a staunch friend and fan of the race. He lives in Walnut Creek, CA and is 88 years old. His birthday is February 4, 1928. He can be reached by email at alarnold1977 “at” msn.com and loves hearing from fellow ultrarunners. His essays are archived here on the Badwater.com website.

Al Arnold was the ultimate VIP when he visited the race in 2002. Photo at Badwater by Luis Escobar: Mark Johnson (L) and Scott Weber (R).

Insights and Inspiration from Al Arnold, Pioneer of Ultrarunning and Badwater!

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Al Arnold, age 49, atop Mt. Whitney after his successful run from Badwater in 1977.

Welcome to Badwater 2015. 40 years ago, on my second attempt at running from Badwater to Mt. Whitney, I got “cute” and frolicked across the Devil’s Golf Course and hyper-extended my knee: Stupid! So, stay focused, stay smart, and respect the importance of your being at the starting line of this year’s Badwater 135!

Chris Kostman, Race Director, has worked tirelessly in bringing the toughest ultramarathon in the world back to its namesake. His efforts to perpetuate this event require every participant, including non-runners and crew members, to recognize that you’re the guest of Death Valley National Park and that all rules and regulations of the Park and the Race Director must be respected. Disregard for these regulations will only lead to the prohibition of this and other ultra events through Death Valley National Park. Think about it: your actions determine the fate of this race!

I’m pleased, but not surprised, that Jack Denness, 80 years young, is continuing his amazing ultra resilience in completing ultramarathons. He completed the 2005 race at age 75 in 59 hours. He’s such a modest fellow. I now have marginal use of the lower half of my body, but I hope to return – as a fan and spectator – in 2018. I’ll be 90 and hope that Jack will return for another age record that year. 🙂

A Badwater Family Reunion is how many participants view this event: All efforts are extended in helping others in their effort to successfully complete this grueling event. The Badwater 135 requires each participant, regardless of experience, to stay focused on their own abilities and goals and to not lose them within the hype of the event.

My successful Badwater/Whitney trek of 1977 is still very vivid in my memory. I hope that yours will be as well and that you will subsequently become a Badwater Ambassador as you continue to further our extensions into the unknown of the human’s desire towards new quests.

Four decades of accumulated data and experience about running the Badwater 135 route state clearly that it is your responsibility to return home … safely and successful. Other than your fellow ultra athletes, few people understand your commitment. So, other than being polite, few are willing to listen to a “did-not-finisher”! (The only reason the media was interested in my two DNF’s in 1974 and 1975 is because the run had never been done. So, on my third, and successful attempt, in 1977 it was an international success.) My finishing time wasn’t an issue; it was all about completing the route. For most participants today, beating the cut-off-time is an issue. But, as I review the roster of remarkable athletes lining up for this year’s race, I believe all participants should finish below the time constraints.

Good luck, stay smart.

– IL VECCHIO, AL

NOTE: Al Arnold is the Neil Armstrong and Edmund Hillary of ultramarathons, the first to run between Badwater and Mount Whitney, back in 1977, after two failed attempts in 1974 and 1975. He became the first inductee into the Badwater Hall of Fame in 2002, on the 25th anniversary of his historic run, and remains a staunch friend and fan of the race. He lives in Walnut Creek, CA and is 87 years old. His birthday is February 4, 1928. He can be reached by email at alarnold1977 “at” msn.com and loves hearing from fellow ultrarunners. His essays are archived here on the Badwater.com website.

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Al Arnold, age 49 in 1977, gets in a last training run in Death Valley prior to becoming the first person to successfully run from Badwater to Mt. Whitney.

I Was My Own Personal Lab Rat: Al Arnold

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On the photo above: “That is the most inspiring photo ever taken of me: 362 days earlier I was in Wilcox Hospital, Maui. I was told: ‘Maybe, in one year, and using a walker, you might be able to take a few steps.’ 362 days later, I jogged a 100 mile loop which included some side-trails and the full circle around Lake Tahoe. That photo is at the intersection of Hwy 89 & Hwy 50 at about 19 hours. I get very emotional every time I see that photo.” – Al Arnold

Hello ULTRAS of the world. Yes, it’s me again. 🙂 And, as long as I’m still here I will, on occasion, give my “two cents worth.” So, dear participants of Badwater 135 2012, I’m sharing the final six week training schedule for my 1977 200 mile Death Valley (and all points in between) – Mt Whitney Summit “adventure”. Remember, I had no scientific data to benefit my preparations. I was a single “Research Lab” while on the run. But… it worked! My “old stuff” applies equally, today. I hope that you benefit from my past.

  1. HEAT: Acclimating for extended periods of extreme heat was my highest training priority. I found success by riding a stationary bike or walking, in place, while using a dry sauna. The temperatures were very high: 165F for a maximum period of 10 hours to a maximum of 245F for one hour. Yes, 245 for one hour: For that one, I trained four years. My core temperature dropped two degrees, to 96.7F. It has changed slightly over the past 35 years. Remember… clothing protects the skin! So, stay skimpy. But, during the actual Badwater Ultra, ALWAYS wear full clothing while in the Ultra desert areas!! The cumulative effect of the elements will be your most formidable adversary.
    (Note: For current thinking on use of a sauna for heat acclimation,click here.)
  2. ENDURANCE: Once EVERY week, I would trek 100 continuous miles on Mt. Diablo at a VERY SLOW pace of 20 minutes/mile or slower. Yes, slower is better because of the lack of momentum. It’s sheer power. And, if you’re weak, it won’t take long to recognize that issue! Your endurance will never be in doubt. Why? Because at that pace it is strictly mental. But, as I stated, if the body aches, it’s because it’s weak: (see #3 below).
  3. STRENGTH: I’m an advocate of weight training! It is essential to attain a powerfully balance between mind and body. A strong/powerful body assures the brain that you “can do it.” I was a 225 pound, 50 year old, and some would say, “nut case!” The “standards” of that era labeled me as an ancient body that was trying to commit suicide! But, I knew that I would be entering an extended period of many unknowns. You might conclude that I overtrained. But, as an “Ultra Scientist” I was covering many questions yet to be asked.
  4. FLEXIBILITY: An efficient and active body requires that all muscles and ligaments posses their maximum range of motion. So, AFTER every workout, while my ancient body was still warm, I would finish with a passive but extensive stretching routine.
  5. RECOVERY: I developed a method of recovery and HIGH ALTITUDE acclimation. It was simple: during my daily endurance training of rowing, exercise bike in the sauna or trekking Mt Diablo, I would challenge these workouts by exhausting the air in my lungs. Eventually, I began to sustain longer workout periods with less oxygen. Sounds crazy but that’s what happens when you’re at high altitudes or becoming anaerobic. There I was, 84 hours & 200 miles later … standing atop Mt. Whitney at 14,5000 ft. It worked! All of these training features were accomplished during my final six weeks. Needless to say, it was with me as it is for you: this can work ONLY if you’re already in shape.

My final comment: Stay within your limits, avoid the hype … there shouldn’t be ANY DNF’s!!!!!

Good luck to you all.

Stay Focused

Hello all you crazy people:) I wish I were running with you. But, as Chris knows, I’m too old and toooooooooo slow!! Simply put: I miss being able to disappear into the shadows of solitude which graced the landscapes that engulfed my legs. They sure wandered during those endless miles of long slow trekking: mind and body, as one. But, always focused on “Death Valley Days” – a very powerful motivation that loomed significantly in the abyss of my mind and eventually to Badwater.

Twice I failed! In 1974 I almost killed my running partner, Dave Gabor. He collapsed at Furnace Creek. I continued on to ‘The Oasis’ when I stopped. I couldn’t stop worrying about his safety. I lost my focus. It was over. It took him a year to recover. By the way, the temperature at Stovepipe Wells was 121 F – AT MIDNIGHT! The mid-70’s were drought years. Just perfect to challenge the desert at its worst. Yes, I’m still alive:) David’s collapse was because of an intolerance to heat. I failed because I couldn’t stay focused. My second attempt was in 1975. Everything was fine until Towne Pass, at which point my left knee would not support downhill running. On my way to Stovepipe Wells I had gotten cute and tried running across Devil’s Golf Course. The crust couldn’t support my 225 pounds and so I hyper-extended my left knee. Again, I lost focus.

So my friends, old and new: Stay focused AND within your God-given capacity. There will always be “the back-of-the-pack.” There is no shame in that. You’re here because your guru, Chris Kostman, has decided to see just how tough you are. The new cut-off time of 48 hours tells me that Chris will expect only a stellar performance from each of you. Considering that, every team-participant has been a part of each runner’s total effort with the over-all logistics of the training/financial process. With this commitment behind you, then it’s time for NO DNF’s:) The formula, for all this is very simple: exercise PRUDENCE and don’t lose focus. 🙂

This “Adventure” into the bowels of Death Valley and beyond has many strange love attractions. So, as Cole Porter wrote, in 1929: “What Is This Thing Called Love?” The Badwater Ultramarathon is our alluring “love affair.” It has no competition. Each year we are drawn from all corners of our ever-changing world, for one purpose: competing in the World’s Toughest Foot Race. That being the case: Why is it so difficult to participate without any DNF’s? Each Ultra Athlete accepted into the race was required to submitted their “Ultra History” and yet the personal carnage still exists. Failure to follow common sense, while being swept up in the hype of the event, results in poor judgment of focus. This is no picnic: people die in the desert!!! The forty-eight hour cut-off is in line with he purpose of this year’s Badwater Ultramarathon. Serious Ultra competitors have progressed their athleticism, from the “Covered Wagon” to the levels of unimaginable performances: The Boston Marathon’s almost sub two hours, Badwater 135 with multi sub-24 hour finishs AND, Ten-Time Badwater finishers. It’s almost too fantastic to believe. Yet, in spite of the advance of training and sheer mind-power, failure still exists. This year’s Badwater will have the higher race demands than in previous events. So, why would you wish to quit? Do you train to fail, or is it that you have forgotten the power of being focused on the reason why you’re here? The excitement and emotion of the fanfare of the race can work for, as well as against, you. So, my fellow Ultras, please set reasonable and achievable goals while you’re on the course. Pre-race strategies are too often forgotten, especially so, once the action begins. And, of course, there will always be those amazing ten-time finishers who will make it look so smooth and easy. What can I say?

Here’s quote from one of the world’s greatest scientists and humanitarians: “Impossible missions are usually those that succeed.” -Jacques Cousteau

Have a great Adventure!

Stay on Track

My message to ALL and I mean ALL: Stay hydrated and, for most of you, trek within a 150 mile capability: 20 minutes per mile. This should be your standard.

Badwater has ALWAYS devoured some of those who have dared the challenge. Why? Because of being caught up in the hype and losing focus of purpose, which is to to finish, respectfully. Trek smartly and success will follow. Remember: much time and energy precedes each accepted entrant.

Finally: as a guests of the Death Valley National Park Service, you are expected to obey their rules and regulations. One foolish act or display of disrespect could put this special monument of courage and camaraderie in jeopardy.

Trading Places

Welcome to another year of Badwater 135. I hope the temperatures hover above 130F during the day and 120+ at night (my conditions in 1977). You guys have had it too soft (cool) over the past few years. It’s been hotter in Lone Pine than in Death Valley. But, I do wish all of you good health and a successful completion of this year’s ‘BW-135’ 2009.

In less than 24 hours you will ascend the balance between: mind, body, spirit AND the unknown. To each participant, I ask of you ………. for YOURSELVES: acknowledge, appreciate and respect these powerful God-given individual strengths. Use them effectively, placing one foot in front of another as you follow the “long, white line”. Never take these wonderful assets for granted”‘They” are gifts and will be the “pillars” of your life as an Ultra Athlete and beyond.

Very few athletes have the ongoing insight to recognize the marvels of their personal achievements. Abilities, too often, are taken for granted. Not ‘bragging-rights,” nor egos. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until AFTER my neck injury that I became aware of my “loss,” so I use my own experience to stress this issue. It seems only like yesterday, but 30+ years ago I was invincible, not the best, but still invincible. In a matter of seconds, in a surfing accident, my life changed, not for the worse, but it did change … forever. I had severed half of my spinal cord. But, my determination has increased tremendously, helping individuals recognize the value and beauty of your God-given mind and body.

I wonder how many of you can do the following? Standing on one foot, change your socks/shoes or put on a pair of slacks? How about scratching your ear with your little finger? Have you ever had the fear that you won’t be able to get off the toilet seat? How about falling down, you’re not hurt, BUT unable to get up? Have you ever given thought to the beauty of just being able to stand? These are simple basics of motor-skills that few of us acknowledge. Now, we discuses the super-human achievements just as a matter of course.

60 years ago, July 1949, I jogged, solo, from Manitu Springs Colo. to the Pike’s Peak Summit. Of course, by today’s standard, you guys would consider that an easy training run:)) I was at 50km and 14,000 feet elevation. The rangers at the summit, not believing I had gotten there on foot by myself, said that I probably got a ride, most of the way:))

I mention these personal vignettes because they are the source of my strength. This is not a woeful tale of Al Arnold, the “old man of bygone years,” but a determined Ultra Athlete who continues to express little tolerance for wimps! I remind all of you: before you quit, think about the time, the money and the “media-BS” just to get to the Badwater starting line. And, what about all that awaits your return after finishing the race? My feeling is: YOU START, YOU FINISH!!!!! Nothing else!

40 years ago I would do long distance ocean swimming until I was tired, then I would return to shore. It was not a smart way to train but it was a mental exercise. I knew that if I couldn’t make it back, I would die! You too, can die. Know your limits, stay hydrated and LISTEN to your support team. It’s going to be tough on everyone, so do not become argumentative. And, as you venture forth, veteran and novice alike: respect and appreciate each and every step. From start to finish, I would gladly trade places with any of you, even if what you may feel is the “end-of-the-line” And as you may have guessed, I’m not giving up on any of you: “If there is a will, there is a way!”

Most importantly, as guests of Death Valley National Park, please obey all regulations! Finally, please consider Chris Kostman’s position as in trying to be your friend and the Director of the race. For 72 hours he is, in fact, running an “Adult Day-Care-center”!!!!!!! Give Chris a break:)) So, put your fame and egos aside! Don’t be difficult. Thank you, God bless you and good luck. And, as Monica says: “HAPPY FEET”. AL

“DNF” is a Dirty Word (actually, three of them)

Hello everyone. I would like to remind, ALL OF YOU, why you are “in-the-running.” As individuals it is imperative that you Finish What You Start! Being a member of the Application Review Committee, I have evaluated hundreds of BW applications and have never seen any Badwater Ultramarathon where ALL of the participants finished the event. To enter this event I expect that all of you are capable of a respectful elapsed time of 60 hours or less. But, when you fail to finish …….. this IS NOT acceptable!! In ’02 (when I was at the race in person) I was shocked to see all of the “In need of medical treatment or sleep” at Stovepipe Wells What was that all about? It’s only @40 miles. That’s not even a third of the way. This Ultra event invites only the toughest because that ‘Long White Line’ is supposed to be a realistic challenge for the hardy. If you feel that you’re not up-to-the-task …….. do yourself a favor: STAY AWAY from the starting line.

Remember ‘Forest Gump’: “Stupid is as stupid does”. IF you manage your crew and yourself, you will finish this race. With a few exceptions, this Ultra is not about your finishing time BUT, it is about your being able to finish. Either you have “heart” or you don’t! Statistics will predict the recording of “DNF’s”. Collectively, EVERYONE should start putting pressure on this concept. I guarantee that ANYONE that is recorded as a DNF (unless you get run-over by a ‘blue lizard’), will be be very unhappy with my ranking of a ZERO on a future application. That could receive my recommendation of ‘one year’s probation’. That, my friends, is “tough love”! If you’re tough, then PROVE IT! Not to me but to yourself. So, IF you all pull-together then BW 135 will have demonstrated that, not just a few, but the entire field is a great success. Who, after all those hours and miles of training, wants to return home with a DNF!?

How can I be so adamant, you might say, when I DNF’d in ’74 and ’75? My crew member almost died of intense heat in ’74. He wasn’t even past Furnace Creek. In ’75 I had just passed Towne’s Pass …. in 10 hours. That was it: too heavy, too fast & “Stupid is as stupid does”. No one here tonight is stupid. Think smart, be smart.

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Dear Badwater ‘Joggernauts’:

You are my inspiration, all of you. It is difficult for me to appreciate the level of potential that exists in the 2007 Badwater Ultramarathon. Amazing: the 30th anniversary of my epic “run” on August 6, 1977. Today, it is removed from my reality, that is, until Chris Kostman blows his horn for the annual 135-mile race. Those of you that respond have committed themselves to the ultimate demands of “physical and mental excellence required” in the pursuit of human “curiosity” that will explore the unknown. My solo trek was an experience of unusual unknowns and consequences that kept everything exciting. Cal-Trans road repair crews were closing the road at Panamint Springs, for six hours of demolition throughout the Panamint Valley. I had no choice but to grab a gallon of water and head into the Panamint Desert which eventually led me into deep canyons that emerged just below the winding roads near Father Crowley Point. Invincible, that was my state-of-mind, as I left my crew, not realizing that they had “left me.” I was on top of Inyo Mountains, heading to to Lone Pine. I had forgoten that I was “mortal.” Unfortunately, while nearing Keeler, an alert, and rare, passing vehicle stopped and assisted me with water AND information: I had a “problem” with my support team. On foot, I turned around and headed back to Crowley Point. After “re-organizing the crew”, not something that I had anticipated, I headed back into the quest: the Summit of Mt Whitney. The total distance was at least 200 miles by the time I finished. 84 hours, my total elapsed time was, in-it-self, a miracle. I am so fortunate to be of that small band of “Dare Devils,” trekking Death Valley, without mass vehicular traffic. Those days are gone BUT, the mind is an excellent “cave” in which to escape the horde. I urge all of you to take the opportunity in allowing the trodden footsteps, sweat and toil of years past, to blend with the beauty of all that surrounds the depth of the Badwater Ultramarathon. I predict that, for the first time, sub-24 hours will become the new record, by more than one runner. These runners will have poured out their hearts and guts. They will have surpassed the old level of human endurance barriers. Both runners will be from the West Coast. Who knows what memories they will carry, only time will tell. Meanwhile, “back-at-the-ranch,” the rest of you have the privilege of re-tracing the slowest and the fastest Death Valley Joggernaut, ever! Good Luck and may you all finish with pride and in good health. I will miss you all. And, thanks to you, Eberhard, I’m becoming my own “ROCKY!”

The 30th Annivesary Race in 2007

Hello fellow Ultras. Welcome to Badwater 2007.

Time Range Calculation:

24 hrs – (10:39.96/mile),
30 hrs – (13:19.8/mile),
36 hrs – (16:00.00/mile),
42 hrs – (18:39.96/mile),
48 hrs – (21:19.8/mile),
54 hrs – (24:00.00/mile),
60 hrs – (26:39.96/mile),
72 hrs – (32:00.00/mile)

These calculations are the choreography of the annual Badwater 135 Mile ULTRA Marathon. It’s all there, from the mythical sub-24-hour finisher to the 60-hour official finishers. From start to finish, it’s a “Grand Parade” of the best and toughest distance runners in the world – from around the vast stretches of our Planet Earth, they merge for the Death Valley Challenge.

It’s hype and glory of human endurance against this unpredictable sanctuary of Mother Nature. Will She be kind and forgiving or will She unleash Her power of vengeance upon those mortals who dare enter this domain of pain, agony, and sometimes more? Let it be understood, by all, veteran or novice: tread lightly and ALWAYS with respect. Each athlete and crew member must never forget that, as a guest of Death Valley National Park, you must obey the Park’s and the Race Organizers’ rules and regulations at ALL times.

The purpose and goal of every team member is the ultimate conclusion of a safe and gratifying performance. Any participant’s failure to honor these guidelines may result in the disqualification from all future Badwater Ultras. Honor and respect is a unique consideration in these types of events, in that there are many miles and hours of which to gain a life-long appreciation of the course and its participants. Fair and courteous involvement is the rule.

This is the “Main Event” – don’t spoil it by doing any of those things that erode the value and beauty of this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Be encouraged by, and absorb, the energy of thousands of footsteps past. Let your quest, be it seemingly slow, remain steady as you trod patiently, while enduring the tremendous and unrelenting heat, through the bowels of Hell.

It is normal, especially as Ultramarathoners, to possess, and exercise, that natural competitive desire to excel. But, in Death Valley, this “drive” does not guarantee the best result. To ultra is to venture into the unknown. Caution should be exercised as we enter within this “Cave of the Unknown.”

I urge all of you, especially the crew members, to recognize what is natural and within your “limits”. Many miles and hours stretch out before you… before ALL of you. There is NO reason why any athlete or crew member should fail, IF you abide by reason and common sense!

One of the most serious miscalculations of marathon running is dehydration. In the desert, at ALL times, stay covered. It is the retained moisture on your body surface that keeps you cool. Bare skin is a direct path to failure and injury. Do not become over-hydrated with salt or sugar: either will promote being hypotonic, a sure invitation of “problems.”

Don’t be “cute” as this event is serious business: your life will depend on it. If, as you train for this 135 mile “trek,” you can: (1) walk 50 miles each day, for three days while being mindful of proper foot-care, (2) tolerate high temperatures by exercising respect, caution, and proven techniques, then you have no excuse for failing to finish this torturous trek safely and as an Official Badwater Ultramarathon Finisher :)) Good Luck!

Finally, enjoy your every step by “gliding” the 135 miles as an adventure rather than as combat. You will never beat this race course; you can only traverse it smoothly or “uncomfortably.” The choice is yours. Look at my calculations above and select a reasonable and safe “time-range” BEFORE the race. Stay comfortable and enjoy your adventure. Your elapsed time will be better than you predicted and so will your experience.

Guidelines for Helping Chris Kostman Run out of Badwater Buckles

Now, a bit of ‘BW-135’ UNSOLICITED advice;

  1.  HEAT is the main nemesis, acclimate your body NOW!! Start using a sauna ……. on your EXPOSED body. Do not wear any protective clothing.
  2. ENDURANCE is very slow to develop. Set a target of being able to WALK, ONLY, at 20 to 30 minute per mile (LSD) pace, NON STOP (NO SLEEP) for 24-30 hours. Do not exceed this pace, nor train (LSD) more often than once a week.
  3. Leg speed must also be developed. Adapt an easy target of being able to run a 10K in 43-45 minutes. Try this on the following day of the endurance workout. This is a training goal only, NOT COMPETITION!
  4. Initiate a strict program of increasing your range of motion (flexibility). Long, loose, and supple body mechanics reduce fatigue.
  5.  Increase your oxygen up-take. The best way to measure this is by your recovery rate. I find the quickest, and most successful, is fast interval work-out on a Stationary Bike. Longer anaerobic periods with shorter recovery time is the best indicator of having a strong heart and lungs.

Seriously, regarding the “Badwater-135,” give my simple guidelines some thought. Even the most accomplished athlete should review her/his training proposals. I’m not telling most of you anything new. BUT, I am reminding you of the basics. IF, you follow these training guidelines, one thing is for sure: you WILL “feel your body” … as it really is. No fantasy, but reality. This program will take about six weeks for your system to accept this type of training AND another three to four months for conditioning: mentally and physically. Good luck and start IMMEDIATELY you should “peak-out” as you’re following the “Long White Line”:)