Category: Badwater University

Badwater Blues

Why does every year seem tougher than the last?

Four-time finisher 

No matter how many times I attempt the Badwater Ultramarathon, it never seems to get any easier.  Even though I “survived the fastest” in 2004, I’ve yet to have a good Badwater.  Despite my best commitment to prepare more rigorously every year, the race always gets the better of me.  So any guidance I might dispense in this article needs to be tapered by the fact that I’m still trying to figure things out.

Something I can state with relative certainty, though, is that San Francisco is probably the worst place on earth to train for Badwater.  With daytime temperatures rarely cresting 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and a frigid fog dampening the air, Mark Twain had been attributed with once saying that the coldest winter he ever spent was summer in San Francisco.  Bummer I live in San Francisco.

Yet British Columbia isn’t a whole lot warmer, and that doesn’t seem to be slowing down Ferg Hawke.  The Canadian native and two-time Badwater Ultramarathon runner-up has devised his own version of Death Valley, right in his back yard.  Hawke built a solarium off the rear of his house, and then stuck a treadmill in it.  Daytime temperatures inside can reach 130 degrees Fahrenheit, which simulate race day conditions quite nicely.  The enterprising ultramarathoner spends three to four days a week inside training leading up to the race.

Still, Hawke realizes the importance of being on the actual course, and also spends time training in Death Valley prior to the event.  There isn’t anything, really, that can emulate the real deal, not even a 130 degree solarium.  They don’t call it “The World’s Toughest Footrace” for nothing.

When it’s 120 degrees outside and there’s a 25 mph headwind, having spent time in such elements prior to the race is invaluable.  Nothing can prepare you for the arduous climb up Townes Pass like spending time training on Townes Pass.  Hawke realizes this, and being the consummate pro that he is, gets out to Death Valley a few times before the event.

There are no “tricks” for running 135-miles across Death Valley in July, but something I’ve found useful in coping with the “blow dryer in your face” effect is using saline spray to help moisten your nasal passage.  As a surfer, I’ve learned that having saltwater shot up your nose actually helps prevent your sinuses from drying out.  Thus I’ve been bringing a tube of saline spray to Badwater and misting liberally along the run.

I’ve also found that much of the high-tech running gear I typically wear seems to be the wrong fabric for Badwater temperatures.  Having a garment that wicks away moisture is great up to a point, but when temperatures crest 100 degrees, the evaporative cooling effect of such material is disappointingly transient.  What I’ve found to remain coolest longest is thick canvas or terrycloth.  These fabrics soak up water and retain dampness for greater periods.  The tradeoff is that they’re heavy.

The added weight, however, isn’t as frustrating as my inability to stay on pace.  What I’ve discovered over the years is something every Badwater veteran already knows: you can’t compare conditions one year verses the next.  Differences in temperatures, humidity, wind speeds and wind direction, sandstorms, flashfloods, etc…all coalesce to create entirely distinct conditions each year.  Trying to compare split times one year against a previous year can be like chasing a mirage.

So how, then, do you best prepare for a race that can throw just about anything your way?  “I try really hard not to think about the heat.  I just run and drink as much as I possibly can,” says Pam Reed.  Staying in the present, and drinking as much as you can, sounds like a prudent strategy.  Reed ought to know; not only is she the women’s record holder, she’s won the thing outright twice, handily disposing of yours truly on one such occasion.

Reed’s training secret really isn’t much of a secret at all.  She lives in Arizona and trains harder than anyone I know: “I run 4 times a day about 45 minutes to 1 hour.  This is when it is about 105 or so out.”  Beyond her natural ability, she’s committed to the core, unwilling to accept anything less than total devotion.  Her phenomenal results are a testament to her dedication and drive.  Train hard, get results.  Don’t bonk.

And even if you train hard, you still can bonk.  Just ask Scott Jurek, who was dehydrated and vomiting after Panamint Springs.  “I got behind on fluids,” he says, “and paid for it.”

But Badwater is about overcoming low points and persevering.  Jurek regrouped and went on not only to win the race, but to smash the course record in the process.  How did he do it?  “The key to turning it around was listening to my body, finding out what was wrong, and then correcting it.  It’s impossible to fight the body.”

So there you have some advice from the best at Badwater on how to make your experience a positive one.  My suggestion is to listen to everyone, yet follow no one.  What works for others might not work for you.  The only “certainty” with this race is that anything less than 100% commitment won’t get you across the finish line.  Experiment with what works best for you, train like crazy, and hope for cooler temperatures and a tailwind…just don’t plan on it.

2004 Badwater champ Dean Karnazes is author of the bestseller, Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner.  Info at

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.

Heat Training Analyzed for the Badwater Ultramarathon

1999 Finisher

After over a month of heat training preparation, I was fortunate to have had a successful run from Badwater to the summit of Mt. Whitney in the July 99 Hi-Tec Badwater race. I had no real knowledge of heat training before I began heat training, but I posted questions about it to the ultra list and got responses from others who had experience with, or were at least knowledgeable about, heat training.

Many of the ideas expressed were scientific; I did my best to interpret them. Some were more simplified, and out of all of them, I tailored a regimen to suit me personally, as anyone should do. Regardless of the different approaches there are some ideas and beliefs about training for and performing in extreme heat that are common, and as a conclusion to my experience with heat, I will write some of the more basic and simple ideas that I think are sound advice and good knowledge for dealing with it. These are only my opinions, and this is what worked for me.

  1. Your body is a machine that cannot be thrown into a very foreign and hostile environment such as extreme heat and be expected to perform at its usual high caliber. No matter how tough you perceive yourself to be, simply dealing with heat and accepting it won’t be enough; you must physically adapt to the rigors of heat beforehand.
  2. Simplified, sources of heat are,
    1. External, from the environment, real ( sun, humidity, air temps, ) or simulated ( heavy layers of clothes that trap heat, blankets, ect…).
    2. Internal, generated from physical exertion and output
    3. Both
  3. When enduring extreme heat it is most important to stay cool internally.
    1. By adding coolant. Drinking lots and lots of cold water and ice, the colder the better.
    2. By keeping physical effort to a minimum.
  4. External cooling.
    People naturally sweat to cool off. In extreme heat however, your body might not sweat enough to cool you off, or, the outside environment might be so hot and dry that any perspiration evaporates off your body before it can have any cooling effect on it. Either way, sweat can be simulated by wearing very lightweight or cotton material clothing, long sleeve and preferably covering the legs also, and “continuously” soaking, spraying or saturating the clothing with cold water. The wet clothes against the skin will have the same cooling effect as sweat
  5. The combination of keeping cool internally by:
    1. drinking lots of cold water,
    2. generating as little internal heat as possible by keeping physically exertion to a minimum,
    3. and cooling externally by producing outside coolant in the form of artificial sweat should keep most people cool in the hottest environments if a person has these resources available.
  6. Humidity.
    When considering the temperature performing in, take humidity into consideration. From experience I know humidity is a silent killer. It is rare in the West, common in the East. Humidity zaps strength, dehydrates a person very quickly, and does these things suddenly without warning. A warm humid day is probably more dangerous than a very hot dry day.In my opinion, the best way to deal with humidity is respect it. Even if it doesn’t feel that hot, prepare for it by taking it easy and drinking lots and lots. Basically the same as for dry heat; that’s why I say, above all else, respect it.
  7. Regardless, to perform in a hot environment at a race like Badwater some heat must be generated internally, and heat must be endured. To do so you must teach your body to adapt to the heat by teaching your body to sweat more, and locate a tolerable medium between physically pushing yourself and yet not overheating internally.
  8. Over-dressed heat training.
    1. Can be dangerous. Use good judgment and train in a safe environment, particularly one that is safe from traffic
    2. In the heat of the day, either go the whole nine yards and train in many heavy layers right from the start and run very limited mileage to understand how you will personally react to it, or, start with more routine mileage with perhaps just a sweatshirt and cold weather cap and add more layers and increase mileage as you adapt.
    3. Drink lots and lots of water. Drive to pre-determined spots along your route and put cold water and ice out, or always be close to a source of cold water.
    4. Pace yourself. It’s easy to feel just as strong at the start, aside from feeling heavy, than normal. It “won’t” last. Remember to generate as little internal heat as possible and plan on lots of walking.
    5. Be prepared for nausea. In my opinion this results from the large amount of water in your stomach. Consider salt, rock salt, and E-Caps supplements to assist with this.
    6. Keep up your energy. Just like in normal training, if you run for x amount of time, energy is needed, and even though you might not feel like eating, you must. You might require less energy intake than normal however. Liquid energy is one of the better or “easier” ways to supplement energy in the heat.
    7. Keep your wits. The heat is something that can be very overwhelming mentally. If you start to panic or get the slightest bit confused or dizzy, slow down, sit in the shade, recover and cool down. You won’t be able to escape the heat in the actual environment, however, so if at all possible, cool down by resting and minimizing your effort rather than by taking off any clothing. Tolerating the overwhelming heat can be a big moral victory, but when it comes down to it, safety is your main concern.
    8. Make sure others know what your doing, where your training, when to expect you.
    9. Know the symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Prevention is easier than treatment.
    10. The frequency of over-dressed training sessions is up to an individual. For me, I opted for about 2 extreme heat sessions a week, and then added one lesser element of heat to each regular training session, by running normally but in the heat of the day, or in the evening wearing a sweatshirt and hat, just always enduring a little more heat than I normally would in order to build an overall tolerance and acceptance for heat. My most extreme heat sessions consisted of wearing a Coolmax t shirt, a sweatshirt, a thick, insulated navy working jacket topped with a rubber, non-breathable, dark green raincoat and cold weather hat. Plus sweatpants off and on, and towards the end of my preparation gloves as well.
    11. Run / Walks with climb from 1-2 hours average. Maximum heat endured dressed like so, 90 degrees + 100 % humidity for 4 hours, 9 miles with climb. Overall 10-11 “extreme overdressed sessions” over 5-6 week period before Badwater.

Important advice. Have a good crew who has knowledge of what it takes to keep you going in the heat. My crew was very experienced and kept handing me another water bottle of ice water even before I could finish the one I already had. I probably wouldn’t have drunk quite as much had it not been handed to me so often. Have your crew think for you and keep you hydrated.

Personal Race Notes
Temps at Badwater were lower than normal in 1999 but humidity was high. I stayed well hydrated throughout the race, wore Solar Eclipse sun hat, long sleeved Sun Precautions shirt, shorts. Wore cotton pajama pants some. Very dependable crew misted me down often and I stayed cool and never once suffered with the heat. Successful finish.

Heat-wise, I suffered much more enduring the heat during my over-dressed training than I did during the actual race. In my opinion I was able to perform well because I had physically adapted to heat and had mentally learned to accept heat, in addition to the cooling methods we used during the race.

A Perspective on Heat Training for the Badwater Ultramarathon

I would never be hotter during the actual event than I was throughout my over-dressed training run/walks in the month before the race. One in particular, two weeks before the race, and the last of my extreme heat training, was the pinnacle of my suffering.

In the heat of the early afternoon I went out wearing a T-shirt, sweatshirt, thick insulated Navy working jacket, topped with a thick non-breathable dark green raincoat, sweatpants, and a cold weather hat, and gloves. The temp was about 90 with close to 100% humidity. I had driven to a point along a climb just before my run and placed a cooler full of ice and water in the tall weeds just off the road. As I was stepping over the guardrail, a vehicle sped past going down the mountain with the driver taking note of the situation, peering back through the rear view mirror.

The majority of my training miles in the month before were done slightly over-dressed, with about 2 heavily over-dressed sessions a week thrown in. On runs when I opted for quality mileage and ran just slightly over-dressed, I ran in the heat of the day. All of my runs were to include at least slightly higher than normal heat to build an overall tolerance to it. Even in the evenings and late at night when I went on my routine fast paced enjoyment runs with Thor, I’d opt to enjoy the humidity wearing a little more than usual.

My approach was to learn to accept the heat, “embrace it” as my crew for the race, Fred Vance, had told me in the month before. And as a cool weather mountain runner, I accepted the heat and learned to like it and deal with it. Aside from that, the heavily over-dressed training would physically teach my body to adapt to the rigors of heat.

From the start of this afternoon run I felt strong despite the weight of the heavy clothes as I immediately began to climb one of the many long, steep, San Francisco like streets. I remembered what I learned throughout the month of heat adaptation, “pace is critical”. Strength and comfort will decrease shockingly fast in the heat. A lesson I had learned the hard way a few times in the last month.

And on the bright side, it would end, the time “would” come when I could throw off the heavy clothes and once again feel the comforts of cool air. Hours away, but it would come. Hours away didn’t seem tolerable at times, like telling a drowning person they’ll be able to breathe in a few hours. Monotonous. Part of the mental toughening aspect of it all. Enduring.

After the steep climb out of Bluefield, I began the steep 2-mile climb up the mountainside to the scenic overlook at 3,400 feet. The windy road up was what I thought would be almost a carbon copy of the windy steep ascents of the Badwater course that I had read about, only shorter. The climb up and over, down and back up the mountain is one of my many regular routes anyhow.

With hindsight now, I was correct, the roads were very much alike, only those at Badwater steeper in places. About a mile up, I started walking slowly. This was the hottest I had been in my training and I wasn’t feeling well. Not far from the top I made my way through the knee high grass and weeds to the cooler and looked around. Not there. This was the spot. I was somewhat ticked off to say the least, and even more had been really looking forward to the cold water and ice.

Stepping over the guardrail I thought, “Maybe, just maybe it’s this next spot of weeds where I put the cooler.” I was sure my cooler had been stolen though, “It was a nice cooler”. A few steps into the weeds, just 10 yards from the first spot, was my cooler. A welcome sight. Not just because of the water, but because I still had my cooler. I collapsed to my knees in the dried straw and briers where I filled my bottles with ice, water, grassy sticks and pollen. The point in real endurance where a person stops being a normal person and becomes more like an animal, not caring the slightest about the many pieces of grass and who knows what throughout the ice and water andgulps it all down in great haste. Then topped off my bottles. The climb continued slowly up to the top and then down the Virginia side of the mountain a ways.

I was walking very slowly, nauseated, exhausted, robbed of my strength. In the heat I was overcome by the vile smell of a dead animal carcass rotting in the unrelenting Eastern heat wave, carelessly thrown over the steep bank with lot’s of other human trash. A 1/2 mile down the other side I turned left off the main road and began a very steep climb straight up a rugged, rocky ATV road that climbs around 300 feet in a fifth-of-a-mile. So steep, so hot, with the heat pouring off the dark gravel, I made my way about 10 yards at a time, pausing a few seconds then onward.

Finally reaching the top of the mountain with it’s high towers and antennas along the snakelike ridge. From there I began an even steeper descent back down another rockier trail to the road below again. The two roads form a triangle, both starting less than a fourth-of-a-mile apart down on the main paved road, and then converging at the same point on the ridge at the top of the mountain. On my regular routes here, I run up one, down the other, turn around and climb the one I had just descended to the top again and descend back down the first climb again. A monotonous triangle pattern I ran over and over, up and down while training for Barkley. This day I would only run the triangle pattern once, then return over the mountain back home. When I descended to the main road I did an about face in the middle of the road and started to climb again. I was so exhausted and run down, I climbed a few yards at a time bent over, hands on hips, head hanging down looking at my feet, to tired to look upright, stretching out with long, slow walking strides. Shortly up the very steep second climb I was overcome by the exhaustion and collapsed under some sticks and bushes along the side in the shade. I was breathing very deeply. Gasping for air as if it would cool me off. I laid on my stomach stretched out, but there was no relief, no air. I sat right back up and stretched my legs out in front of me. First one, then the other. No matter what I did I couldn’t sit still. Like a person under water struggling with no air, thrashing about, I felt is if I was suffocating. I could only sit still a matter of seconds and the panic would set in and I’d have to move. Lean back, sit up, put my legs out, pull them back up to my chest, nothing I could do would relieve the monotony of the heat. My mind felt heavy with thoughts racing through it. My breathing was labored. For the first time in all my training I realized I could die.

I wasn’t going to, surely, but people die from heat exhaustion all the time. And just because I was enduring extreme heat with a purpose didn’t make me immune to the laws of the mortal human body. All along there was one act I could have done to instantly relieve the monotony, to have undone my jackets and thrown off my clothes. I craved to do it. It would have been like reaching the surface and taking a big breath of air. I needed to do it. But I wouldn’t accept it. There would be no escaping the heat in Death Valley, and to tolerate it and overcome it would be very hard. To make it back home without giving in and enduring this heat would be what I call tough. In the collapsed condition I was in, that very relief would be even hours more away than I had planned, but I had to endure. My face clinched in discomfort I sat there and accepted my pain as something I could not change. Like a fish out of water, my breath became less frequent, more shallow, and my movement gradually ceased. The dry ground saturated with drops of sweat all around, all covered in dust had stuck to my wet clothes. I just wanted to go back home to my cats and dogs who were much much smarter than I. I concentrated on the joys of just sitting still in the shade, the joy of each deep breath. A minute passed, then another, and I did cool off some, at least internally. Always present was the heavy, wet, hot insulation of the four layers of clothes, my forehead was hot to the touch, my outer external surface burning, but inwardly, I was cooling. My breathing returned to normal, and I reached a point of comfort and stillness sitting in the dust.

Eventually I moved on, yards at a time again, up to the top once more finally. Then back down the first climb of the triangle to the paved road, and back up the overlook slowly, concentrating on minimal effort. Going down the other side I drank the rest of the water and ice at my cooler, endured many looks from people and slowly made my way down the mountain and down the hills back home to where it came, the time when I could throw off those heavy, soaked clothes. Instant relief. It felt so good.

If I wasn’t ready to at least mentally endure the heat of Badwater, then I never would be. These small adventures weren’t merely training runs, but small feats of endurance themselves to be reckoned with. I thank JESUS for the strength and safety granted me.

The 4th of July I ran a blistering, for me, pace in a late afternoon Wilderness 8k in 95 degree heat and humidity down a steep mountain road and then up the mountain 1000 + feet on a rutted ATV trail without hardly the slightest bit of effects from the heat. I drank lots and finished 2nd overall, 6 seconds behind 1st, in 25 minutes and some seconds. I felt very strong, and had truly physically adapted to heat.

My last training runs were after midnight runs with Thor in the cool of the night where I had seemingly endless strength up and down the steep streets.

I had done all I could to prepare for Badwater.

Medical Risks in the Badwater Ultramarathon

(Adapted from Western States Endurance Run program.)

This 135 mile race is probably the most physically taxing competitive event in the world. It also has considerable medical risks. All runners and crews must appreciate these two facts both before and during the race.

Heat illness and heat stroke are serious risks. These can cause death, renal shutdown, and brain damage. It is important that runners and crews be aware of the symptoms of impending heat illness. These include: nausea, vomiting, headache, dizziness, faintness, irritability, lassitude, weakness, and rapid heart rate. Impending heat stroke may be signaled by a decrease in sweating and goose bumps, especially over the chest. Heat stroke may progress from minimal symptoms to complete collapse in a very short period of time. Deaths and renal shutdown (kidney failure) have been reported in other ultra-marathons. Adequate conditioning is mandatory.

Adequate fluid and electrolyte intake is the most important preventative for heat illness. Runners may well require dozens of gallons of fluid during this race. Proper pace is crucial.

The high altitude plus exertion can also produce various degrees of altitude sickness. This can lead to severe lung and brain swelling, and even death. The main treatment is rest, and especially to get to a lower altitude.

Blisters are also a problem on this course, with pavement temperatures perhaps reaching 200 degrees. Proper foot care & preparation are essential for having a successful race.

Remember, you are responsible for your well-being while participating in this race. There are no aid stations. Know where your limits are and know your body. Your acceptance of invitation to this race declares that you are aware of the risks & potential health problems.

Heat Training and Conditioning for the Badwater Ultramarathon

Three time finisher

I am a long-time physician in the high desert area, living and practicing in Lone Pine, California. It is at the foot of Mt. Whitney and at the threshold of Death Valley. I have treated cases of every imaginable medical circumstance including heat exhaustion and heat stroke (including disseminated intravascular coagulation). Since 1990 I have been involved in the annual Badwater Ultramarathon (formerly the Hi-Tec Badwater 146).

In 1991 my claim to fame happened during the race. About a week before 14 of us started at Badwater, Death Valley, there was known to be a trekker missing who had attempted to traverse Death Valley east to west 10 miles and then return. During the race, I was approaching Lone Pine some 122 miles later and saw the coroner traveling in the direction of Death Valley. By the time I had made it to Whitney Portals at 135 miles, I got word that he wanted me to do an autopsy. I obliged and then re-entered the course to complete the event to the top of Whitney at 146 miles. I am the only one of which I am aware who has ever performed an autopsy during a race. Besides that, I used a water-filled casket (body removal tank) for immersing myself in to cool down during the race. I am also the only one I have heard of to successfully get in and out of a casket before successfully finishing a race.

In terms of heat training and experience, I began to increase my exposure to the heat in 1990 when I went out on the Badwater course to see and help several friends who were in the race. While training to participate in 1991, I became acquainted with Richard Benyo and Tom Crawford of “Death Valley 300” fame; they had done the round trip from “Fire to Ice to Fire.” As a result of this association and having done the autopsy, there was a touching ceremony at Badwater on 07-04-1992 where I was dubbed the “Mayor of Badwater” and my wife, Denise, the “First Lady of Badwater.”

I completed the Race in 1991, 1992 and 1993 and did not finish on the next two attempts in 1994 and 1996. My failure in 1994, after 40 miles, was because I did not start the race hydrated well enough and that I stopped manufacturing urine. I gave myself four liters of IV’s as I laid on my casket in the U-Haul before I started putting out urine. I felt that, if I were to continue, I would wind up on the renal dialysis ward. Because of the extra heat in 1996 and the resulting fatigue that existed, I pulled myself at 50 miles. I could have continued but I went ahead to support my wife and free up my crew for her as I would have finished beyond the 60-hour time limit. My wife finished successfully in 1994, 1996, and 1999.

One advantage I have in regard to heat training and adaptation is that I live in the high desert in the Eastern Sierra. In Lone Pine, it gets to above 100 degrees F in the summer and it is very dry with less than 10% humidity. It is usually 20 degrees hotter in Death Valley no matter what time of day or what day of the year it is. All I have to do is go eastward and hang around in the heat (in dark clothes) and do some light exercise.

There is some very good scientific information about heat acclimatization that is very informative and can be found in “Marathon and Beyond” in the July/August 1997 issue: “Into the Valley of Death” by Richard Benyo and “Beating the Heat” by David E. Martin, PhD. Another valuable piece is in the “Encyclopedia of Sports Medicine and Science” on “Heat Acclimatization” by Lawrence E. Armstrong, PhD. My information below is more of a “by the seat of the pants” approach.

“How long do you need to train in hot conditions to acclimate?”

My answer is as long as possible, but, practically, about three weeks. Try to spend as much time above 100 degrees F as possible and that means traveling to the low deserts of Southern California or the eastern desert areas such as Panamint Valley and Death Valley. It is necessary to spend time outdoors in these areas and just trying to relax while getting used to the heat. The training can be eased into. Of great importance is to have the potential crew members along also. The event being trained for can almost be more difficult and hazardous for them than for the performer. Most athletes cannot afford the time and cost of doing all of this, unfortunately.

“When acclimating, how long and how hard should you exercise each day?”

Long is more important than hard. Start easy and then work up. I like Walt Stack’s creed of “start slowly and then taper off!” Calculate the distance being covered and the time limit imposed, then go from there according to your capabilities. For the Badwater Ultramarathon, 20-minute miles will cover the 135-mile course from Badwater to Whitney Portals in 45 hours. One can buckle in 48 hours. For this 135-mile Race, most of it is flat and I tried to do 15-minute miles for these 70 miles. I treated the 19 downhill-miles as flat miles at the same pace to save the legs. The uphill 18 miles from Stovepipe Wells Village to the top of Townes Pass and the 15 miles from Panamint Valley to the Darwin Flats I tried to do at a 20-minute-per-mile pace. For the steeper 13 miles from Lone Pine to the Portals, I tried to do at a 30-minute per-mile pace. The 11 miles up the Whitney trail I allowed a 1-mile-per-hour pace. So, setting a pace for the terrain of the anticipated race is necessary. This is not possible for a continuous race lasting more than 48 hours. The intensity and duration of training can be adjusted upwards for each additional day of training, but allow a few rest-days or, at least, a few rest-hours for you compulsive people. I would say try to do a mild level of exercise for about 8 to 10 hours each day. The intensity can be adjusted upwards to a moderate level later. It is virtually impossible and essentially inadvisable to train at an intense level in these conditions. Try to gauge how many hours or days it will take to get through the anticipated event and heat and practice accordingly.

“Is passive acclimatization possible?”

It certainly is and this is mostly what I do. Wear dark clothes while in the heat. Don’t use air-conditioning. You can even roll up the windows of the vehicle and turn on the heater. My exercise base has usually been 1-2 hours of exercise a day every day in my calculated fitness range. [This is three to six times what is needed for general and basic health]. I have always been at the back-of-the pack, or, as I often announce, in the top 98%. In getting ready for this race, I like to go out to the desert and just kick back and do some hiking as well as strolling on the dry lake beds and over the sand dunes. I take a camera and a micro cassette recorder as well as some techno-nerd items. Try to have fun and visit with other desert rats. Be sure to write up your story even if you “fail.” Pass on what you learn. With progressive heat adaptation, I have found that I don’t seem to sweat as much and my skin doesn’t seem to taste as salty, even if I am not exercising at the time. Fluid and electrolyte and calorie replacement are extremely important in these conditions for you and your crew. These are separate issues that could be covered later. Passive conditioning can get you by better than vigorous exercise. Decide what it is that you are trying to accomplish and set some goals.

“Can one simulate hot conditions at home?”

Yes, and this has been done using a sauna and with maybe adding some minimal exercise. Get a medical checkup before starting all of the above activities. Another way to do it is wear extra (dark) clothing as mentioned above while exercising in desert-like conditions. Wear something that traps the heat for a while. Again, don’t use air conditioning and roll up the windows and, if this doesn’t do it, turn on the heater. I have done these things and when it is 120 degrees I don’t even notice the blast from the heater. It does help the vehicle to run cooler, too. All of these things are useful, but the most important is to get in the right frame of mind about what is going to be done. You do have to get your skin, stomach and bladder through all of this too. I have had the advantage of living where I do and traveling frequently to the desert. I have practiced as a physician here since 1963 and have observed what can happen out here. Be careful!

Common Sense Solutions to Common Foot Problems


  1. Conditioning – A large part of finishing with good feet is to do your conditioning. Put the miles in that build strong and tough feet.
  2. Fit – Another component of finishing well is to wear shoes that fit well, with plenty of toe room.
  3. Calluses – Blisters under thick calluses are very hard to drain and patch. Use salves, creams, lotions, and files to smooth and thin calluses.
  4. Cramping – Watch for cramping when changing shoes or socks and twisting your feet and legs. Have your crew or aid station person help you.
  5. Changing shoes and socks – Use a shoehorn to avoid pressure on your heels–sore heels and blisters can be made worse by pushing and twisting your foot into a tight shoe. Put one in each drop bag with shoe or sock changes.
  6. Changing shoes – If you have a change of shoes but your current shoes are OK, stick with them.
  7. Socks – Choose moisture-wicking socks and change them when they get full of grit and dirt. Five-toe socks by Injinji are the best for performance and for preventing blisters.
  8. Lubricants – If you lube your feet, wipe the dirty grit off when changing socks and reapply more lube.
  9. Lube or powder – Some feet will get soft and blister more with a lube, so try a powder like Zeasorb. Your feet will stay cleaner too.
  10. Hot spots – When you feel a hot spot, stop and take care of it before it becomes a blister.
  11. Blisters – Fix blisters before they get bigger. Any larger than 1/2 inch should be drained and covered.
  12. Making holes in blisters – Use a scissors to cut a V notch in a blister at the point where pressure will push fluid out. Cutting a hole at the forward part of a blister risks tearing the skin off the top.
  13. Cleaning the skin – Use an alcohol wipe to get oil and lube off  your skin before taping over a blister–otherwise it will not stick.
  14. Rocks – When you feel a stone in your shoe, stop and remove it before it becomes a bigger problem.
  15. Toenails – Trim your toenails straight across and file them smooth. Rough edges will catch on your socks and help cause black toenails and toe blisters, especially on downhills.
  16. Foot Care Kit – Make a foot care kit for your crew and make sure they know how you want your feet managed. (Do not assume that someone else will have someone to fix your feet or the stuff you have found works best on your feet. Bring your own.)
  17. Hydration and Blisters – Stay hydrated to reduce the swelling in your extremities and reduce the chance of blisters.
  18. Shoelaces – Check your laces before race day and replace any that are worn — don’t take a chance on a broken lace.
  19. Shoes – If your shoes are worn and ready to be tossed, toss them and get a new pair with time to get your feet accustomed to them.
  20. Post race foot care – After finishing, shower and wash your feet before fixing and problem areas on your feet.
  21. Post race blisters – If you have blisters that are not bothering you after the race, leave them and they will go away by themselves.
  22. Post race foot soak – After arriving home, if you have blisters, soak your feet in Epson Salts in warm water several times a day. This dries out the blisters.

Buy the Book “Fixing Your Feet”

The book Fixing Your Feet: Prevention and Treatments for Athletes has become the bible of foot care for those serious about foot care. This book has been used by thousands of runners, adventure racers, hikers, and other extreme sports participants. The second edition was released in March 2000 and is 312 pages in length. With expansive prevention and treatment sections on almost every foot care issue you will ever need, this is the one book you need to fix your feet. For information on the book and how it can be ordered, click here.

For another informative article on foot care prior to the race, click Getting Your Feet to the Starting Line

JOHN VONHOF, FOOT GURU:Ultra runners, adventure racers, triathletes, and especially Badwater Runners should know the life, work, and insights which John Vonhof has to share on the subject of feet, shoes, and foot care. He’s literally written the book on the subject, “Fixing Your Feet.” John has also been an important member of the Badwater Race Staff in recent years and I’m sure that many runners can give thanks to John for allowing them to finish the race when their feet had other ideas in mind. John also maintains a very informative blog which all athletes should consult regularly.

The Wall

Originally published in Men’s Fitness

“All in all, it’s just another brick in the wall…”
-Pink Floyd

Ask any runner about preparing for the 26.2 mile grind of a marathon, and sooner or later-usually sooner-you’ll hear about “The Wall.”

It is a truly fearsome place, where legs turn to melting jello and breath comes in short, gasping gulps. It is a legendary place, usually encountered around mile 20, where the flesh weakens, the spirit sags and the will drains away into a little puddle on the hard, hard ground. All hyperbole aside, there is probably nothing as feared, or misunderstood, by the novice marathoner as the 20-mile wall, the point where it is written that a person runs out of steam.

What is The Wall, anyway?

The modern science of running mechanics has stalked and, if studies are to be believed, captured The Wall. Jeff Galloway, in his 1984 classic book “Galloway’s Book on Running,” breaks the 20-mile barrier down into two specific physiological causes.

The first involves glycogen, one of our basic fuels stored in muscle tissue. Glycogen, says Galloway, is predominately a short-range fuel. Glycogen stores, even in a fit person, will only get us…20 miles. When we need endurance, our body should be burning fat; even a skinny person has about 600 miles of fat fuel. There’s a catch (isn’t there always?): fat can only be burned aerobically, in the presence of oxygen.

“When you run faster than you’ve trained, or farther,” Galloway writes. “You overwhelm the muscles.”

The precious glycogen is burned, waste products and fatigue poisons build up the muscles faster than they can be eliminated, and you hit The Wall.

A second factor, he adds, is that many very popular marathon training regimens call for the longest run to be 20 miles. That last 6.2 miles is uncharted territory. If you were to look at a map of the marathon route, the last six miles would have no details whatsoever-just the image of a fearsome-looking beast and the inscription, “Here Be Dragons.”

“So if you extend your long run to 26 miles or more,” Galloway writes, “and run the race pace you’ve trained for, you can avoid encountering, much less hitting, The Wall.”

Simple, reasonable explanations. But do they really answer the entire question, or only a small part?

I have some thoughts on the matter, but I need to give you a little background first.

A few years ago, after a wild day of windsurfing, pizza and beer, my friends and I created what we laughingly referred to as the list, 13 athletic endeavors that could kill you. In the time that followed, I decided to do all 13 things (chronicled in my book, “Over the Edge: A Regular Guy’s Odyssey in Extreme Sports”), which involved morphing myself from a seriously overweight couch potato to something resembling an athlete. Some of the items on the purely arbitrary list turned out to be easy (rock climbing), some terrifying (cave diving), some (climbing Mt. McKinley) harder than I had ever imagined.

Early on in the process, I was lucky enough to hook up with Steve Ilg, author of “The Outdoor Athlete” and listed by numerous publications as one of the best personal trainers in America. When I first met with Ilg in his small, dusty office on a back street in Santa Fe, he struck me as more of a shaman than a coach. I wanted to talk to him about training regimens; how far should I be running; how much weight should I be lifting. That was important, he said gently, but not nearly as important as what was in my head.

Through Ilg, I learned (somewhat lurchingly, I have to confess) that all athletic endeavors have a physical and a mental component. Imagine each of these components as lines on a graph. When a person first starts training, the “physical” line spikes up faster than the “mental” line-as we start training, there’s more physical than mental effort required.

As we push ourselves harder, as we make the decision to test our own personal limits, that mental line-the mental effort necessary to accomplish our goals-increases faster than the physical line.

There will come a point, said Steve Ilg the Shaman, where your success or failure, possibly even your life, will hinge not on the physical, but solely on the mental.

What does this have to do with The Wall? I think for most of us, the 26.2 miles of the marathon represents the first place where the physical and mental lines on the graph converge. Yes, the physical effort of a marathon is tremendous, but it is the mental effort that will carry you across the finish line.

Unfortunately, we tend to approach mental training the same way we approach physical training-how much do I lift; how far do I run? There are numerous books these days on mental preparation for various sports. The bulk of them tend to offer sort of a brain prescription: two sets of visualization, three sets of relaxation, a quick two laps of positive thoughts and-viola!-instant sports nirvana.

Were that it was only so easy! As I moved through my list and beyond I came to see that the closer we came to our own personal edges, the more we moved away from the physical and onto a mental “landscape.” That landscape was and is fraught with dangers, traps waiting for the unknowing. It is the place where cause and effect start breaking down; where time looses its grip; a place where chaos reigns supreme.

I first caught a hint of this landscape in Death Valley. I was biking and running alongside competitors in the Hi-Tec Badwater 135, a 135-mile running race from Badwater, the lowest point in America, over two mountain ranges to the portals of Mt. Whitney, the highest point in America. Temperatures can range from 125 degrees down to below freezing.

It was morning, and I was alongside a rodeo cowboy turned successful banker, who did ultra-endurance events the way normal people do 5-K runs. The temperature was just cracking 100; we’d been running the flats and walking the climbs. As we walked, he was explaining to me the basics of the mental landscape.

“In an event like this,” he said, “your mind goes to strange places. You’ll experience every emotion, from the highest highs to the lowest lows.”

And then he told me about the dragon. And what an amazing dragon it was! Scales like roofing tiles; eyes blazing yellow fire. It was, he said, a dragon created of all a person’s fears and doubts and fatigue and pain. As the temperature soared, the banker described the dragon; how it came at a person’s lowest ebb, feeding on all the pain and suffering, every thought of failure, every couldn’t, wouldn’t, shouldn’t.

As he talked, the great convection oven that is Death Valley sucked the moisture from my skin, leaving only a fine, white dusting of salt.

What do you do, I insisted.

“Why, nothing, of course,” he said. “Keep running.”

To tell the truth, in my two marathons, I’ve never found a trace of The Wall. Mile 20 was no more-or less-painful than mile 18 or mile 23. Certainly training had something to do with not hitting The Wall. But more importantly, the lessons I learned at the edges of the known universe have served me well. I have found my dragon on the cold ice of Alaska, and on the sides of Big Mountains; once even within sight of the lights of Malibu, after all night on a trail and a full day left to travel. He’s there, though, always waiting. If you go far enough, there’s always The Wall.

The old rodeo cowboy told the truth-the mind will go to strange places, and, despite how easy those relaxation and focusing techniques seemed in your bedroom, you won’t have much control. Instead, here are some thoughts that have helped me, and can help you.

  • Accept that a portion of your race will be run on a mental landscape, and that it can be a scary place. It’s a landscape littered with your own failures and successes, your pains and your losses. It’s home to mythical creatures and places of legend, and your journey will be uniquely your own.
  • Understand that you may be beset by storms of powerful emotions-exhilaration, despair, fury. But like storms, the emotions pass. And like storms, these spikes of emotion have no meaning. I once ran alongside a woman who described in meticulous detail how she planned to kill her new husband, because she hated the bastard so much. Remember, strange places.
  • Never question your goal. The completion of a marathon, especially a first marathon, is more than a goal. It’s a summit, and summits have the power to capture and hold a person’s imagination. A trick I use is to “table” the mental discussion of whether this particular event was a good or a bad idea; set it aside as a question I’ll deal with later. Then I focus on why this event captured my imagination.
  • Let go of judgments. While your mind is bouncing hither and yon, sooner or later it’s going to land on the “Why am I running so badly today?” square. It’s a dead end. Rather than expend that mental energy on judging my performance, I repeat one of my favorite mantras: “nothing proves anything.”
  • Negotiate with your body. Crazy as it sounds, I carry on a mental conversation with my body. Before the race, I explain what is expected and acknowledge that it’s going to hurt. I apologize in advance, and promise that I’ll make it up to my body somehow. Amazingly, my body continues to believe me.

Finally, what do you do if you hit The Wall, when you finally meet your dragon?

Why, nothing, of course. Keep running.

Five Ways to Avoid the Wall

  1. Train realistically: Athletes (and even some of us faux athletes) have a remarkable ability for self-deception. The best way to know how you’ll respond in a situation is to practice that situation first. If you’re training for a marathon, at least one of your training runs needs to be 26 miles. If you’re training for a race that takes place at night,some of your training needs to be at night. I think of this as showing my body what I’m going to expect from it.
  2. Crosstrain: The more you move toward harder endurance events like the marathon, the more overall balance seems to pay off. I “trade-off” sports, especially on designated long days. to keep my interest up and injuries down. The added plus is that my overall good level of fitness helps carry me through longer events.
  3. Avoid judgements: When I was a “serious” triathlete, I used to study my race results with a magnifying glass. No matter how well I did, I was always performing “below expectations.” I have seen fine athletes talk themselves into quitting because they were running below par. Set your judgements aside on race day.
  4. Mentally prepare: Forget happy talk; you’re going to hurt Out There. But you know that already. In my mental rehersals, I try to be as realistic as possible, including acknowledging that it’s going to be painful. I also remind myself that, despite it all, I’ve crossed a lot of finish lines.
  5. Plan flexibly: Remember, long athletic events tend to be chaos systems. You can’t forsee everything nature is going to throw at you. Mental flexibility is your greatest tool for getting past The Wall.

If You Hit The Wall

  1. Don’t stop: “Program” youself before the event that you’re going to press on regardless, even if you’re barely moving. At the 1993 NYC Marathon, I was running so slowly uphill in Central Park that i was actually going backwards.
  2. “Table” your thoughts: The easiest way to quiet all those negative thoughts is to set them aside. Sometimes I actually visualize a locker-like box, where I stuff all my negative thoughts until I have the time and energy to deal with them.
  3. Get out of your head: Don’t dwell on how amazingly bad you feel. A really attractive woman running nearby is a handy, uplifting area to focus on. I’ve done it, and it works. Hormones are wonderful things.

Click here to read chapter five about the 1991 Badwater Race from Michael Bane’s book, Over The Edge: A Regular Guy’s Odyssey in Extreme Sports

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.