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Beating the heat no small feat

Winning is not always the goal of a marathoner. And for an ultramarathoner, the aim is often just to finish the race.

To that effect, Ken Eielson’s first attempt of running in the Badwater Ultramarathon – a 135-mile trek through the desert of Death Valley, Calif. – was successful.

The Glenwood Springs resident was one of 46 runners to complete the course out of 73 who lined up for the start of the July 22-24 endurance race.



Eielson, an event rookie, ran the course in 53 hours, 14 minutes, 54 seconds – well under the maximum of 60 hours runners have to finish the course. His final time was the 23nd best among 28 rookie participants in the 2003 race.

Pamela Reed, 42, of Arizona, a Badwater Ultramarathon veteran, had an event-best time of 28:26.52. Dean Karnazes, a 40 year-old Californian, posted the men’s fastest time of 28:51.26, and was second in the overall standings.



During the three-day span of the event, Eielson and the other competitors

had to run stretches that started from running 235 feet below sea level to elevations topping out at 8,300 feet.

At night, Eielson’s only guide was the light of the moon.

But, the biggest obstacle, according to Eielson, was the unforgiving heat.

“The first day was the hottest and the toughest,” said Eielson.

Starting out in temperatures ranging from 128-to-135 degrees forced a change in Eielson’s tactics.

“I walked the entire course, and it took me 14 hours to complete,” he said of the first day’s 42-mile journey.

Through it all, Eielson maintained his composure, but admitted, the threat of hallucination, caused by a lack of fluids was a “major issue.”

That problem never occurred, thanks to a crew of five women, who checked Eielson’s health throughout the race.

“I had an incredible crew which kept me iced down,” he said.

With the crew’s help, Eielson forced fluids into his body constantly.

“I was intaking 80 ounces of water an hour and eating a lot of salty snacks to stay hydrated in the first part of the race,” Eielson recalled. “With so much salt in my system at that time, my tongue almost puffed up.”

As conditions changed, so did Eielson’s fluid intake.

At the higher elevations, the dosages shrank to 50 ounces per hour. Then, back up to 80 for the event’s final stage – a climb of 3,600 feet from the starting point to 8,360 feet at the finish line at the Lone Pine Campground’s parking lot.

In that part of the course, Eielson’s crew had fashioned a surprise.

“Heading into Lone Pine, my crew positioned a revolving disco ball with lights as I passed. It was fun and it kept me motivated,” he said.

The disco ball, along with a 20-minute rest, rejuvenated Eielson in his final approach to the finish line.

“Waking up from that rest, I was ready to rock-and-roll,” said Eielson. “At the end it was pretty cold, but everything clicked and the gods were with me.

“Getting to the end was a major accomplishment,” he said. “I was euphoric at the end and I felt a deep sense of accomplishment and pride.”

After completing the goal, would Eielson think of putting himself through the rigors of the Badwater Ultramarathon again?

“Absolutely,” he said without any hesitation.


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