I Was My Own Personal Lab Rat: Al Arnold


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.