Category: Al Arnold’s Insights

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”:)

The Solitude of the Race Course

“How time flies! My running adventures are almost like looking in a rear-view mirror; while driving down the road, eventually they slip out of view. But, those memories will never fade. My most fond recollection of Death Valley was the beauty of its solitude. That, in-it-self, is more than worth the many hours of training. Unfortunately, some ULTRA runners may abuse the sanctuary of the desert while in their quest to win. It will be difficult to recover what they have “lost.” The beauty of being the pioneer, in 1977, of Badwater to the summit of Mt Whitney, was the solitude. “Water wagons” and “intense” crew members are unnatural to the environmental beauty of the Badwater Ultramarathon. Most runners will recognize and feel, in their hearts, this solitude. It is not a bad thing to feel alone in this hostile environment. Absorb every impact of your body and observe as you stride forward, ever forward: 135 miles of natural wonder. Each entrant has made a personal commitment to BW135 by competing in the world’s toughest endurance running event. Some of you will remember the “presence” of their adventure. On the other hand, a few entrants possess the ability to accomplish amazing feats. Performance versus solitude: acclaim and cherish. Both are winners within the same event, yet worlds apart. So, my ULTRA friends, take your time, stay smart, obey the Race Rules and enjoy the “beauty of solitude”. You can be in a crowd and, at the same moment, an individual. Rear-view mirrors can only “reflect” for so long and then it’s gone. But, if it is truly in your heart Badwater 2006 will be with you forever. Good luck, stay safe and respect the course and the ‘Event’ itself.” – AL

Blending with the Environment

THE RAT TALE’ all started about 35 years ago. I was working in San Francisco at the time, long slow distance running became my “refuge”. Eventually, all ULTRA runners “lose their senses” as to their conscious awareness and beyond. But, this wasn’t the case while pounding the hard surfaces, darting between the dark and cold surface below the granite canyons of tall buildings lining the commercial districts of San Francisco. The solace of my daily runs was constantly being inundated with loud, and unfriendly blasts of insidious outrage!  Automobiles with irritated drivers were, it seemed, at every intersection just waiting to thwart my peaceful intentions of being “different”, fit and enjoying the conquest of just being able to put one foot in front of another, forever! The challenge of survival was indeed powerful; my life depended upon it.

Alas, peace of mind was not to be had. It was time to find that place where I could mentally disappear, that private place, while just placing one foot in front of another. It was during this phase of transition that I started to train for my Death Valley venture AND, to have Peace of Mind.

Coincidentally, I relocated to Walnut Creek, California and soon became an advocate of a beautiful site, right in my own “backyard”: Mount Diablo. Click here and here for some photos of the mountain.

It was on this Mountain that I would enjoy many years of “Adventure Roving” with peace of mind and solitude. I soon became part of a new individuality of being “aware and apart” simultaneously. I seemed to be protective of my whereabouts and the surrounding challenges, but, at the same time, moving “forever forward.” Thus ‘The Rat’, one of many wonderful and personal experiences while traversing the spiritual slopes of this 4000′ ancient fossil encrusted sea-bed.

Training, for me, has always focused on its environment. I wouldn’t allow too much non-environment time in preparation. Rather than jog through city streets, on my way to my “metaphysical cave,” I would drive to Juniper Camp, two miles below the summit of Mount Diablo. The next 25 miles was an invasion of the “past”. I would become an extension of its history.

Drought and exceptional high temperatures were the norm for California during the 70’s. Mitchell Canyon, during July, is an extension of the struggles for survival, in any of life’s form.

The ‘Badwater 135’ is such an environment. As on Mount Diablo, areas do exist that provide comfort, but once you leave those “safe areas”, you’re on your own. If life’s form is not prepared for the risk, then it should not be taken. That is the basic rule. Failure is the ultimate consequence.

Years of arduous training had disciplined my training options. It was all a consideration of a “risk factor.” After all, when an ULTRA athlete decides to go it alone, alone is what it is!

The power of being “above it all” eventually consumes the lonely runner. Every venture has the potential of beauty and horror. This is a tale of beauty.

I had been on the trails for many hours and there was no refuge from the blazing heat of the mid-afternoon sun. I had left a hidden spring/oasis a few miles below me. Everywhere, signs of parched bones of the unfortunate: plants and small creatures of the mountain. It was a risky venture for man or beast. But, that’s being a survivalist. It was an ULTRA’S ideal training camp, especially for running through Death Valley. It never ceases to amaze me as to the balance of knowing where you’re jogging, yet, hours disappear without any recollection of those footsteps left behind. That is, unless the unexpected alerts your hidden safeguards. The sudden, yet faint, movement of the hot and dusty trail directly in front of my pathway was one of those precious moments.

As I examined the area VERY closely, I spotted the parched and almost fur-less hide of a giant rat, with it’s glaring eyes darting helplessly. Crazy as it may seem, I spent a few moments “talking to” this pitiful looking creature.

Eventually I sensed a “communication” and gradually coaxed this nearly dead inhabitant to slither its Godforsaken body on to the safety of a dried up branch. I couldn’t distinguish the better: the branch or the rat. Slowly, I removed my new found “friend” from it’s potential gravesite and, while “talking” in a reassuring rat manner, I portaged

“hairless” nearly three miles down to my hidden spring. It was quite an exchange of body language between Mr. Rat and myself.

Eventually the rat became aware of its coming salvation. That scraggly looking rat tail really went into motion. Reaching the cool shade and flowing spring water was too much for my branch passenger. He wanted off! I gently placed the branch at water’s edge and watched a very grateful creature begin a new life. I hope it was a long and wiser one. I paid homage to its peaceful and thankful body language. A few hours later, I passed by the point of our “meeting” and I said: “Not this time!” – AL

The True Spirit of the Race

Let’s be honest, not selfish nor vindictive. It’s time to heal ALL wounds and open our resources for the successful continuance of ULTRA Sports, specifically, in Death Valley. It takes a great deal of time and “know-how” to promote, successfully, these ULTRA event, such as the ‘Badwater 135’. It is not in the best interest of ‘The Sport’ that “mature” individuals should allow themselves to be swept-up in a “fire-storm” of misinformation. It would appear, that the sole purpose, of such wasted energy, is to discredit and destroy “common grounds”. What a shame. Too many harsh and unsavory words have been assailed. I would like to let it rest, there is nothing to gain in harboring ill will!!!. I’m sure that the “last word” is out there, somewhere. Here is mine. I know that it is rather long but I feel that I should be heard, Hopefully some will concur:)) My being recognized as the ‘First BW to Whitney Summit’ then I will be the first to say: ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!! The future of “The Sport”, depends upon it! I have NO special interest involvement, other than the continuing of ULTRA events in DVNP. But, with the highest level of cooperation, integrity and fierce competition. Every individual involved should think: “Fair and common to ALL”. Thank you, in advance, for your friendship and continued support.

First and most important: I am stating, emphatically, that  Chris Kostman is not the “culprit/bad-guy”! It is important to recognize and accept the fact: Race Directors/Officials will always be criticized, especially when enforcing the “Rules of Engagement”: written, implied, or otherwise. It usually erupts when a “special interest” is denied the continuance of “procedures” favoring a specific team, and in conflict with the other competitors. This practice is very common but does not warrant being accepted, It is the duty and responsibilities of the Race Officials to maintain the “primary purpose”   of the event. The personalities and conduct, of these individuals, destroy the basic, but waning, concept of fair-play. Unfortunately: “winning is the only thing” has eroded ideals of being a “good-sport”. The violators, themselves, are the real losers. It’s to the environment, of which they are competing and “altering”, to their advantage and not other runners, is, in-itself, a different contest! Not a good idea. This is not to say that the mechanics of “putting one foot in front of another”, over such arduous conditions, is not recognized. But, it is important that these elite, established, and outstanding athletes, recognize and understand their responsibilities of maintaining a “Level Playing Field”. These same participants must also NOT challenge the authority and judgement of any Race Official’s action. Right or wrong! There is NO “Instant Replay” and, if such were available, the “call” would have remained the same: DISALLOWED!

All Athletic Teams must NEVER forget that they are the guests of the ‘Event”. And as such, their entry fee does not allow the abuse of the Course, or its purpose. At the discretion of the Event’s Officials, judgements, to “challenges” may occur, sometimes in conflict with the entrant and Organizer. The condemnation, in the recent BW135 (Chris Kostman/Race Director) was, in my “ancient philosophical approach”, appropriate but too lenient. I would have given a Full Refund, on the spot, disqualified the “team” and notified the DVNP as to my actions. For the record, that team would have been listed as a: NO SHOW!! Not pleasant, but that’s the way I operate, if you don’t like tough management, (and Chris Kostman is a tough organizer) then you have other options but not better challenges.

The BW 135 is a TOUGH race, and tough “direction”, only the very best, of heart, dare apply. Not every applicant will be accepted, it’s a logistics nightmare. The entrant space is limited. It is only natural, desiring to be part of these great events. And, equally so, to demand of all parties, the utmost of fair-play. Mother Nature sets the stage, don’t try and “alter” it. Do it right or don’t do it at all! Anyone that attempts to cross Death Valley, in an organized event, MUST direct and comply their “procedures” so as to be consistent and common to ALL athletic teams. Remember, endorsement by the Race Officials, depends upon your cooperation, ONLY!. As old as I am, I’m quite sure that: given a Refrigerated Water Truck, Beautiful Ladies holding an Umbrella over this decrepit body and, NO time limit: I could (probably) make it today. It’s important to recognize and understand, while accepting the purpose, intent and value in preserving a “natural environment” compliance. Mother Nature’s “Child”: Death Valley, will have it NO other way. Make it HOT, DANGEROUS and UNWELCOMED!! Needless to say. being foolish and unprepared could place your name as just another statistic in the ledger of Inyo County Coroner, “Badwater Mayor”, BW ULTRA ledger/veteran, Ben Jones, MD. Sorry, but I prefer not to have him or anyone else, looking down at my toes before “my time”!

Elite athlete or not, the circumventing of the Race Director’s “management” that defeat the very purpose of meeting, head on, the notorious and hostile environment of Death Valley, should NEVER be permitted. In 1974, on my first attempt to the “Challenge”, we (Me and, my long time friend, Dave Gabor) ATTACKED the”course”. Dave almost died, it was a year before he recovered. I learned quickly: Gently “fold” my way through this treacherous and untested, environment. I accepted Her guidelines, the rest is a matter of record. But, in today’s (24:36) it is a whole different world: Everyone wants a better performance. But, back in ’74-’77, it never occurred to me of being anything other than: “an extension of the ENVIRONMENT!” As ULTRAS grow in number and continually confront and accepts the challenge, in its true nature, Death Valley National Park, and beyond, will, forever, be the “Remarkable Quest”. The ultimate reward is the achievement of the “Quest”: 135 miles of interesting conflicts, most of which are within ourselves. Many individuals have died on these desert floors, and I’m sure that it wasn’t an easy way to die!! All ULTRAS that dare accept the challenge of traversing these hazards, of Mother Nature, do so within Her “natural guidelines”. These elements are protected and supported by the Race Officials. Their judgement and management is vital for the safety and success of these events. Therefore, fair-play and compliance guidelines, that are common to all participants, is essential! Anything else is unacceptable! Water tankers, large or small, is not natural nor common to all. The Officials’ responsibilities are broad and undefined. Every day of our lives, we make on the spot decisions. I’m sure that some were wrong. The Race Director’s decision was not improper! “Conduct” favorable to any particular runner, especially a Super Star, is understandingly noted but, not acceptable. The “Natural hostilities of the environment”, in-it-self, preclude “altering its’ (DVNP) position: DEFIANCE!!! The desert is not a friendly / forgiving arena. Obviously, SAFETY is of the utmost concern. The ‘BW 135’ is an amateur Ultra running event, NOT a Meg-$$-Corporate Challenge. The true challenger is that individual, that has trained: mentally, physically and spiritually, AND ready to accept the risks of their “Quest”. Gadgets are NOT WELCOME, in concept or reality. How lucky, it was for me, @30 years ago, to “try again and again”, not to have any adversarial conflicts! Other than good old Mother Nature. She spanked me very hard! Today, I’m wiser and thrilled that so many others have followed my BW to Whitney “Mystics”. Anything other than “Natural”, is in violation of “THE TRUE SPIRIT”.


Blending with the Landscape

Between 1974 – 1977, while training for my Death Valley run, I had ventured many miles and hours on Mt Diablo (a 4000′ mountain in “our back yard”). This was during a period of extensive heat, dry spells and prolonged drought conditions. Only the wild animals sensed and executed their abilities of survival. I became one of those animals. And, as such, I “marked my territory”. It was during this “primitive period” I had encountered many “nature experiences”. This is one, “The Cougar and me”. Keep in mind that I was a tall, tanned, muscular, talkative, and singing “Mountain Man.” I wouldn’t “surprise” anyone or anything. I slowly developed my own style of an acceptance personality, or better yet, a type of wilderness defense. After a few years of this style of “entering” the natural habitat of “critter-world,” I was able to do amazing things with the natural world. The following experience, alone, is worth all the “challenges.” One particular event was the day that I jogged through an area on Mt Diablo. This area was parched and, to the untrained, devoid of moisture. The winds were sweeping up the slopes of the Mountain, and of seemingly hurricane force (ripe condition for a catastrophic fire —- always a threat). I had started running down the side of the mountain, in and around huge boulders. These hot winds were roaring into my sweaty body. I loved it; the conditions were perfect. Except: I didn’t see the cougar, standing on the fire trail, just around the bend. It hadn’t sensed my coming presence either. That is, until I physically ran into its right hind-quarters. Boy, were WE surprised! It quickly sprinted up the side of the mountain. I just stood there, in disbelief! My first experience, and contact, with the rough and coarse hide of a real live predatory animal. (Other than some dogs I’ve encountered while jogging.) That was it ……… for then. The next day, while in the same area, I had stopped at a hidden spring, charted as “Big Springs.” Remember the environment and weather conditions. AND, my purpose on the Mountain. Refreshing myself, in the cool shade surrounding this oasis, I soon “sensed” that I wasn’t alone. So, I stood tall and started yakking loudy. Slowly turning around I acknowledged and greeted my fellow guest: the cougar, standing not mare than a few feet away. After sending friendly vibes .. no fear, I slowly encouraged an exchange of “positions.” It was amazing; I sat on an elevated rock and just spent about an hour with my fellow traveler (their territory covers at least 35 miles). Eventually it was time for me to depart; always standing tall and yakking, I proceeded to climb a very long and steep trail. My new “associate” came over to the trail, sat down and watched me slip over the summit. I never saw my “friend” again. But, I’m sure that cougar was aware of my every moveent, night and day.

This story has been shared, around campsites, many many times. It is the absolute truth!

On the new Jay Birmingham Website Section

Hi Chris. You really are a gift to the world of ULTRAS. Just when the accolades start pouring in, re: your Official Badwater site, you make it even better. The DV/BW trek wouldn’t have had its grand success without Chris Kostman. I’m very pleased that Jay is being featured. It is, with all due respect, long over-due. Thank you, many times over. Jay isn’t just another name or the second Death Valley-Mt Whitney trekker, he is truly an accomplished ULTRA. Look at the history of his amazing distant running. Jay and I are so different in our involvement: He stays active and helps in the development and support of the Ultra tradition. That requires a great deal of personal sacrifice and open commitment to the sport. He is there in the public’s eye, as to whom and what he is/has done. I couldn’t do that; I’m too selfish and a real loner. I love people but enjoy and seek my “cave.” It’s easy to prepare and endure your own personal demands as you search for the Holy Grail, but quite different when you’re exposed. No one to witness failure or share in the solace of the euphoria of success. Even in victory, the legacy of 1977, depicted in the photos, are isolated and my own. The photographers, Eric and Glen and the ‘POL’ writer, Roger, have left me behind, RIP. So, there are no consequences; it was meant to be. I yield to the younger and stronger ULTRA, Jay.

My best to everyone, AL

On Scientific Research at Badwater

During the extended training/DV attempts, I rode a stationary bike at very high temps, hours at a time. My runs, on Mt Diablo, were in a box-canyon where temps were always above 100 degrees. NASA had contacted me and was interested in doing a research project of my training routine and the actual run itself. I remember an Exercise Physiologist (I believe his last name was Snell) wanted to put a “scientific” instrument into my intestinal tract. The purpose was to measure stress and ‘core body temperature’. They later scrapped the idea because they felt that it was too dangerous and that it could be fatal. I did get some preliminary results, as a ‘base point’. In 1974 a similar recording was taken and it was determined that my initial core temperature was 98.7. In 1977 the same measurement showed that my ‘core body temp’ was now 96.4, it has never changed. When I go for a check-up the medical staff will always ask m: “have you always had a ‘sub-normal body temp?” During Worlw War II, the US Army was training soldiers in the Mojave Desert. They were being acclimated to heat for the African Desert. But, because of Japan’s invasion of the remote islands off Alaska, these desert-trained troops were sent to the frigid cold of Alaska. To the surprise of all, they were very comfortable: because their ‘body core temp’ had dropped a few degrees. I found the same response when the weather turned cold. Just thought you might find this info rather interesting.

Take care, AL

On Long-Term Health and Fitness

Feb 4, 1967 was my 39th birthday. My age, now, being 77+, that’s almost a lifetime ago. I had just left an extensive physical, by the University of California team physician, Thomas Barber MD. His last words to me, and I have repeated them many times, over the years. “Al, my friend, unless you make a commitment to, and establish a constructive style of nutrition and exercise: the next time I examine your body it will have a tag on your one of your toes!” Not a pleasant diagnostic evaluation. You often say “there are NO coincidences” but, on that same day, I received an invitation from David Pain (an attorney in San Diego) to compete in the first US Masters Track and Field Championships, for men 40 and older, to be held in San Diego on July 4, 1968. I had 18 months to turn around my “lifestyle” IF I wanted to be included. AND, of course, to stay alive. At that time, I weighed almost 300 pounds!! I won’t bore you with anymore but I will say that I met ALL my goals. This photo is a DECADE LATER.


Your friend, AL

Hall of Fame: Al Arnold

The Badwater Hall of Fame was created in 2002 with the induction of its first member, Al Arnold, who in 1977 became the first man to successfully run from Badwater to Mt. Whitney.

His plaque reads:


A Short History of the 20th Century:
1927: Charles Lindbergh flies solo across the Atlantic
1947: Thor Heyerdahl sails a raft across the Pacific
1953: Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary summit Mt. Everest
1969: Neil Armstrong walks the Moon
1977: Al Arnold runs from Death Valley to Mt. Whitney

The 2002 Badwater Ultramarathon is proudly dedicated to AL ARNOLD
on the 25th anniversary of his record setting trek from Badwater to Mt. Whitney.  In recognition of his pioneering efforts, Al Arnold is also hereby and forever recognized as the first inductee into the Badwater Hall of Fame.

Read Al’s ongoing column here on the site at this link.