Badwater 135, It Is Only Possible, If You Think It Is Possible.
KREW member Sean Lee shares his recap of his experiences running Badwater 135 Ultra Marathon through Death Valley.
Why Run Badwater 135?
“The world’s toughest foot race”? Some may agree and some may not. If you ask me, I’ll be honest. I don’t know. That’s not because I agree or disagree, but mainly because I don’t think I have enough experiences or knowledge to back that up.
I heard about this race soon after I finished my first ultra race in 2015 @ Los Pinos 50K known as the toughest 50K in S. Cal. Yes, I ran Los Pinos 50K as my first race and fairly did well by sacrificing 4 toes nails and mild IT band issue. I guess my friend who took me to Los Pinos 50k saw something in me that I didn’t even know about and told me all about “the world’s toughest foot race” on the way home.
Later part of last year, I lost that friend in a tragic death and knew I had to sign up. I wanted to run Badwater 135 because I wanted to see where my limit was, I wanted to run the race that only very limited runners are invited, and I wanted to run it because I wanted to prove that my friend was NOT wrong.
How did I train for Badwater 135?
My ultra running friends seldom make fun of my training oh well.. if they can still call that a training. I don’t have any set training plan, training blocks nor run high mileage. I just run here and there at a comfortable pace with low heart rate. I was labelled as “couch to 100K runner”or my training is “questionable”. Nevertheless, I crossed the finish line at UTMB in 2021 and even have a podium finish at a 100K. I guess I am just good at winging it! But I knew it won’t work this time.
My main focus in training are no overtraining and injury free. So I kept my running mileage low as usual like 30~40 miles per week but made sure I did the heat training as many previous finishers had suggested. I went out to Palm Springs to run under the heat with some elevation gain and even got a gym membership to use their dry sauna. I spent about 30 mins everyday at the sauna for 7 days before the race as heat acclimation training. Did it help? Yes, I definitely think so.
How did the Badwater 135 race unfold?
My wave started at 9:30 PM. I couldn’t believe it was 120 F outside although it didn’t feel like it at all. I was calm yet excited. I was ready to run the race of the year if not the race of my lifetime.
I had only one handheld water bottle to start the race thinking it should be ok after all it’s a night run for about 40ish miles. Oh how I was wrong. Soon as I started running I realized I needed my ice-bandana Right Now! at 10:00 PM. Many things crossed my mind as I ran my first 3 miles. Am I really ready for this? Am I not running too fast? What if my nutrition plan doesn’t work? What if it gets too hot to continue? Would this be my first DNF? I decided to sit down as soon as I ran into my first crew stop. I needed to shake off all negative thoughts and calm myself… but mostly of all I felt already tired. Usually I break down 100 mile races into 25 miles so it’s more manageable and not too overwhelming. So I broke down Badwater 135 into 20 miles as well. But after running 3 miles, I couldn’t see anything after 3 miles. I just couldn’t see it. I asked my crew to meet me at every 3 miles. So Badwater 135 had become Badwater 3 times whatever miles left.
Lowest point of Badwater 135 and how did I work through this?
Yes, the race was tough! But the distance wasn’t too bad since I was running slow with each 3 miles pit stop. The high temperature was manageable with placing ice all over my body. But the sleep deprivation was so real and so bad from the first night. Again, I usually get sleepy on the 2nd night during the race and I take a quick 10~15 mins nap if needed.
Badwater 135 was quite different. Even thought I was well rested before the race, I was so sleepy from the first night and had to stop the running and took a nap multiple times. Mostly they were 10 mins quick ones here and there except the couple of 30 mins ones on the 2nd night. I guess the heat was draining the energy much more than I expected. I couldn’t move another step without actually laying down and sleep. I didn’t care if other runners would pass me or not. Interestingly I would see same runners and crew vehicles around me even after taking a quick nap. I guess other runners were going through what I was going through as well… repeating the 3 miles pit stops.
I thought things would get better by the time we get to Lone Pine which is out of Death Valley National park and would have only 13 miles to the finish line. Again, how I was wrong. Even with changing 5 pairs of socks and 3 pairs of shoes, I had blisters on my both feet and hiking up to Whitney Portal with the sun in my back wasn’t fun at all. The last stretch was 13 miles with over 4000 ft of elevation gain.
So is Badwater 135 “the world’s toughest foot race”? Personally now I do agree with that statement. Not because it’s technicality nor the distance or other elements that we had to endure, but because there is no “fun”part in the race once we were on the road until crossing the finish line when other ultra races are fun and exciting until they aren’t which is usually after passing the half point. Oh did I mention that I sat down during every single crew stop? That’s roughly 45 stops and I was ok with that. No shame in 45 stops.
What gear did I use?
During the training:
During the race:
- Sykes AT 5”Shorts
- Tahoe CL 5”Base Liner
- Unita AD Short Sleeve Shirt
- Muir Cap in White
- Shoes: Asics Metaspeed Edge, New Balance 1080V11, Cloudultra by On
Any advice to others running an ultra race?
Running an ultra race is more than just running a long distance. The nutrition is very important and so is the equipment. Don’t stop searching for a better answer just because it worked out this time.
Train properly without getting injured or burned out. It’s better to undertrain and still perform 90% or even 80 % of your capacity than getting injured and not performing at all. People ask me how I run 100 milers and 135 miles this time. Then I tell them I see people running 200 miles and even 250 miles. It’s only possible if you think it’s possible and move forward. And mostly enjoy your runs!