Three service members will toe the line in Death Valley, Calif., on Monday for the Badwater Ultramarathon — a 135-mile foot race from the Badwater Basin below sea level to halfway up Mt. Whitney.
Runners will endure temperatures well over 100 degrees, blowing sand, scorching sun and pavement to earn a coveted belt buckle.
The field of 96 will start in waves — 0600, 0800 and 1000 — and must finish within the 48-hour time limit.
We caught up with two of them, Army Capt. Matt Doellman and Army Cpl. Doug Long, to talk about their thoughts on the hottest race on earth.
Army Cpl. Doug Long
While Army Cpl. Doug Long, 31, is technically a Badwater rookie, he did spend a fair amount of time last year pounding the Death Valley pavement as a member of then-Navy Lt. j.g. Hannah Roberts’ crew.
Long estimates he ran 50 or 60 miles with Roberts, which has helped him strategize about his own Badwater plan.
“The biggest surprise last year was what happens after 100 miles, and just seeing how Hannah dealt with that,” Long said. “She was moving so well up until that 100-mile mark — she did 100 miles in under 24 hours — but it took her 10 hours to go that next 35 miles. That was something I’d never thought about before.”
What he’s been actively not thinking about is Death Valley’s notorious heat.
“I’m not as concerned about the heat, it’s there, but it’s not something I’m trying to get hung up on,” he said. “I’m just trying to deal with that first 40 miles and work from there. I’m more concerned about the last 40 than the first 40.”
The radio communications secretary, stationed at Ft. Hood, Texas, has been living and training in the heat.
He said his training has been diverse, because he’ll return to Death Valley in October for the Furnace Creek 508-mile cycling race. The 508 will take him backward across the Badwater course.
“I feel more prepared for [Badwater] than I have any other race.” he said.
Does he think his military experience has prepared him for mentally and physically punishing tasks?
“I don’t know what came first? Was it the military experience that made me tougher, or was it already in me? I don’t think anything in the military has challenged me quite like ultramarathoning. But at the same time, I don’t know if I could say that I’d be as good of an ultramarathoner — if I can even say I am a good ultramarathoner — without my military experience.”
Long will line up Monday with the 0800 start wave.
“I’m really excited,” he said. “I’m ready to do this.”
Charity: Wounded Wear
Army Capt. Matt Doellman
Army Capt. Matt Doellman has his race plan figured out.
“Play it safe, keep it steady but not too fast, and try to keep as cool as much as possible,” he said.
The 29-year-old also has one other thing Badwater runners should want: a medical background.
Doellman is an emergency room nurse at San Antonio Military Medical Center, though he said his medical knowledge isn’t always a benefit.
“Yeah, I understand the dangers and the problems and the warning signs and things like that,” he said. “But the bottom line is at the end of the day you just have to suck up the pain and of keep moving. Sometimes when you know what you’re doing to yourself, when you really understand what your body is going through on a physiological level, I think that almost hurts you.
“I think it’s better to almost be ignorant and just be that person who just keeps pushing forward no matter what,” he adds, laughing.
Doellman has done the long runs and the heat training to be physically strong, but credits some of his mental strength to his time in the Army.
“Everything you do in your military career revolves around discipline and the whole idea of not quitting,” he said. “That background gets you into the mentality that’s good for ultrarunning: keep it simple, keep the mission, finish and don’t quit.”
Doellman is also in the 0800 wave.
So how does he feel about running 135 miles in the desert?
Charity: Fisher House
Special Warfare Operator 1st Class (SEAL) David Goggins
Special Warfare Operator 1st Class (SEAL) David Goggins is back for his fourth trip across Death Valley. The 38-year-old already has two Badwater buckles from 2006 and 2007. He did not finish the 2008 race.
Goggins will start in the elite 1000 wave.
We were sneakers on the ground at last year’s Badwater Ultramarathon, but this year we’ll be taking in the 135-mile race from an air conditioned (and not nearly as exciting) office. Follow race updates on Twitter @PT365.