If your idea of a long run consists of jogging around your block, or even completing a marathon (that’s 26.2 miles for those not familiar with distance running terminology), then you haven’t met the likes of Sandy Villines, Pete Kostelnick, Harvey Lewis, Marshall Ulrich or Grant Maughn.
They’ve put the ultra in ultrarunner.
Villines and Kostelnick, mere weeks after winning the grueling Badwater Ultramarathon, broke the female and male records, respectively, in running from San Francisco city hall to New York city hall. He did it in 2016 in 42 days, 6 hours, 30 minutes; she in 2017 in 54 days, 16 hours, 24 minutes.
Lewis, the 2014 Badwater champ, came up short in his attempt to break the Appalachian Trail run of 2,198 miles within 45 days.
Maughn, a yacht captain whose world adventures put Walter Mitty to shame, just won the Last Annual Vol State 500-kilometer run across the backbone of Tennessee in 3 days 22 hours, 2 minutes, 59 seconds.
Two months ago, the Aussie scaled Mount Everest. Earlier this year, he was manuevering a ship through the Antarctic Ocean in the cold of winter. Last year, he came close to losing his fingers due to frostbite while taking part in the iconic Iditarod race in Alaska.
Ulrich had a record in 2008 when he completed the San Francisco-to-New York City crossing in 52 days that is chronicled in his book ‘Running on Empty.’
The Badwater veterans are real life Forrest Gumps, without the movie royalties coming in.
In less than a week, Kostelnick, Lewis, Ulrich and Maughn will join a cast of about 100 runners from throughout the world for the 2018 edition of what is billed as the world’s toughest footrace.
Kostelnick, a 30-year-old financial analyst, will then attempt to run from Kenai, Alaska to Key West, Florida. That’s more than 5,000 miles while pushing all his supplies on a stroller. He’s calling his run ‘Ke to Key: Unlock Your Wildest Dream.’
For them, the 135-mile jaunt through the heat of Death Valley coupled with climbing three mountain ranges for a total of 14,600 feet of cumulative ascent and 6,100 feet of cumulative descent can be like a walk in the park. Kostelnick covered the distance in a record 21 hours, 56 minutes, 32 seconds in 2016.
So, what do other ultrarunners think of the transcontinental efforts?
Oswaldo López, the 2011 Badwater champion, appreciates the beauty of those long-distance runners.
“Those of us who love the long-distance runs, there is a love of them,” said López, who has participated in Badwater since 2009. “I’m happy for them. They motivate you, and they motivate many others.”
López said he’d like to try such a feat, but can’t because of the time and expense.
“I’d like to, if it’s possible,” said López, who has a daughter attending UC Berkeley.
Michael Jiménez, a Pebble Beach caddy who will return to Badwater this year, doesn’t “think that adventure is in the cards for me.”
“Running across the country sounds like it’d be a fantastic way to see our wonderfully diverse country, but it also seems like a lot to ask of my family, and running already has so much of my life that I wouldn’t be comfortable taking that step,” said Jiménez.
“I do find a lot of inspiration from the great runners whom I’ve had the pleasure to meet and their exploits. I often wonder at how they hold up, just seems so demanding in so many ways!” he added. “These runners have all proven their grit, determination, will to follow a goal beyond comprehension, and have been strong and fit enough to pull of something they’ve obviously dreamed to bring to life.
“I’m proud for them to of conceptualized these massive undertakings and to of seen them realized, very awesome!”
Monique Jacques, a federal worker in Fresno who finished her first Badwater last year, called the exploits of Kostelnick & Company “freaking awesome!”
“I would love to attempt that but that’s a long time running!” said Jacques. “Plus it would be hard to get that many days off of work lol.”
López back on track
Oswaldo López, a 46-year-old mariachi trumpet player from Madera, has won the rugged Badwater Ultramarathon and been beaten only by the winner of the 135-mile footrace through Death Valley X times.
He has won 100-mile races in less than 15 hours.
In the summer, he trains by running the heat in his vehicle wherever he goes. And, there’s a rule at the López home: No air conditioner! Even when the temperatures climb well over 100 degrees.
López is as popular at Badwater races as ice, and is treated like a rock star because of his charisma and humble nature.
However, he has something to prove this year: That he can finish a race that he has dropped out of in 2017 and 2014 due to stomach ailments. (Most runners drop out due to such problems rather than heat-related reasons).
López has prepared with long runs, but realizes anything can happen in a race with many challenges.
“We’ve prepared much better, but with much respect for the course,” said López. “We will try to finish this year. It was a year of learning.”
López sees Badwater as more of an inner challenge than a competition against the likes of Kostelnick and Lewis.
“The competition is with myself,” he said. “Pete, Harvey and Grant are friends. We are all trying to achieve our own goals. Clearly, in the moment of competition, we’re still friends.
Other Badwater news
This year’s Badwater race is dedicated to Albert Arnold, the first person to run solo from Badwater Basin to the top of Mt. Whitney. Arnold, who died last September, was 89.
Arnold’s adventure led to the creation of the Badwater Ultramarathon, which ends at Mt. Whitney Portals.
“It wasn’t important to me how fast it was going to be,” Arnold told an interviewer in 1978. “I just wanted to complete the darn thing.”
▪ Sacramento engineer Ray Sánchez will try to finish his 11th consecutive Badwater.
“Over the 10 consecutive years of participating in Badwater 135, the race has become a part of me,” said Sánchez, whose best finish was fifth place in 2014. “Badwater 135 is like family to me.”
▪ This year’s race has attracted runners representing 21 nationalities, from Mexican to Russian to Australian. Among the Latino runners are López, Jiménez, Sánchez, Patsy Ramírez-Arroyo,, Luigi Dessy, Brenda Guajardo and Gabriela Poapst.
▪ The race will feature five previous champions: Kostelnick, Lewis, López, Ulrich and Zach Gingrich.
▪ Telma Ghazarian Altoon will be the first Armenian to take part in the race.
▪ The oldest competitor is Mark Olson, a 71-year-old sports psychologist from Portola Valley. The youngest is Ryan Montgomery, a 24-year-old student from Utah.
▪ The first wave of runners will start at 8 p.m. on Monday (July 23), followed by the second wave at 9:30 p.m., and the third wave at 11 p.m.
▪ People can follow the race live at www.badwater.com/2018-badwater-135-webcast/
A look at all the 100 runners entered in this year’s Badwater Ultramarathon: Sunday at www.vidaenelvalle.com