They say in sports that you don’t get many second chances. Tell that to a 66-year-old Badwater racer, who took matters into his own hands, when he returned to finish the race after failing the first time earlier in July.
Marshall Ulrich is a four-time champion of the annual STYR Labs Badwater.
Ulrich was trying for his 21st finish in this past race, which was on July 10, but he didn’t finish the race due to the high heat and humidity that day.
From July 22-25, Ulrich returned to Death Valley from Colorado, where he resides and ran 146 miles. His second attempt was 11 miles more than the STYR Labs Badwater 135 ultramarathon held in Death Valley, completing the run in 75 hours. He ran longer because he ran to the summit, where the old Badwater race used to finish.
During the official race he ran into trouble
Ulrich said he ran into trouble in the Panamint Valley.
“During the race we had a few glitches and I felt it was prudent to drop out at 72 miles or Panamint Springs,” Ulrich said. “Physically and mentally I was feeling okay although as I age it seems my tolerance for heat becomes less and less. I can’t tell you if this is physiological or mental, I suspect both. It gets harder and harder to go out there each year, and the training also is harder, but I try and keep my ultimate goal in mind.
“Physically and mentally I was fine when I dropped at Panamint, also a few hours under the cutoff. The reason I stopped was because I felt I put my wife as well as the crew in a difficult situation and I wasn’t about to leave anyone behind. Jodi Weiss was low on ice so we gave her what we had left. I’m okay with it as it was a difficult decision, but the people are more important than another buckle.”
Why even race at his age?
A fellow Badwater runner, Lisa Smith-Batchen put it in perspective. “Marshall has nothing to prove and he was among friends doing what he enjoys,” she said.
Ulrich said that doing the race is about staying vertical. “I can still do it,” he said. “It is something to do to keep me in shape.”
He also does the race to reconnect with old friends.
What made him return
He simply said that he wasn’t done. “For the second effort, it was my wife’s suggestion that I return as she knew that I was very fit this year, and I had trained hard and on some level felt responsible for me not finishing the race,” he said. “That thought of hers was unfounded as my primary goal was to support her no matter what as she has always supported me. At her suggestion, we decided to give it another go.”
Running it again, alone
Just two weeks after the failed attempt he started at Badwater again. He said the temperatures were up around 118 degrees. He started his run on July 22 at 6 a.m.
He said he got himself a baby-jogger stroller so that he could put water in it and push it. His goal was to be self-supportive up through Stovepipe Wells.
“Pushing the baby jogger with three to four gallons of water and food proved to slow me about 25 percent and made it more difficult over the first 24 hours headed into Panamint Springs,” he said. “Pretty much up Towne Pass and from Panamint Springs I was on my own.”
His wife Heather served as a crew member for him on the second part of the journey, which was going through Lone Pine and up to the summit. Ulrich said that getting to Mount Whitney gave him strength.
“When I get on the mountain I feel truly alive,” he said. “I summited (climbed to the summit) in less than six hours, which is about as fast as I normally do, and went down in 4.5 hours. The conditions on Whitney were good, lots of snow from 10,000 to 12,000 feet and runoff was more than I have ever seen. I felt so very energized.”
Most would consider running in Death Valley a punishment. Ulrich finds solitude in it.
“As I ran the second time it felt refreshing to be out there again,” he said. “I felt the solitude that I wanted, especially pushing the jogger having my wife sometimes five to 10 miles away.
The second time he said he felt focused but in the heat, he fought to stay that way.
“Keeping my mind focused was at times hard and thoughts of quitting did creep into my psyche, but I think I’ve done the race enough to know that those thoughts come and go,” Ulrich said. “I try and think about all of the things that are important to me, such as my wife, children, grandchildren and things such as relaxing on my back deck soaking in the tranquility of nature.”
He is thankful
After such an accomplishment, Ulrich was thankful he could still do the things he enjoys doing.
“I think about how very fortunate I am to be doing what I am able to do at this stage in my life,” he said. “I’m very grateful and feel that I’m lucky on so many levels in my life and I think a lot about this as I’m out there in the thick of things … I’m not done yet by any stretch of the imagination.”