The title of this article is the question I am most often asked when people find out that I am running the Badwater 135 this year. If you’re unfamiliar, Badwater is a 135 mile non-stop running race through Death Valley in July. It will be hot. It will suck at times. Yet I cannot wait for my first crack and the race that’s been labeled as “The Worlds Toughest Footrace”.
So this gets us back to the “why” question that I most regularly get. Possibly the most complicated explanation as to why I want to run Badwater is that Badwater was the one race that I always felt was stupid and I said I would never do it. Yes, you read that correctly. I want to do this race because just a few years ago I said I would never do it.
As I got more and more experienced in the sport of ultrarunning, the urge to push myself further and further drove me to look at new races and new goals. What is one more mile when you’ve already run 100? What if I could run just a little bit faster the next time I run 100 miles? How can I never know how far and how fast can I run if I never try? Being that Badwater seemed like an impossible race just a few years ago, the memory of how impossible the race seemed is what now drives me to finish it. I have come a long way and the ride has been a blast.
To get an idea of how hot it can get during the Badwater 135, you simply need to look at the names of the books or documentaries that cover it; “Running on the Sun” and “A few Degrees from Hell” are a few of the better ones. Badwater is a 135 mile run through Death Valley, in July. If you’ve connected the dots, you’re right… it’s going to be hot. Very hot. Besides the obvious training that needs to go into the race, there is a lot of planning when it comes to the gear I will bring with me. With the right clothing, I should be able to manage the heat. With the wrong stuff, it’s going to make for an even longer day than it already will be.
I have spent the last few months researching and testing everything I feel I’ll need to do well at Badwater. Below is the gear that I have settled on for the race and some of the reasoning behind the selections.
When thinking about what I was going to wear for Badwater, the two most important factors were fit (duh) and color. Fit is obvious, as anything that is not proper size will cause issues over 135 miles. The other main factor of my gear was the color. Spending time in 120 degrees with an intense sun can be made slightly easier with lighter colors. With that said, here’s my list of what’s coming with me:
Of everything on my list, this is the spot that can make or break Badwater (or any ultra run) the fastest. Putting on the wrong pair of shoes for trying to run for a day in them could lead to some very, very bad things. Putting on the right shoe lets you forget about your feet and just run. I always go into an ultra with a primary shoe (sometimes multiple pairs of that shoe), as well as a few “change-of-pace” type shoes that I have in case of emergency and I need to different fit and feel to survive to the end.
I have raced the last few long road ultramarathons I’ve done (Keys 100, Spartathlon) in the Nike Pegasus, which for me has been about the perfect long road shoe. With the Peg 35 coming out recently, that was the logical place to start. After a few runs being overly critical of everything about the shoe (one hot spot might not matter for 10 miles… but 100 miles is a different story), I was convinced these were the shoes I wanted them to be and were officially my primary race day shoe.
I will have a couple of different secondary shoes on hand for this race. The first shoe I decided on because it fits a little wider, breathes well, and is well cushioned, is the Altra Duo. I have done two different mountain 100 mile runs in Altra primarily, so it’s a fit and drop that I am well accustomed to for the long haul.
The second backup pair of shoes is the Nike Epic React. I love how this shoe feels soft yet responsive. I have had an issue with soft shoes in the past leading to some bruising and pain on the ball of my foot, so I am extremely cautious of a softer shoe. This will likely be the last shoe out of the bag, and possibly not warn at all, but it’s another great arrow to have in my quiver.
Keeping the sun off of my skin during the day is critical to me staying cool, especially when the air temperature is already in the 120s. There are a lot of cooling products on the market, but the one that has done the best for me is the Under Armour Heat Gear compression top. It’s white, it’s long sleeve, it’s a cooling fabric with UV protection, and it fits extremely well on the body which prevents chaffing. I’ll wear this from sunrise to sunset.
During the night (my race starts at 11 pm) I’ll wear a white cooling t-shirt also from Under Armour. Their cooling fabrics really are quite wonderful!
I have two different strategies for my lower half. During the night, I will run in Salomon Sense Pro short. I really think these are the best running shorts on the market. They are not cheap, but man are they amazing.
Finding an option for my second strategy proved to be one of the harder tasks on this list. When the sun is hot and heat is reflecting off the pavement, I needed to come up with a solution to keep my skin covered. Being that I am a regular tight wearer when running, I figured tights were the best bet. Here’s the problem: have you ever tried to find men’s running tights in anything other than black? They are nearly impossible to find. Even the tights branded as “cooling” are black… which seems odd to me. I found a handful of white options that did come in white, and I tried them all with no luck. I was starting to re-think my tights plan when a well-timed targeted ad popped up on Facebook with the Adidas Alphaskin tech tights with their Climachill. They checked all the boxes for what I was looking for, so I ordered them up. I was honestly amazed at this fabric when I received them, as it literally felt cold to the touch when I opened them for the first time. After a 10 mile run, I was sold on these being my primary daytime tights. However, there was one small problem….
My crew is going to be doing everything possible to keep my body and skin wet with ice and water. It doesn’t take too much imagination to realize where the problem is with wearing white tights while getting water constantly poured over me. Now, I don’t have too much dignity left in ultra running, but whatever little ounce I do have left I decided to throw some shorts over the tights and prevent any emotional scarring from spectators. My shorts of choice here are the Salomon S-Lab short, which unlike the Sense Pro, is an unlined short making it perfect for layering over tights.
I have been racing the last two years in Stance socks, and have managed to not get a single blister or foot issue during that stretch… so why change now? My least favorite thing to do during a race is change socks, and Stance makes some pretty incredible socks that have held up to 100+ mile races without being changed. I am a big fan of the crew length running socks, which gives me the right amount of compression over the ankle.
Keeping the sun off my neck is crucial, I have very fair skin and would rather cover everything than deal with any chance of burn. Keeping the rays off the next will also keep it cooler.
Similar to the hat above, these are all about keeping the suns rays off my skin. These are a super lightweight cooling fabric. I have never used these in a long race before, so my curiosity is if I’ll get tired of wearing them after a ton of miles.
These are a pretty neat product that is pre-sewn to allow ice to fill the middle and then has a great attachment point so you can quickly lock it in around the neck. Keeping ice on my body is a huge key to moving forward during the heat of the day. I have a couple of these for myself personally, and also got them for my entire four-person crew (they can’t help me if they’re overheated too!)
I love this headlamp because of the multiple settings. I tend to get “headlight hypnotized” when running long times by headlight. This light is great because it has a spotlight, a flood light, and a red light. Together, I can cycle through those different settings to allow my eyes different looks and not hypnotize me during the night.
Gu Roctane powder
I have been using Gu’s Roctane Ultra Endurance powders for the last few years, and they have never done me wrong. During ultras, I take in nearly all of my calories in liquid form. I have my Roctane powder ratio dialed so I know that each bottle I take has exactly 275 calories in it. My general race strategy is to put down one bottle an hour.
I love these bars, they are one of the few nutritional bars that I think actually tastes good. I have these in my bag for when I need a little heavier hit of calories, or just want something solid to chew after a few hours of just drinking fluids.
Okay, these are mostly a sugar rush snack, or a mental pick me up. I love them both, and save them for those times I’m going through a dark place mentally and need to kick in the pants.
The other stuff-
It’s 125 degrees during the day in Death Valley and I need to keep 100s of pounds of ice as solid as possible. Turning to a rotomolded cooler was the only option. I choose this brand because they are based in Colorado, and they also make the most rugged and portable cooler on the planet. I have two of these 85quart coolers which will be filled up with ice and help get me through it all.
Keeping ice solid and keeping water cold are my two big worries. I grabbed one of those generic 10-gallon orange coolers that we can keep ice and water in during the day. The crew can quickly fill up bottles from it.
What’s the best way to keep your body cool and moist you ask? Well, using a bug/weed/garden sprayer seems to be the best option. I picked up two of these things and figure their small handheld size will allow the crew to easily spray me down regularly throughout the heat of the day.
While there is countless other gear that I will use, I think the above products are the crucial pieces that I’ll rely on to get me through 135 miles of ridiculous sun and heat. Do you have any pieces of equipment that you think I should add? Any questions on the above or other gear not mentioned above? Shoot me a note, I’d love to hear from you.
If you would like to track Don, you are able to do so at the following link: http://dbase.adventurecorps.com/individualTd.php?e=6740