Training for the Badwater Ultramarathon

Click here for Angela’s first-person report about the race.

Recently, I’ve been asked for Badwater 135 training advice by other runners. The question seemed rather peculiar to me because when I look back on the past year, it didn’t seem like I was training at all. After all, do moths actually “train” to fly into the lightbulb? Not really. I think they just see something that looks neat so they are drawn closer to it, and hopefully they don’t annihilate themselves during the process. So with that in mind, here is my attempt at a response.

I guess I really only have just one RULE and a few suggestions.

Rule #1 Never Forget the Rule of “WAAD” – We Are All Different

What works well for someone else may have the exact opposite consequence for you. For instance, I heard that Pam Reed did the entire event on Ensure and Red Bull, but some of my friends insist the Ensure stuff makes them erupt like Mount St. Helens (from both ends!) It is really important to ingest (and retain) as much food and liquid as possible. Personally, my puke-prevention plan includes Metabolol, Fig Newtons, plain Pringles, Saltines and tapioca. I mix Metabolol using a can of Kern’s Mango nectar (to make it taste good and because a fellow run-nerd said mango nectar helps delay lactic acid buildup). To prevent nausea, I munch on steamed white rice (another run-nerd told me it helps absorb excess liquid in the intestines and bowels, enough said.) The WAAD rule also applies to the eternal “foot tape debate.” The stories about duct tape removing sub-cutaneous flesh and the lectures about what works on trails may not work on 150 degree pavement and the scavenger hunt for “Bag Balm” and getting into fist fights over gel-filled versus air-filled soles… At first, it all seemed so fascinating but it wore me out pretty quickly. For me, I’m fairly sure I would not have finished if I hadn’t practiced what Denise Jones preached regarding foot care. That’s why I think attending BOTH training clinics is so valuable – use them to experiment and learn. Better to puke up your stomach lining and experience monsoon toe blisters during a practice run rather than the real thing.

Suggestion #2 Join a Gym with a Dry Sauna, and spend at least 30 minutes a week in it

Sometimes I did three sessions a week for 10 minutes each, sometimes twice a week for 15 minutes. Sometimes I jogged in place, sometimes I just laid there (especially when I got tired of explaining what the hell I was doing to everyone else). I started going two months before the event and stopped going four days just before Badwater in order to fully re-hydrate. For inspiration, see Greg Minter’s online training schedule and review the University section of the race website. But don’t forget RULE #1…

Suggestion #3 Buy the Suit

Yes, you will look like a Hazardous Waste Removal Geek, and it is rather expensive, but your skin and body temperature will thank you. One of my crew members who wore sunblock under the suit got some sort of heat rash, perhaps because his skin didn’t breathe as well. Everyone else skipped the sunblock and just wore the suit with no problems. Again, refer back to RULE #1…

Things you Probably Already Know

  • Take electrolyte supplements, such as Ultra Salt by Pure Vitamin Club or Endurolytes from Hammer Nutrition.
  • Buy shoes TWO sizes too big. Running sandals may work too.
  • Try to get at least one person on your crew who has successfully finished Badwater. Otherwise, be sure to drag crew member(s) to at least one training clinic in an effort to “soften the blow” as they step out of the air conditioned vehicle next July. (The one person on my crew who had never been to Death Valley before doesn’t speak to me as often as he used to…)
  • If you plan on using caffeine during Badwater in order to stay alert/awake, then cease all caffeine intake at least two weeks prior to BW in order to allow the caffeine to be more effective on your system when you really need it. (You may want to try and avoid as much contact as possible with other humans during this particularly grueling portion of your training.)
  • Speaking from experience, soda left in a hot mini-van WILL explode if not kept in an ice cooler. If your mini-van is rented, or borrowed from a friend (who you may need to borrow from again), consider putting a tarp down to protect the interior. Also, Gatorade leaves some very sticky and stubborn stains.
  • If your significant other is not a runner, consider purchasing a treadmill so you two can spend more “quality” time together while training at home. My boyfriend got quite a kick out of drinking beer on the couch while shouting words of encouragement such as “You’re almost there!” and “It feels like a 6.0 on the Richter scale in here, way to go honey!” On this same subject, you may want to warn your significant other about the enormity of the challenge you are about to undertake. Preparing for this really is like a second job, but with a tougher commute and less pay. Practice apologizing for the numerous knee deep piles of stinky running clothes scattered about your living quarters. Prepare him or her for your sudden decrease in enthusiasm for all non-running related matters. Furthermore, advise all blood relatives of your inability to attend weddings, reunions and/or funerals until at least August. Finally, you may want to consider acquiring a “stand in” to attend school plays and graduations on your behalf for the benefit of your child(ren).