Category: Badwater University

The Art of Finishing Badwater 135

By Arthur Webb
Fifteen-Time Finisher: 1998 through 2012, including a Personal Record and Age Group Record of 33:45:40 at age 70 at his final Badwater 135 in 2012. His stats.

I completed the 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon fifteen times (includes one honorable mention). I had five solid years (under forty-hours), but more struggling years when I suffered too much too many times. After two poor consecutive races, I researched my problems, discovered flaws, retooled my training/racing plans, and had two successful almost painless performances, including a 33:45:40 personal and age group course record at age 70 in 2012.

Badwater 135 is daunting and unforgiving. No one escapes the inevitable attrition, and the haunting, excessive heat, fatigue, and weariness. No one. Everyone knows serious challenges will happen even during a “perfect” race. But if you make mistakes, then many major debilitating nasty problems will arise during a long miserable, relentless, grinding march to the finish line – or to a dreaded DNF (Did Not Finish).

However, various issues which impact progress and cause unplanned and excessive downtime can be avoided with proper preparation and execution.

How I Had Problems (you can, too). It is easy (Guaranteed):

The following are various mistakes I have made over the years. As a result, even partial recovery took hours, but it was too late, and I suffered along with my performance and race goals. It only takes one bad move from the list below to make your race very difficult, it not impossible to finish. Having two or more of these issues in one race will only make it worse, if not impossible to finish. I have done or experienced the following at Badwater 135 over the years:

  1. Overtrained: Too many miles. I started the race weary, tired, and vulnerable.
  2. Super hydrated (never, ever works): Too much water (clear urine) before an during the race (if maintained for prolonged hours) will degrade the processing system resulting in ugly issues: severe cramping, weakness, extreme fatigue, nausea, bloating weight gain, and a snail’s pace crappy miserable race. This was my number one nemesis that resulted in many poor performances and still happens to other runners at Badwater and at other ultra-races.
  3. Dehydration: Too little water (bright yellow or darker urine and tenting skin) caused severe cramping, nausea, diarrhea, and nasty downtime.
  4. Nutrition: Consumed too many calories that further bogged down my system causing stomach distress, nausea, lethargy, and unnecessary downtime.
  5. Electrolytes: Too much sodium led to excessive water retention and the super hydration problems above. Too little led to dehydration problems. Consuming a full spectrum electrolyte replacement is critical (not just salt / sodium.)
  6. Heat Issues: When clothing is too dry or not wet enough, core temperature rises and the body is much more vulnerable to excessive heat, exhaustion/stroke, lightheaded, listless, nauseating downtime or worse.
  7. Guessing Game: When I tried different foods and drinks (shot gunning) during the race (which had been not evaluated in training or in previous races), it was a huge mistake.
  8. Rest stops: Too many for too long in a chair, the van, or on the desert floor. There was no rhythm. It was either gear-up into the dreaded restart mode (again…ugh) or gear-down into time-consuming recovery/rest modes (more…ugh).
  9. Mountain goat: Ran up all the hills and/or exceeded race pace. A bad move.
  10. Restaurant cuisine: Dined at a local restaurant (one time). Different food and water caused stomach distress before and during the race. This is an overlooked issue; eat what you are accustomed to before and during the race.

How I avoided these mistakes (you can, too) and set personal and age group course records:

I did ALL of the following. Except for the normal wear and tear, I was comfortable the entire race with none of the nasty debilitating problems above.

  1. Training: From 120-miles a week to 90 for three months. Started fresher, full of energy. Long runs were 15 miles. Last three weeks were all power walking in the hills.
  2. Evaluated everything in training:
  3. Best advice (by far):Less is Best” and “Top Ten Mistakes to Avoid” by fuel/ nutrition expert/guru Steve Born. I used his advice/formula, and it made a huge, gigantic difference. I believe these are Must Read articles.
  4. Fluids: My intent was to bypass the over/under hydration nasty debilitating toxic water issues. My goal was to remain close to my pre-race optimum running weight (when urine color was light to pale yellow). I would adjust fluid intake if my weight (on a small scale) drifted too much (a few pounds) either way, which was rare. I sipped (guzzling is a form of overloading) on 15 to 20 ounces of ice water (from a 16oz hand-held plastic squeeze bottle) an hour in the heat of the day and less in the cool of night. Let me reiterate: I never, ever taxed my system by overloading with too much water, nutrition, or sodium (Points 4, 5 and 6.) It worked. There were no nasty issues.
  5. Nutrition: I never consumed more than two hundred (all liquid) calories per hour (even less in the extreme heat). I sipped on a thick mix of Perpetuem chased with a splash of water and, at times, Ensure. My back-ups – which I never used – were past race-proven peanut butter, noodle/tomato soups and lean turkey slices (no bulky bread).
  6. Sodium: Two or three Endurolyte capsules an hour during heat of the day (less at night). If I felt even one slight muscle twinge I immediately took more.
  7. Breaks: One planned fifteen-minute leg massage at Father Crowley’s (mile 80) on a yoga mat on the ground and five minutes seeking relief in the parking lot bathroom. No comfortable chair (we did not even bring one) or cot was used. Otherwise, I kept moving.
  8. Sauna and steam room training: This required four intense weeks and one lighter week just before Badwater. Review my “Heat Training in the Sauna” article here at (Note: Crew members should also heat train and follow much of the advice in this article.)
  1. Foot care: No tape. I coated socks and shoes with Gold Bond’s foot powder and never had even a hint of a blister, even when my feet were wet.
  2. Course Knowledge: This is priceless. Although I knew every step of the route, during the year, I studied the entire course on Google Earth. I memorized elevation changes, the dips and rises, and all the other nuances. During the race there were no surprises. I was more relaxed and comfortable knowing exactly where I was and what was just ahead.
  3. Mindset: I concentrated on my race pace and assorted goals. I did not let me mind drift or become distracted by external “noise.” I stayed intensely focused on a detailed estimated time of arrival at landmarks, mile markers, and checkpoints. I charted everything in advance, including hourly fluid and calorie intake, which made it easy for the crew to follow and execute.
  4. Pace: I trained and planned for a ten-minute per mile pace to Furnace Creek, then eleven-minute miles to Stovepipe Wells (an added minute to help avoid/sidestep degrading heat and thermal headwind issues in this area. (If I were much younger, or an elite runner and it was cooler, I would have been comfortable running a bit faster to Furnace Creek and Stovepipe Wells). Then I power-walked all the rolling hills and mountains, ran down the backsides of each mountain, and lightly jogged and power-walked all the flat sections.
  5. Pre-race food: I brought my own food and drink and ate my regular diet (there were no surprises). Race day was a small bowl of oatmeal three hours before the start.
  6. Stayed wet: During the heat of the day, my veteran crew (and pacer) kept me wet using a variety of handheld sprayers and sponges, and then at night only if I felt overheated. I carried a small spray bottle of chilly water used to keep my face cool.
  7. Clothing: Everything was light, white, and absorbable. I wore snug arm and leg compression sleeves and kept them wet during the heat. In the wind they were more aero-dynamic and dried out slower than the full coverage white suit that some runners wear. During intense heat I placed a small and large wet towel over my head and shoulders. I never overheated.
  8. Gloves and scoops: Crew used latex gloves and a scoop when handling food and ice. Crud and bacteria grow very quickly in the heat and cause immediate stomach distress.
  9. Stayed grounded and modest: The absolute highest priority at my last Badwater 135 race was to “shoot for the moon” and smash personal and course age group records. Yet, I told everyone my goals were more modest. Without the needless self-inflicted mind-torturing pressure from social or other media, I was always calm, relaxed, and performed as I knew I could – and not as others expected. It worked: Records fell.

That is what I did. It was not easy (it never is) and there was a host of annoying challenges along the way. But chasing personal goals and setting or breaking records is always extremely difficult. Yet it can be accomplished without piling on unnecessary suffering.

Except for a medical emergency, there are zero reasons for any starter not to finish. Be smart, patient, follow proven guidelines, do not trip on egos, and remember when you feel cruddy, sick, or as bad as you have ever felt (and, at times, you will), there are other runners who feel the same or worse but will continue, grind along, and stay the course because there is nothing more rewarding or life altering in the running world then crossing the finish line at Badwater.

Any questions contact me at or on Facebook.

Life is Grand!

– Arthur Webb (The Grinder)

15 x Badwater Finisher (1998-2012)

Age group (70-79) course record holder 33:45:40 (2012)

Badwater Hall of Fame (2013)

Ultrarunning Magazine: Age group performance of the year (2012)

Do or do not. There is no try. – Yoda, “Star Wars”

“Honor and respect the dignity of the Human Spirit. Always finish what you start.” – Arthur Webb



JACQUELINE S. BROWN AND DECLAN A. CONNOLLY (Brown is a Badwater 135 finisher)

Department of Physical Education, The University of Vermont, Burlington, Vermont

ABSTRACT (Link to full paper is below.)

Brown, JS and Connolly, DA. Selected human physiological responses during extreme heat: The Badwater Ultramarathon. J Strength Cond Res 29(6): 1729–1736, 2015—The purpose of this article was to examine various physiological responses during an ultramarathon held in extreme heat. Our investigation was conducted at The Badwater Ultramarathon, a nonstop 217-km run across Death Valley, CA, USA. This study recruited 4 male athletes, average age of 43 (6SD) (67.35), (range) 39–54 years. All 4 subjects successfully completed the race with a mean finish time of 36:20:23 hours (6SD) (63:08:38) (range) 34:05:25–40:51:46 hours, and a mean running speed of 6.03 km$h21 (6SD) (60.05), (range) 5.3–6.4 km$h21. The anthropometric variables measured were (mean, 6SD) mass 79.33 kg (66.43), height 1.80 m (60.09), body surface area 1.93 m2 (60.16), body mass index 24.38 kg$m22 (61.25), fat mass 13.88% (62.29), and body water 62.08% (61.56). Selected physiological variables measured were core body temperature, skin temperature, heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Rate of perceived intensity, rate of thermal sensation, and environmental factors were also monitored. Our study found (mean and 6SD) core body temperature 37.498 C (60.88); skin temperature 31.138 C (63.06); heart rate 106.79 b$min21 (65.11); breathing rate 36.55 b$min21 (60.60); blood pressure 128/86 mm Hg (69.24/4.62); rate of perceived intensity 5.49 (61.26); rate of thermal sensation 4.69 (60.37); daytime high temperature of 46.68 C, and a mean temperature of 28.358 C. Our fastest finisher demonstrated a lower overall core body temperature (36.918 C) when com- pared with the group mean (37.498 C). In contrast to previous findings, our data show that the fastest finisher demonstrates a lower overall core body temperature. We conclude that it may be possible that a time threshold exists whereby success in longer duration events requires an ability to maintain a lower core body temperature vs. tolerating a higher core body temperature.

This was presented at the Medicine & Science In Ultra-Endurance Sports Conference on July 23-24, 2015, in Squaw Valley, CA. Additionally, The Wilderness Medical Society Journal published the abstract.

Click here for the full eight-page PDF of their paper.

Heat Training Tips from a 20-Time Badwater 135 Finisher

Heat Training Tips

By Marshall Ulrich, 20-time Badwater 135 finisher

Are you planning to do a run or race in one of the hot deserts of the world? If so, you need to heat train! Let’s get you ready so you can put your dreams in action!

Heat training is one of my favorite subjects, as I’ve had to prepare for more than 25 crossings of Death Valley, in July, as well as other desert races.

A few things to keep in mind as you are heat training: It is possible to train, or acclimate to heat. Your body learns to sweat more, your veins come to the surface to aid in cooling, and your kidneys and lymph system learn to retain more sodium and other electrolytes. While humidity is a factor in some places, it is not much of a factor in deserts; less humidity means better evaporative cooling.

Heat training can be done anywhere, as long as you have access to a dry sauna:

  • Start heat training 6 to 8 weeks (4 weeks minimum) before your desert event.
  • Always drink plenty of water.
  • Be sure to add electrolytes (my favorite is Sustain tablets), including sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium.
  • Weigh yourself before and after you go in the sauna; drink at least 2 cups of fluid for every pound lost.
  • Have someone check in on you while you are in the sauna.

Here are week-by-week guidelines.

Week one: Find a dry sauna and set the heat to 180 to 200°F. Dress in swim trunks, weigh yourself, bring your water bottle and a towel to sit on and/or wipe sweat out of your eyes, and step in. Stay in about 20 minutes if you can, then step out of the sauna and take a 5 to 10 minute break at room temperature. Go back in for 15 minutes. Do this twice during the first week. You should notice some caking around your temples as you body “dumps” salt; this is normal. It is very important to drink as much as you can while you are in the sauna and during the break, including electrolytes. Finish with a cool down period/break at room temperature (continue to drink) until you feel like your temperature has returned to normal.

Weeks two and three: Go to the sauna two or three times a week. Stay in about 20 minutes, take a 5 to 10 minute break, go back in for 15 minutes, take another 5 to 10 minute break, then head back in for another 15 minutes. Finish with a cool down period. The amount of salt that your body is dumping should be decreasing, and you should be increasing the amount of water you’re drinking as your body learns to sweat sooner, and more, to cool you more effectively.

Weeks four and five: Go to the sauna three to four times a week. Stay in at least 30 minutes at a time, if you can, but continue to take 5 to 10 minute breaks. It is not necessary to exercise while in the sauna, but it helps; the simplest is to jog in place. If you want to add exercise in the sauna, this is the time to do it, as your body has begun to acclimate to the heat.

The final week(s): You should be able to stay in for about an hour with two to three 5-minute breaks, and you should be doing this three to four times a week. Your consumption of water should be almost double as you will be sweating more, sooner, for longer. Your sweat will not taste as salty.

Remember, you are stressing your body and you need to allow it to recover, so don’t drive around with the heater on in your car! This serves very little purpose and can cause serious harm if you pass out and have an accident.

An alternative to visiting the sauna is waiting until the heat of the day reaches 90 degrees and above, and run in dark sweats (top and bottom, top being most important). Start gradually as you did in the sauna and work up to about an hour and a half run. Take lots of water and drink, drink, drink, remembering to replace your electrolytes.

With both training scenarios, make sure you are peeing and monitor the color; it should be a light straw color. If it’s darker than that, you’re not drinking enough. A runny nose also signals good hydration. You can also pinch the skin on the back of your hand to check how quickly it rebounds—it should do so almost instantly; if it stays up in a tent shape, you’re not hydrating enough.

With appropriate heat training you can safely put your desert racing dreams in action!


The ultimate endurance athlete, Marshall Ulrich has run more than 120 ultramarathons averaging over 125 miles each, completed 12 expedition-length adventure races, and climbed the Seven Summits all on his first attempts. As of 2015, he is a 20-time finisher of the world’s toughest footrace, the Badwater 135 Ultramarathon, including winning the race in 1991, 1992, 1993, and 1996.

Marshall finished the first-ever circumnavigation on foot of Death Valley National Park, about 425 miles in one of the hottest, driest places on earth, during the most blistering month in U.S. history (July 2012). He’s ranked this expedition as tougher than ascending Mount Everest, but not as challenging as his record-setting transcontinental run of more than 3,000 miles from San Francisco to New York City, which was the subject of his memoir, Running on Empty.

In his sixties, Marshall inspires adventurers, active and armchair athletes, and a growing general audience by sharing his experiences and defying the ideas of “too far,” “too old,” and “not possible.”

More info at

Marshall and his support team cross the Badwater 135 finish line for the 20th time in 2015!

Marshall and his support team celebrate his 20th Badwater 135 finish in 2015!

Badwater 135 Revisited: Tips from a 15-time Competitor

By Arthur Webb

I “completed” the 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon 15 times and earned 14 buckles. At the 2012 Badwater 135 race, at age 70, I set two personal records: A 33:45 finish (by 12 minutes), and a 23:55 at 100 miles (I had never broken 24 hours on this course) and eclipsed the age group record by more than 20 hours.

During those 15 years I tried everything to reach goals. Some things worked and others were complete failures. After 13 years of “experimenting” I finally found the right combinations and it was all worthwhile. We paid strict attention and followed to a “T” the formula listed below, which was the key to peak performances (fewer troubles/problems and pain free) during my last two successful Badwater races.

*I wanted to share this valuable information with first time entrants and/or veterans still looking for a few magic ingredients.

  • Liquids: I weighed at the end of my training regimen, before going to Badwater. That was my target weight. I usually drank more water hanging around Badwater and tended to become “over- or super-hydrated” which was reflected at weigh-in. We used a scale during the race and once the “excess” water was sloughed off and the target weight was reached, we kept it within 2 pounds (high or low). It worked. It’s number one on this list for a reason. In the past too little or too much water (it doesn’t take much) caused way too many nasty problems, which led to diminishing returns and debilitating performance. Thirty ounces or less an hour is more than sufficient for the system to work efficiently. (We charted all food and water intake).
  • Electrolytes: For ten years I used Hammer’s Endurolytes (2 to 8 capsules an hour depending on the heat) and had only a few cramping problems (abated by downing a few more) and zero side effects. They work.
  • Nutrition: One bottle of ice cold Ensure (240 calories) worked better than solid foods, but 240 calories an hour of Hammer’s Perpetuem by far worked the best. More than 240 calories an hour (of anything) will tax the system and performance will suffer.
  • Clothing: White short sleeved wicking shirt, compression shorts and Moeben compression arm and leg sleeves and head scarf (soaked in cold water) was miles ahead of anything else and by far the most comfortable and effective apparel.
  • Power walked: All the bigger hills, especially Towne Pass, Father Crowley, and Mt. Whitney. Paid rich dividends.
  • Stay wet: My crew used an assortment of sprayers and soakers filled with ice water during the heat of the day (on me and themselves), which helped keep core temps near normal. I carried a small 8-10 ounce sprayer filled with ice cold water the entire race and constantly spritzed my head and face and any hot spots. My pacer carried a larger sprayer and wet my clothing, arms, legs and head during the heat of the day. Don’t dry out.
  • Shorten the course: Between Furnace Creek and Lone Pine there are ½ mile markers on the right side of the road (example: mile 110.5, to Lone Pine, across from the Chevron Station at Furnace Creek) and mile markers on the left side of the road (example: mile 110 a half mile past Chevron Station heading north). They were my landmarks. An extremely huge benefit was knowing exactly where I was at all times, which helped maintain focus on pre-race plans, race pace and shortened the Badwater course to mentally pleasing ½ mile segments. It worked. Could easily be number one on this list.
  • Blisters: Lightweight white socks filled with Gold Bond Foot Powder prevented blisters, even when my feet were (soaking) wet. I never tapped my feet. Before the powder routine I simply cut the blisters (some were big and ugly) and kept going. A very minor inconvenience. They all heal eventually.
  • Keep moving: I took a much needed potty break and had a quick leg massage at Father Crowley’s Viewpoint (mile-80) and a few 5-minute or less breaks on the “uncomfortable” stoop of the van. That’s it. I stayed out of the “too” comfortable check-in stations, chairs, and the van. Besides, rest, cold beer and pizza awaited at Whitney Portal.
  • Course knowledge: I had the advantage of knowing all the nuances of the Badwater 135 course, but still spent many hours virtually running and studying the entire route on Google Earth (in street view). I even marked (pinpointed) each mile. It’s a convenient tool and productive mental exercise easily accomplished in the comforts of home.
  • Stay positive, focused and finish: Grumbling and making excuses (remember who signed the entry form) is another self-defeating slippery slope. When the wheels start to come off (and they will; possibly many times) stand tall. Remember there are other runners/walkers/shufflers on the Badwater course that feel just as bad or worse but will fight off all the miserable suffering and manage to finish. Besides not one crew person has ever volunteered their valuable time and energy at Badwater to watch a runner quit.

The trek from Badwater across the Death Valley Basin and over several mountain ranges to the finish line on the flanks of Mt. Whitney is incredibly difficult. It will test you emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually. Yet, it’s a powerful rewarding experience that’s guaranteed to influence and enrich your life forever.

I do miss it so.

Life is Grand.

“There are those people who say they can. And there are those people who say they can’t. They are both right.”

“Do or not do. There is no try.”   – Yoda, “Star Wars”

Any questions, send me a note: Runerof100 at


Art Webb at the 2012 finish line, after setting a PR at age 70 and new age group course record.


Art Webb at the 2012 finish line, after setting a PR at age 70 and new age group course record.


Foot Care for the Badwater Ultramarathon

(Badwater finishers) of (“Stuff For People Who Run”)

The biggest problem area for Badwater runners is the ball of the foot. Some runners we treated had blisters in this area that were large, painful and deep. There are two major factors contributing to this: people who run a lot tend to get very tough, thick skin in this area and the heat of the road is in contact with this area the most. When the skin is callused, blisters underneath cannot be lanced to relieve pressure and pain. The best solution during the event is to almost literally tape the skin back on the foot. We tend to use Elastikon tape for this because it is a very durable tape and sticks very well, especially with the additional use of an adherent, such as tincture of benzoin. Once it is stuck on, it will stay. Tincture of benzoin is used as an adherent to ensure the tape doesn’t slide or come loose. The tape must be applied in a single layer and brought up over the sides of the foot to be most effective.ZombieRunner is going to be out in the field again to provide mobile blister care for runners in the Kiehl’s Badwater Ultramarathon. While fixing many feet during Badwater last year, we saw some trends in the types of foot trouble that runners encountered. Also, we learned that some methods that work well for runners in 50 mile races, and even 100 milers, fail under the extreme conditions of Badwater.

Another problem area is toes. Toes are difficult to treat, but many runners have found success with Injinji toe socks. The individual gloves for the toes prevent toes from sticking together and curling underneath each other. The CoolMax fabric also helps keep feet a little drier. If you do need to tape your toes to prevent blisters, Use a stretchy tape and don’t apply it too tight or in too many layers. Toes that swell typically will blister underneath the toenail.

Additionally, runners who decided to tape their feet didn’t always use the best technique. Tape should be applied carefully and in a single layer. Extra layers (the mummified foot effect) provide no additional benefit. This will contribute to overheating of the feet and cause big problems when the feet swell. And, layers of tape are difficult to remove to treat blisters.

Here’s another thing to think about. If you tape your feet, you might run into a situation where you need to remove the tape. How does it come off? Make sure to pack some kind of de-adherent. There are specialty products you can purchase, or you can use rubbing alcohol or baby oil.

We noticed what socks runners were using. Many runners have heard the trick of bringing extra shoes that are sized one or two sizes larger than normal. But what about the socks? If your feet swell, your socks can be constricting as much as your shoes are. In particular, socks that contain a high percentage of spandex materials can be constricting. Also, consider that tape on your feet would require a larger sock. Socks that have a natural give to the fabric will work better.

Shoe surgery is another trademark of Badwater. Cutting pieces out of the shoe can relieve pressure spots. But have you ever tried this with normal scissors? You’ll need some good shears for the job. Bring some along, or consider getting some running sandals as an alternative. Make sure they have good cushioning because regular non-padded sandals will be tough on your feet during miles of pavement.

Can you train your feet for Badwater? There are two approaches to foot preparation: softening or toughening. As a blister care provider I recommend the method of keeping the feet soft. Use a callus reducer regularly, rub lotion on your feet every night, and trim away dead, tough skin. The skin will be smooth and supple by the start of Badwater, and much easier to treat should blisters occur. Runners who take this approach most likely will want to tape their feet, or at least experiment with taping before the race and be prepared to tape if hotspots occur.

The toughening method involves applying skin tougheners regularly and working on calluses as a good thing. Calluses shouldn’t be ragged, but the skin will be thick and tough by the start of the race. This may make the feet less prone to blisters, but should blisters occur, they are more painful and difficult to treat.

Finally, one of the most neglected areas is the toenails. The feet take a beating during training and so do your toenails. As some runners run farther and longer than ever before, they experience new toenail problems such as blisters under the nail, black toenails, and lost toenails. The initial advice is always larger shoes is. For some runners, this doesn’t solve the problem and it doesn’t mean you can ignore your toenails. With perseverance, you can greatly improve your chances of keeping your toenails. Keep toenails trimmed. Cut them straight across and file rough edges. File them as close as you can. Additionally, you can file across the top of the toenails to make them thinner. This way they’ll be less likely to catch of the roof of your shoe, one of the causes of blistering under toenails. Also, if you’ve lost toenails previously, the new nails often grow back thickened. Filing the top (when the nail is dry to avoid making the nails ragged) will help the nails fit better in your shoes and prevent them bumping the shoe and turning black again. Another solution that helps with this process is tea tree oil. Apply it to the toenails after soaking or after a shower. It works as a disinfectant and an antifungal. As a fixer of feet, one of the worst things to see is neglected toenails! If you can afford the time and money, a series of pedicures is a great idea for foot health and is a luxury you deserve after all your hard training.

Read their 2006 article, “Getting Your Feet to the Starting Line

Getting Your Feet to the Starting Line of the Badwater Ultramarathon

(Badwater finishers) of (“Stuff For People Who Run”)

Download this article as PDF – Reprint in your running club newsletter!

Read their 2007 follow-up article, based on their 2006 race experience.

When I worked on feet at the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run, I became very aware of how badly runners had treated their feet BEFORE the run. The damage I saw wasn’t a result of running the race through rugged canyons, it was typically the result of months of foot abuse, that then turned into a debilitating injury on race day. For example, a common problem is thick callus build-up on the ball of the foot. Under extreme conditions of technical trails, heat, and dehydration or electrolyte imbalance, the skin can easily become separated from the bottom of the foot, with large blisters forming under the callus. Treatment on the spot is practically impossible for this type of injury. Blisters can’t be drained through calluses, so the best that can be done is to tape over the foot to basically hold the skin on. It’s a painful way to finish, and even more painful if you can’t finish. While extreme endurance events, such as the Kiehl’s 2006 Badwater Ultramarathon, are tough, it’s the training that can really beat you up. And one body part that particularly suffers is your feet. Runners do all kinds of great things in training, focusing on distance, hills, speed, nutrition, but often forget their feet. By the time you reach the starting line, it’s too late to fix the mistakes you made in training. But if you spend some time taking care of your feet before the event, it can make a huge difference between finishing feeling good and a DNF.

Here are some key focus areas of foot care during training.

Finding the Right Shoes (and Socks)

Poor shoe fit is the number one cause of blisters. Work on this well in advance of your event. Shoes need to have a roomy toebox, arches that line up with your arches and are not intrusive or cause pressure points, heels that fit securely and don’t rub, and laces that you can tie without them digging into your feet. Also check for the collar of the shoe hitting against your ankle bone. Small problems with fit will be magnified in endurance events. The heat will make your feet swell, so you’ll want to start in shoes that are slightly large. You may want an extra pair that’s even larger. Many Badwater entrants have extra shoes that are one or even two sizes bigger in their support van. The other entrants usually wish they’d done the same. An important part of wearing oversized shoes is that you use an insole that matches your feet. Going up a shoe size changes the alignment of the shoe with your arch, and can cause blister problems. Check for any rough patches in your shoes or insoles. One product you can use to fix this is Engo patches. They adhere to your shoe to reduce friction by covering up rough or lumpy spots.

Test the shoes for the distance and race surface. If you use after-market or custom insoles, make sure the combination works well together. In addition, you must find the right socks. For Badwater, you need materials with the best wicking capabilities possible. Your feet will sweat, so anything you can do to reduce moisture will help. Avoid cotton socks. Although some runners like wool, it’s a poor choice for these conditions. Socks made of synthetic fabrics tend to have more technical features built into them. Many Badwater runners use Injinji five-toe performance socks because they are comfortable and practically eliminate the chafing between toes that causes blisters. They allow your toes to work with the rest of your feet, like the difference between mittens and gloves for your hands.

Getting Rid of Calluses

As you keep pounding pavement over weeks and months of training, your feet naturally toughen up. Places that originally got blisters will no longer get them, and the skin will get rough. While the general effect is good, there is a component of this that is not so good—calluses. Callused skin is too rough and should be removed. Calluses in the heat can separate from your foot and blister underneath or even come off completely, leaving the foot raw underneath. The ball of the foot, heel, and toes, especially small toes, are all problem areas. For small toes, calluses can get so bad that the skin of the whole toe comes right off! Taking care of this problem requires perseverance, but the work will pay off. First, on dry feet, use a pumice stone or a callus reducer (kind of like a rasp) to file down the rough skin. This should be done in stages—do it too aggressively and your skin will be raw. Afterwards, moisturize the foot with a heavy duty cream. The Badwater title sponsor, Kiehl’s, makes an excellent product for this purpose, called Klaus Heidegger’s All-Sport Foot Cream. Apply the cream after you take a shower also. Work on getting rid of calluses every day that are already built up, then once a week to maintain your foot health. You can apply lotion as often as you like.

Trimming and Filing Toenails

Another mistake runners make is letting their toenails get too long. Use a toenail clipper regularly to keep the nails trimmed, and also use a nail file to keep the edges smooth. This will help avoid black toenails and blisters under nails, which can be caused by a shoe that’s too small in the toebox, toes that keep bumping against the end of the shoe, or toenails that catch on the top of the toebox. Toenails should be cut straight across to avoid irregular growth, such as ingrown toenails.

If you have previously lost toenails and new ones are growing back, or you have black toenails that are bumpy and ugly, you can fix them up by filing across the top of the nail. Do this when the nails are dry (not after a shower or bath). Your goal is to gradually file down the layers of the nail, so that it’s not raised up against your shoe. File the nail before your shower, and then after the shower you can apply tea tree oil. This helps keeps the nail healthy.

Learning Your Taping Techniques

Many runners never need to tape their feet for regular distance runs, or even for 100 milers. But Badwater is different. The heat of the road for 135 miles means you need more protection for your feet. For most people, it’s tough to simulate race conditions to test various tapes and techniques. But you can still get a good idea of how a tape holds up just by wearing it for a short run and throughout a normal work day. A key feature of any tape used for Badwater is that it must be breathable. Duct tape is an absolute no-no. Some tapes to consider are Elastikon, Medipore, and Kinesio. All three are stretchable, breathable and durable. They stick well, but in extreme heat will need an adherent to make sure they really hold. Tincture of benzoin comes in bottles and easy-to-apply swabs. Protective taping can be applied in a single layer over potential problem areas. Runners may want to tape the entire foot, covering the heel, all the way through the mid-foot to the ball of the foot. Wider width tapes work best for this, in 3-inch or 4-inch. For toes, it’s important to tape in a single layer and not too tightly. Your toes are guaranteed to swell during the run. Tape that doesn’t have enough give will constrict the toes and cause blisters. Practice as much as you can with these tapes so that you are prepared for race day.

Taking care of your feet involves dedication and thought, but it will pay off in the long run. Some people spend months and even years finding the solutions that work for them. Every person is different so this is something you need to work on for yourself. With preparation you can avoid race day troubles and finish the race with healthy feet, ready to run another day.

Badwater 135 Survival Tips

I have officially completed the 135-mile Badwater 135 Ultramarathon fourteen times. The following list covers everything that has worked best for me at this race. Some points may also help other runners, crews and pacers spend more time focusing on race goals instead of being distracted by lots of piled-on suffering and unnecessary down time.

1. Physical Training

I run 120-miles a week for three months. Half the mileage is on the flats and half in the hills. I do daily core strengthening and stretching workouts at a fitness center and cross-train with long bike rides. This stamina and confidence boosting training regimen may seem extreme, but so is Badwater or any ultra race.

2. Sauna Training*

After my daily mileage I bake in a 170-degree sauna for up to an hour. The sauna enhances performance by acclimating the body to the extreme 130-degree blast furnace-like desert heat (in cooler ultras it helps ratchet up the comfort level when dealing with our internal heating system) and also prepares the system to process (absorbing and sweating) the large quantities of liquids consumed during the race. This may be the most important tip.

*See the various sauna and heat training articles in the Training & Preparation section at in the Badwater University section here at, especially Arthur’s own article, “Heat Training in a Sauna.”

3. Skin Protection and Cooling*

The sun’s intense heat, the drying winds, and the 200-degree pavement sap exposed body parts – especially the back, hamstrings, quadriceps and calf muscle groups – and your performance will really suffer.

I cover myself with a long sleeved Patagonia white shirt and matching pants, a shrouded hat and sun screen. When it is really hot my crew will soak me with cold water from a garden type sprayer or drape my shoulders with a cold water soaked towel. I carry an 8-ounce spritzer of ice water. The mist I spray on my face and other hot spots is a refreshing coolant.

*See the various “Foot Care and Skin Care” articles in the Training & Preparation section in the Badwater University section here at

4. Feet and Blisters*

Shoes: I usually wear my most comfy shoe the first day and change to another pair with the toe box cut out the second day. I have worn flip-flops for several miles for even more relief.

Socks:  I prefer a light cotton sock filled with Gold Bond foot powder but this year I will try the highly touted Injinji wicking toe sock.

Blisters: Against conventional wisdom, I never tape my feet. For the ugly blistering (that will never stop me), it’s simply cut, drain and go. Besides, they all heal in a few weeks.

*See the various “Foot Care and Skin Care” articles in the Training & Preparation section in the Badwater University section here at

5. “Speed Kills”

Since I am not an elite runner (though they can also crash) my mantra is to run the easy parts easy and power walk the hard parts. This is a difficult proposition, especially as you watch other runners disappear into the horizon, but it is effective. My two best times were a direct result of sticking to this discipline.

6. Support Van Supplies

Contains a large chest filled with dry ice, cubes and blocks (dry ice on the bottom of the chest helps slow down the melting process of the regular ice). The cubes and blocks are used to top off four smaller chests containing liquids of choice and two five-gallon coolers of water for drinking and spraying. If overheated, I will climb inside the large cooler to cool off. Sizzle!

7. Rest Stops

If one paces properly, a ten minute or less respite at the time stations is more than sufficient. Use the time to change shoes, socks, clothing, gorge on liquids and electrolytes and possibly take a short cooling dip in the pool at Furnace Creek, Stovepipe Wells and Lone Pine. Then get going.

8. Beware of the Chair

It is comfy to sit in a chair for long periods, but more than a few minutes is counter-productive. Based on experience I know that lots of time, which can easily amount to hours is wasted (attempting to recover, socializing, eating, etc.) at the check-in stations.

Skip the chair. It takes too many miles to get the body fluid and back up to speed again. It is more advantageous to continue to move forward at a more relaxed pace (amazingly, the body seems to recover faster on the move).

9. “Shortening” the Race Route

I had a tendency to run Badwater from time station to time station, but they are about 20-miles apart. Long desolate and arid stretches of desert in 120/130-degree temperatures was hard to mentally grapple with. Whew! There is nothing worse than concentrating on a time station that is ten-miles in the distance and never seems to get closer.

To chop up the Badwater course into shorter and mentally comforting running zones, I began concentrating on the landmark and other signage that are three to four-miles apart. If I want to shorten the course even more (especially during the second day when I get extremely tired) I use the mile-marked posts or the alternately (on the other side of the highway) marked one half mile posts. Yes, it really, really helps!

10. Music

At times, music soothes the soul and at times it is distracting. Still, a useful tool; wherever I go, my iPod goes.

11. Nutrition

The body can only process about 350-calories an hour. I drink one cold Ensure Plus every hour and an occasional Power Gel or GU. At times Sustained Energy, Perpetuem, peanut butter, soup or turkey slices are used to provide a good change of pace. Liquid meals are best in extreme conditions, because they are digested quickly and the blood used in the process is able to return to the extremities to help cool the body surface.

12. Electrolytes*

To help prevent cramping and dehydration I will take Endurolytes or S!Caps. They contain the proper mix of potassium, sodium and magnesium. In extreme heat I will take the recommended dosage (experiment during training runs). Previously, salt replacement was guesswork and I had incredible cramping episodes. I started using these products at Badwater after about five years and the cramping has stopped. They work.

13. Hydration*

Every few miles I drink 16-ounces of cold Crystal Geyser water, PowerAde or a Starbucks Frappuccino (my preferred drinks). The body can only process about 32-ounces of liquids an hour (maybe a bit more in extreme temperatures, but not much more!) so it is important not to over-hydrate.

To eliminate the water loss or gain guesswork we frequently check my weight using an electronic scale. Your weight the day before the race is a good baseline. Be careful: Starting line weight can be misleading because most runners are already a tad over-hydrated. A constant weight or a few pounds either way is preferred; any more leads to the troubles below.

The following five points are hydration and electrolyte problems (Karl King, Ultrarunning Magazine, 2007) that I have personally experienced. Yuck! Beware! Medical assistance may be required to correct any of these conditions. Finishing the race is probable, but you will be red-lining in the danger zone.

A)    Low on Fluids and Possibly Electrolytes

Symptoms: Plunging weight, lightheaded, shortness of breath, stop and go slower and wobbly pace, urine is yellow and sparse. Hint: Severe dehydration; the worst case scenario.

Solution: Consume liquids immediately. Further deterioration leads to dizzy spells, rust colored urine, fainting and hours of down time, which could lead to the ugly DNF; and will if an IV is used.

***  Immediate indication of dehydration: Squeeze all your toes together for five seconds. If they spring back you are OK. If they stay curled or curl up more you are dehydrating and need to remedy ASAP.

B)    Low on Electrolytes but Fluids are OK

Symptoms: Horrible cramping begins. Wham! They strike incredibly fast and are generally severe. You wind up on the ground curled up like a pretzel. Weight, urine output and color had been okay?  Hint: You need electrolytes.

Solution: Immediately start replacing with S!Caps, Endurolytes, salt tablets, etc. Don’t lay there. Get up and start moving at an easy pace. In less than an hour the sodium level will balance and the cramping will subside. Yeah!

C)    Too Much Water and Electrolytes are OK

Symptoms: The stomach begins to bloat (easy to spot as you begin to look pregnant) and urine output is normal and clear. Weight is up a few pounds and you feel a bit sluggish. Oops, I have gone to the starting line in this condition!

Solution: Correct this very common over-hydration condition by drinking less (until weight is normal). Drinking more fluids may lead to the next problem.

D)    Too Much Water and Low Electrolytes

Symptoms: The stomach looks like a water-filled balloon, there if puffiness in your extremities, your weight is way up, and at times there is excessive clear urination. You are sluggish and performance suffers because you have to stop to water the cactus every five minutes. Hint: You are super-hydrated.

Solution: Boost electrolytes and forget the fluids until your weight is normal. This may take several hours or more!

E)    Too Much Water and High Electrolytes

Symptoms: You look and feel like the Pillsbury doughboy.  Weight is much too high, the stomach is bloated and all the extremities are really swollen. Urine output is clear and sparse. You are sluggish and your performance is suffering dramatically. Hint: You are maxed out with water and sodium.

Solution: Stop fluid and electrolyte intake until you’re weight normalizes, which may take hours or days.

14. Pacers

My top three points if a pacer is used:

  1. “Pace” behind the runner: (Badwater race rule). It’s easier to monitor from behind and it gives the runner a clearer view of any immediate footing or tripping problems on the trail/road.
  2. No unsolicited chatter: Distracts a tired and focused runner.
  3. Aid stations: Get your runner in and out quickly. Prod them. Make sure they drink soups, take electrolytes and don’t get comfy sitting down. Remind them that they will feel better if they continue to move forward. “Time waits for no man.”

15. Crewing*

Ten Badwater helpful hints.

  1. Have several pre-race meetings to cover all the crew responsibilities and contingency plans.
  2. Crew must take turns sleeping/resting. A major objective is to have fresh people, especially during the second day. Crew should appear energized even if you are not. This keeps the runner positive.
  3. Leap-frog the runner in two-mile intervals, give or take, depending on the availability of parking spots, the terrain, the heat, and the runner’s condition.
  4. Attempt to park the support vehicle in the runner’s sight (except on winding mountain passes). A tired runner equates out of sight as not being there or not caring. It is a mental downer and performance really suffers.
  5. Cater to the runner’s needs on the up-slope of a hill. Runners usually run the down hills; no need to stop their momentum.
  6. Make sure runner doesn’t stay in a chair or rest stop too long.  (Unless medically necessary). Keep them moving forward.
  7. Use the scale to weigh and chart the runner’s fluid situation; especially when it is extremely hot. Correct imbalances immediately.
  8. Chart food, liquid and electrolyte intake at preplanned intervals. This should keep the tired runner – who has no ability to remember these details – balanced.
  9. Understand and follow all other race rules.
  10. Bonus points for runner and crew: Laugh and have some fun!

16. The Runner

Please, no groveling or whining. Treat your crew (and race staff) with due respect. They deserve tons of thanks for their volunteered time. A tired and pissed off crewmember / pacer will never enhance your effort. Their responsibility is to pamper and prod you through the event. Your responsibility is to stand tall and silently deal with the pain, misery and suffering and to finish the race. Don’t forget you were the one who filled out the race application.

Good luck to all.

Arthur Webb, Badwater 135 Finisher in 98, 99, 00, 01, 02, 04, 05, 06, 07, 08, 09, 10, 11, and 12

Heat Training in the Sauna

By Arthur Webb
Fifteen-Time Finisher: 1998 through 2012, including a Personal Record and new Age Group Record of 33:45:40 at age 70 at his final Badwater 135 in 2012. His stats.

The heat in Death Valley in July is extreme. The official weather station is located at Furnace Creek where it can reach 130 degrees (54C). But, in micro-climates, like the Stovepipe Wells area, it is always hotter. Since running in suffocating heat on 200 degree (93C) pavement presents health and safety issues, health officials and the race staff strongly recommend that all runners do some type of heat training. I rate its importance in the race survival equation equal to, and possibly greater than race pacing, food, and fluid intake.

Check the Badwater University section of this website for other heat-related articles and tips. Any single method or any combination of them will help you acclimate and contribute to a successful trek across Death Valley. For example:

A). Train in the desert (any desert) as presented by Doctor Ben Jones.

B). Simulate heat conditions by running in layers of clothing as suggested by Stephen Simmons.

C) Bake Yourself: Drive around with the windows rolled up and the heater on high. When time and availability was a problem, I used this method during my ½ hour drive home from work. It can get messy, but it does work.

D). Follow my Sauna Training plan outlined here, a key factor during fifteen Badwater finishes:

  1. The sauna serves two extremely essential functions: First, it prepares the body to deal with the blistering heat in Death Valley. Secondly, according to medical research, a runner acclimated to the heat loses fifty per cent less sweat and sodium.
  2. Train every day: Although you may have to take a day off to hydrate or rest, a daily blast works best. Dry saunas simulate Death Valley conditions, but if a steam sauna is available use it, at least, one day a week. Sometimes storms lash the Badwater area, and it becomes extremely hot and humid. Fortunately, I have rotated between dry and steam saunas and have been ready for anything. It was effective.
  3. The goal is to stay in the heat of the sauna for as long as possible: When I rigorously workout in the sauna I must leave it too soon, which defeats the purpose (Remember, at Badwater, you are in sauna-like heat all day with no doors to escape). I have better results sitting on the planks doing a light abdominal workout. I save my harder workout for the daily run, which I do first and then use the hot box. Running after a sauna session is extremely difficult. Save this time for hydrating.
  • Note: There are athletes that have favorable results using treadmills and stationary bikes inside the sauna. (The extremely elevated heart rate is a concern and may stress the body too much; what’s mainly necessary is heat adaptation, which can be done without exercise).
  • Also Note: Dr. Lisa Stranc-Bliss has had success (Women’s winner Badwater 2007) using an infrared sauna, which she says, “the lower temperatures penetrate deeper….and she can stay in much longer in the 130–145-degree range.”
  1. Be patient: Most saunas top out at the 160–180-degree range (71-82C). The first few days are the hardest and hottest. After fifteen minutes it becomes overbearing, and it is time to leave. But as time goes by you will be able to stay in longer. By the fourth week, you should be able to manage 30 minutes or more at 180 degrees (82C). I use the sauna at a more relaxed level throughout the year, which helps me ease into the extensive four-week regimen listed below.
  2. Drink: It is important to hydrate while inside the sauna.
  • Note: I usually take in three 2-liter bottles of ice water. One bottle is for replacing liquids copiously sweated out and two bottles are for rinsing the body (acts as a coolant for a minute or so), and together they help you stay in the sauna longer.
  1. Electrolyte Replacement: I take Endurolytes while in the sauna. (Choose your favorite sodium replacement, but make sure it has a proper balance of all electrolytes, not simply sodium; Ultra Salt by Pure Vitamin Club is also very popular.) Include taking them during your daily runs as well. They restore the potassium, magnesium and sodium that depletes through sweat. I would not run Badwater without them. They keep the system balanced and help prevent nasty cramping issues. They do work.
  2. Time element: Finding enough sauna time may be a problem because of all the training (and working). Anyway, weeks before the Badwater race everyone has run more than enough mileage, so skip a run or two and just bake in the box. Besides, as the race draws near, heat training becomes much more important.
  1. Recovery: After the sauna I lay on a bench for about ten minutes as the body continues to sweat. After the elevated heart rate returns to normal levels, it is time for a cool shower and an evening of hydrating. Liquid intake is essential to help keep urine color at optimum race day running levels (light to pale yellow).

   ***** Important note: I typically ran (and other runners, too) my daily training miles with urine color either in the yellower under saturated levels, and, at times, in the clear urine over saturated levels and rarely noticed a drop in performance. But, running Badwater or any ultra at these red-lining toxic levels for prolonged periods of time (without adjusting water intake) is a one-way guaranteed ticket to a major problems. For greater insight read my article “The Art of Finishing Badwater 135.”

  1. Heat training in the sauna should take no more than four weeks and usually three are sufficient: When you get unexpected goose bumps at work/home or when it is one hundred degrees (38C) but feels like eighty (27C), you are acclimated. It is best to stop sauna training at least three days before the race. Do not worry; it takes weeks to lose the saunas heat benefits. The last days before are the time to hydrate properly (including electrolytes; don’t make the mistake of drinking excess plain water before – or during – the race.)

10.  Sample four-week sauna training:

in Sauna
160F / 71C
160F / 71C
160F / 71C
160F / 71C
160F / 71C
160F / 71C
110 / 43C (steam)
160F / 71C
160F / 71C
110F / 43C (steam)
160F / 71C
160F / 71C
160F / 71C
160F / 71C
160F / 71C
160F / 71C
160F / 71C
160F / 71C
160F / 71C
110F / 43C (steam)
160F / 71C
170F / 77C
170F / 77C
170F / 77C
180F / 82C
110F / 43C (steam)
180F / 82C
180F / 82C

11. Race Day: Wear white shrouded hat and light-colored wicking clothes (white arm and leg sleeves are a bonus). And keep the clothing wet. We use a super-soaker (water gun) and/or large handheld squirt bottles filled with chilly water. I always carry a small (4 oz) squirt bottle filled with icy water that I spray on my face to help cool and refresh (it works). If clothing dries out it may protect you from ultra-violet rays, but they tend to retain heat and you will start overcooking.

That’s my Sauna Training Plan, along with other heat training options. Regardless of the schedule or method you select, any heat training will make running Badwater 135 more tolerable.

Hopefully everyone will complete this incredible race, because crossing the finish line at Badwater 135 is as good as it gets.

Best of luck to all.

Life is Grand

– Arthur Webb (The Grinder)

15 x Badwater Finisher: 1998, 99, 00, 01, 02, 03*, 04, 05, 06, 07, 08, 09, 10, 11, 12

* Honorable mention

Age group (70-79) course record holder 33:45:40 (2012)

Badwater Hall of Fame (2013)

Any questions: or find me on Facebook.