All we can muster to say after reading this is… WOW!!!!!




Wow. Wow. Wow. 1000x Wow.

Congratulations to you and to your team!!

To say this is inspiring would be the understatement of all time.


Thank you!!!


Joe Barton, Barton Publishing, Inc.

An epic odyssey. A fitting title for my 2009 Badwater 135-mile Death Valley race.
Read The Full Epic Odyssey Here.

I thought you might enjoy and benefit from the life lessons I learned this year while chasing that “white line from hell to heaven.” Yes, this reflection it is a little long, about the length of a chapter in one of my books, but so is running 135 miles through the desert.

I want to thank you for your support throughout the race.

If you are unaware, Badwater is the toughest race in the world according to National Geographic. It is an invitation only 135-mile footrace that starts in the Death Valley desert in July where air temperatures can exceed 130 degrees, and ground temps are 200+ degrees. It traverses 135 miles through the Mojave, over three mountain ranges and is run on blacktop pavement. The race is run in the most brutal conditions imaginable.

The start line is -282′ below sea level, the lowest point in the western hemisphere (hell), and finishes nearly 8,500′ above (heaven). The race is run non-stop and must be finished in less than 60 hours to avoid disqualification. There are no aid stations. Each participant must bring an entire support crew to care for them. I had Nilsa my wife, Bob my brother, Martie my sister and Kimberley, Caring House Project Foundation’s Executive Director, making up my crew (more on my all-star crew later).

On average, only 60 or so of the 90 invitees are able to finish, many who don’t, end up hospitalized. Since the inception of the race in 1977, only 42 have officially finished the race 4 or more times. This year I was attempting to become the 43rd. To put it in perspective, over 1,100 people have reached the summit of Mt. Everest.

At the same time I was attempting to complete the race, we were also “suffering a little for those who are suffering a lot” by running for our Caring House Project Foundation and our “miles for meals” fundraising effort by asking donors like you to donate $1 for every mile, or $135. The result of such a donation would result in us being able to provide 1,350 meals to the desperately poor and homeless in Haiti.

If you made a donation, I want to sincerely thank you.

We arrived in Death Valley a few days before the race so we could acclimate, get organized and begin to focus on the seemingly impossible task ahead. Just because I had finished the race before, I took nothing for granted. Although my short-term memory is fortunately quite short, scanning my long-term memories of the race reminded me of how close to failure I came in past races. I had a 66% chance of finishing, which meant I had a 34% chance of not. I wanted to insure the law of averages didn’t creep closer this year.

Before I laced up my shoes on race day Nilsa had to shop for sufficient provisions, enough to get all of us through the desert over the two days we would be isolated there. This included over 25 gallons of fluids (12 alone for me), enough food and first aid items. All of this was organized with military precision between two crew vans. Why two? Because there is a chance one vehicle wouldn’t survive. Idling along in 125 degree heat at 3-4 miles per hour, up and down the mountains, can kill more than just the runner. With no crew van, my race would be done.

Oh, in case you think the crew has it easier; they must keep me moving at all times “relentless forward motion,” keep me hydrated, feed me, spray me down with cool water, keep ice in my hat, ice around my neck, cover me with sunscreen, be out on the course pacing with me to keep me from drifting into oncoming traffic, keep track of every calorie I ingest and what form they come in, how many electrolytes (magnesium, potassium, sodium) I am ingesting, how often I go to the bathroom and even what color it is (to determine if dehydration is setting in) and doing all this for two days straight without sleeping or having the a/c turned on in the van!

Yes, you could say I had an all-star crew. This was my team. Without a strong team there is mediocrity at best and most often only failure. This is true at Badwater and most certainly in life. Who makes up your all-star crew? Who would you trust to get you through your life’s Badwaters?

All preparation and training was over. It was time to get on with the challenge. We had a race plan and I was ready to follow it. While I believe in life-long learning, I don’t believe in being a life-long student. A life-long student in one who is always studying and researching, always training and practicing, always talking and dreaming but never applying. It was time to take my man-pill and step up to the starting line and see what I was made of.

Life Section #1, Mile 0-17:Foreplay”

My gun went off at 6:00am on July 13. There I was with 89 other superior athletes from 17 countries. It was already 102 degrees. This first part reminds me of foreplay. It is necessary and can be very enjoyable, but sometimes you just want to get it over with and move to the more exciting parts. The sun was beginning to shine over the mountains, and it was time to go from shirtless to fully covered. The views are stunning. Now I understand why in the Bible so much took place in deserts. Its beauty, vastness and majesty shows how great God is. I look out over the salt pan as I run hundreds of feet below sea level, across to 14,000 foot peaks that are still covered in snow. Quite a contrast.

The start is a very important time to be sure my mental approach remains in check. It is not the time to allow thoughts of what lie ahead to seep in. Our early approach is to start slow, then slow down. We want to be sure not to allow adrenaline to take over. Conserve resources now for tapping later. I move along at a steady pace, walking the uphill’s and running the flats and downhill’s. I spend time in prayer, thanking God for the opportunity and recalling the poor we are running for. As I pass some competitors I notice a few were already starting to have trouble with hydration and the heat. I offer encouraging words. In past races we had taken a short break at the end of this section. Our 2009 race plan did include such a break, and none was taken.

Life Lesson: When undertaking a significant challenge, start slow, then slow down. Don’t let emotion spend energy that will be needed later.

Elapsed time to mile 17: 3:33:00

Life Section #2, Mile 17-42: “Highway to Hell”

This section is the one that scares me the most. How this section is traversed will dictate the outcome of the race for nearly every competitor. It is relatively flat, and if Hollywood wanted avoid the expense of filming on the moon, they should consider shooting here. There is little to no vegetation and many huge jagged salt formations sprinkled among lunar-looking pumice colored rocks dot the landscape. As the sun starts to rise, the convention effect that gives the desert its heat begins to intensify. This section is where the highest temperatures have been experienced, and where we saw 136 degrees on our car thermometer in a prior race. One German team brought out a small pan and placed it on the highway and was able to slowly fry an egg. Another team took out a meat thermometer, plunged it into the melting blacktop and took a 202 degree reading. If I asked for a avocado sandwich on soft white bread, by the time it was made and brought out to me the bread was toasted!

Even the most experienced and faster runners will throttle down to a fast walk for parts of this section. The body is exerting tremendous energy trying to stay cool while insuring its organs are functioning properly. The body reverts to a mild state of shock, where only the most vital organs are tended to. Breathing is shallow and many functions are put into hibernation. This is where I often see the ambulances racing by.

The crew also works extremely hard here, in fact we added a crew member from the race staff, Sophie Kashurba, just for this section. This would allow each crew member to come out for 30 minute shifts. They have a spray bottle, perforated baggie with ice for my hat and bandana soaked in ice water that is wrapped around ice cubes for my neck. I carry ice cubes and dump large amounts of ice water over my head, trying to avoid my shoes so as to keep my feet dry. Whatever ice is brought out melts in seconds. The evaporative effect of water being sprayed on me provides limited cooling. I wear special clothing that has fabric that replicates the coat of a desert fox. This species makes its home in this inhospitable environment and its reflective coat of fur keeps it cool. I cover my arms and legs with special white fabric sleeves that keep moisture next to my skin while retarding the heat. I have a large legionnaire’s hat with oversize bill and flaps on the back and sides to retard the sun. Whatever skin that is exposed I cover with SPF 100+. I wear socks with individual compartments for each toe to prevent blistering and my shoes have been cut at the toe box and sides to accommodate foot swelling.

Our race plan was to stop at mile 27 for our first break. It would be around 12:00 and very hot. It is rare that I would be feeling good and with sufficient energy reserves now at 6+/- hours into the race. Oddly, I had never felt better, so as we approach the 27-mile mark I pass without stopping. This causes Nilsa and the rest of the crew concern, as one of the rules of ultrarunning is to “rest before your are tired.” They were warned about the perils of this section and to be sure to slow me down. However, I wanted to take advantage of this rarity, the surprise of me feeling good. So we kept on, as the temperature continued to climb all the way to mile 42. We arrived just before 3:00 in the afternoon.

Since before the race started the Weather Channel was covering the race (air date TBD). They had asked if they could follow us and a few other teams during the race. When we arrived at mile 42 I was so overheated that I decided to take my first-ever ice bath. I was told that immersing my body, particularly below the waist, in ice water would aid my recovery and ready me for the next 30 miles to checkpoint 3. So there I was in a cowboy hat and underwear with the Weather Channel cameraman and host hovering over my ice-filled tub while I quivered uncontrollably as I tried to explain the why’s and what’s about what I was doing and how I was feeling. One thing for sure, major shrinkage.

The ice bath really worked. I felt refreshed and ready to put my space suit back on and continue. “Gotta go” I would often say, as the race clock continued to tick. I struggled to get my running socks back on over frozen feet. Today (July 13) was my daughter’s 11th birthday, so on the way back to the course we made a quick call to her from a payphone to wish her a happy birthday. I think this did more for me than her.

Life Lesson: When prudent discretion is called for in challenging or dangerous circumstances, if your efforts are exceeding your expectations you are better off to castoff caution.

Elapsed time to mile 42: 8:56:33

Life Section #3, Mile 42-72: Climbing the Ladder of Success 18 Up, 12 Down

My brother Bob and me departed mile 42 and headed directly into the setting sun. In the desert, the mercury continues to climb until 6:00 or 7:00pm. We had a brutally steep 18-mile climb ahead of us, often reaching grades of 10% or greater. Except for the few frontrunners, there is no running this section. Only a slow 6-hour climb to an elevation of over 5,000 feet above sea level. Yes, we to go from 282 below sea level to a mile above. To make for an even more tedious ascent, we were buffeted by a stiff headwind trying to blow us back down the mountain.

Kimberley, Martie and Bob continued to take turns pacing me. The combination of the heat, climb and wind had me plodding along at less than 3 miles per hour. I had to put on a Velcro back brace as my lower back was having spasms. This seemed to hold me more erect and really helped. I was also forced to wear ice on my hips, where I had small baggies filled with ice that I shove between my shorts and hips. I would use this ice set-up on and off for the rest of the race as I have frequent trouble with inflammation of the bursa in the hip. One treat we had to look forward to was the loss of 5 degrees for every 1,000 feet climbed. You would be amazed at how cool it felt at 3,000 feet and the loss of 15 degrees to a comfortable 110 degrees!

By the time we were approaching the summit of Towne Pass at 5,000 feet the sun was beginning to set and we put on our night gear. This consisted of a reflective vest, blinking lights and a headlight. Badwater is run on Highway 190. I am running against traffic, and there are many European tourists who frequent Death Valley in the summer. They seem to mistake this highway for the autobahn. Also, many car companies use Death Valley as a testing ground for new models (often shrouded in black fabric to prevent the public from seeing them prematurely). If I am not lit up like a Christmas tree I could become roadkill like the many flattened rattlesnakes we passed.

We planned to stop at the top at mile 60 to give my legs a rest from the non-stop climbing, and I was ready for the break. I wanted to go a few hundred yards downhill before doing so in order to allow a different muscle group to fire for a bit before resting all of them. And there it happened again…

Read More From Frank McKinney’s Blog Here.