Badwater 135 Race Report – Steven K

Race: Badwater 135

Runner: Steven K

Race Date: 07/15/2019

Location: Death Valley National Park (Furnace Creek, CA to Lone Pine, CA)

Results: 20th overall, 17th Male, 6th M50-59

Strava Activity Link:

badwater 135 race report
Photo: Will Thomas

3 Bests – What aspects of the race did you like the most?

  1. The vibe and culture of Badwater is what brings people back.
  2. I love the desert landscape and terrain.
  3. Challenging yourself in the heat.

Not so much – Aspects of the race that didn’t do it for you

  1. 135 miles of asphalt.
  2. Walking! There is lots of walking.
  3. Trying to rest and stay out of the sun all day before the night start.

Weird factor – What’s the weirdest thing about this race?

You run from the lowest point of North America, Badwater Basin (-282’) to Whitney Portal (8,300’). The race use to end at the summit of Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in lower 48 (14, 505’). The history of Badwater race and Basin is fascinating.

Highlights of your race – What did you do well and enjoy about your race in particular?

I feel like I handled the heat well (good heat training and UV protection during the race). My crew did a great job at keeping me iced down (ice in arm sleeves and bandana), fed and hydrated. Matt’s excellent training program allowed me to still be running 9:00/9:30 min/miles 115 miles into the race.

Lessons for others – Share your pro-tips on the race to help the next runner

  1. Do your heat training!!
  2. Practice power-hiking on 15% grade (treadmill).
  3. Do NOT blow up your quads on the first major descent (3,400’ over 8 miles) from Towne Pass (mile 60) to Panamint Springs (mile 72). Check out the course profile.
  4. The course is NOT flat! There is 15,000’ of gain (8,000’ descent) over three mountain passes.

Lessons you learned that will help you next time around

I took too many breaks and for too long (which wasn’t my plan). I could have easily shaved off 1 to 1.5 hrs off my time. Since your crew stops for you about every 3-miles it’s easy to get sucked into the van to take a break or change something. I yo-yoed with several veterans of the race. I found that there were two types of runners; the tortoise and the hare. You have the slow and steady who take very few breaks but just keep chugging along. And you have the speedy who tend to go further faster but take more/longer breaks. I was the hare and as we know the hare doesn’t always win! I found myself yo-yoing with several racers. There was an older woman (I forget her name) that I kept passing but would take breaks to change or get something from the van. And sure enough almost every time I stopped she would just be cruising along and pass the van. I don’t know if I every saw her stop! I also yo-yoed with Danny Westergaard (a 12x veteran of Badwater) quite a bit and he too was just a never stop machine!!

Most important course specific knowledge to know about the race

This is NOT a flat course! Towne Pass to Panamint Spring (60 – 72) won’t necessarily “make” your race but it can definitely “break” your race. The 3,400’ descent over 9 miles (10% grade) can blow out your quads if you aren’t careful. Try and run loose and let gravity do it’s thing. This section is what scared me the most about this race. I feel like I did pretty well through this section. I tried to stop about every mile and walk a little. As you descend into the Panamint (dry) Lake Bed you can feel the heat ratcheting backup. The 3-mile trek across the desert (dry lake bed) is a scorcher as the temp. rockets back up above 110F+. Panamint Spring is a welcome oasis to refuel (with real food). This is the last opportunity (for 50 miles) for your crew to restock up on ice, fuel and food. It’s also a great place to grab a pizza. 🙂

Aesthetics – Is it a pretty course?

If you like desert landscape you will love Badwater (Death Valley National Park). During the day you are treated to incredible desert and mountain landscape. At night you have a full moon but can still see stars forever.

Difficulty – Is it a tough course?

Badwater is billed as the “Worlds Toughest foot race”. Well 135 miles on asphalt and 110F+ temperatures is tough! There is no denying that. But Matt did such a great job at preparing me for this race and I had a veteran crew supporting me. I didn’t find it as challenging as I was expecting. I was expecting to be a wreck at the end dragging myself across the finish line but I felt great (relatively speaking).

Organized and well run – Did it feel like a well-oiled machine or were they flying by the seat of their pants?

This was Chris Kostman 20th year RDing the Badwater 135 (it been an official race since 1987). He has had 20 years to workout any major bugs and I would say that this is a very well run race. Especially, for how many logistics are required to prepare for this race. Chris posts numerous Facebook Live informative videos and you will receive about 8 to 12 (important) emails leading up to the event.

Competition – Is there a strong field?

This is a very competitive event. You must apply to prove that you can handle this race. Badwater has a fairly high finishing rate (typically in the 80%+) because they only select athletes who they are sure “can” finish. Only 100 runners are selected each year (out of a 1000+). Of those 100, 1/3 are international, ½ are veterans and ½ are newbies. This year both the men’s and women’s course records were broken. Yoshihiko Ishikawa from Japan finished in 21:33 (1st overall). Patrycja Bereznowska from Poland finished in 24:13 (2nd overall).

Logistics – Does it require a special handshake, registration a year in advance, hotels all booked? Give us the low down on the nuts and bolts of making the race happen.

There is no secret handshake to get in but you do have to prove you have the merit to toe the line. They have a list of “recommended” races (HURT100, Hardrock 100, Wasatch 100, etc) to prove your stuff but they also like solo badass stuff like running the Wonderland trail in one push or other crazy extreme adventures. It is also recommended (and works in your favor) if you have crewed on a Badwater team. They want to make sure you know what you are getting yourself into. The application is a feat in itself. I spent probably 8 hrs completing the application. The application process opens up in January and selection start mid February.

COST: This is not a cheap race! Most racers spend between $5,000 to $10,000 on lodging, entry fee, van, flight & supplies/equipment. Not only is this race physically demanding it is also economically demanding on your wallet. So if you choose to take on this race you better be ready to go all-in and give it your full attention/commitment or else you are going to piss away a lot of money!

Aid Stations – Standard fare or anything special to know about the aid stations in terms of what’s available or when?

NONE! Your van & crew are your mobile aid station. Many racers rent a van in Las Vegas (or LA) and stop at the Walmart in Pahrump for supplies. I spent almost $800 on coolers, equipment and food for me and my crew. There are four places (Furnace Creek, Stovepipe Wells, Panamint Springs & Lone Pine) to resupply on ice and get some limited supplies/food during the race.

Weather and typical race conditions

Dry, sunny and HOT!! Day time temps usually range from 115F to 125F+ and night time temps range from 85F to 105F. Last year (2018) temps (day or night) never dropped below 100F. So do your heat training.

Gear – Did you need anything special or is there anything you’d recommend for the next guy?

Light weight and light colored clothes. Hat with neck drape, UV arm & calf sleeves, bandana that holds ice. Several sizes of shoes because your feet are going to swell and they might melt (seriously).

Spectators – Is this a friendly course for your friends?

This is NOT a spectator friendly course. Because of all the National Park restrictions it is HIGHLY encouraged to only have spectators at the end of the race in Lone Pine or Whitney Portal.

How’s the Swag?

The swag is ok. You get a Badwater t-shirt and hat (and goody bag) at check-in and a “finishers” shirt and buckle if/when you finish. You really don’t get much for your $1495 entry fee!!

The Overall Score – How many stars do you give this race and do you recommend that others run it?

I would give this a 5 out of 5 stars. The vibe and culture alone I give 5 start. I also give it 5 start (out of 5) on the challenging conditions and history.

badwater 135 race report