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After 35 years, a Pinoy Ultrarunner was invited and successfully finished the Badwater 135-Mile (217 Kilometers) Ultramarathon Race which is globally recognized as “the world’s toughest foot race” where 90-100 of the world’s toughest athletes—runners, triathletes, adventure racers, and mountaineers, are invited to compete against each other and to survive the elements, elevation and extreme hot temperature of the Death Valley Desert in California, USA.
Badwater Ultramarathon, simply known as “Badwater 135” is a “by invitation only” race where a five-member committee selects 100 of the best endurance/ adventure athletes worldwide to compete in this event. This race is considered as “the holy grail of running” due to the extreme conditions of the route and the environment. For the first time in its race history, Philippines’ Flag/Colors will be displayed on its official website and function areas due to the successful finish of a Pinoy Ultrarunner.
Benjamin Gaetos of Eagle Rock, California finished the race in 44 hours 8 minutes 7 seconds after starting from Badwater, Death Valley, which marks as the lowest elevation in the Western Hemisphere at 280 feet below sea level, on a non-stop run to the Finish Line at the Mt Whitney Portals with an elevation of nearly 8,300 feet above sea level. Popularly known as “Ben Gaetos” among ultrarunners, he endured the hot temperature reaching up to 130 degrees Fahrenheit and the course cumulative vertical ascent of 13,000 feet that covers three mountain ranges in the Death Valley Desert and a cumulative descent of 4,700 feet. The race was held last July 15-17, 2013 and it usually starts on the third Monday of July every year, few weeks after the start of Summer Season in the United States!
He finished with a ranking of 64th Finisher out of the 81 runners who crossed the Finished Line within the prescribed cut-off time of 48 hours. For the past editions of the race up to 2010, the cut-off time was established at 60 hours. But due to the distance, elevation, and the extreme hot temperature of the course, even the best and toughest ultrarunners would succumbed to dehydration and foot blisters. With a reduced cut-off time, more pressure was on the shoulder of each of the participants. Fifteen runners declared themselves as Did Not Finish (DNF) in this year’s edition.
This year’s 36th edition of the race was joined by 97 runners from 25 countries, the most number of international runners to participate, to include the United States of America. For the first time in the history of the race, Philippines was represented in the person of Ben Gaetos. Two other Southeast Asian ultrarunners, from Malaysia and Singapore, were also represented for the first time in this race. Seow Kong Ng of Malaysia, finisher of our country’s BDM 102 Ultra Marathon Race and Taklang Damulag 100-Mile Endurance Run, successfully finished the said race.
Out of the 97 runners, 48 runners are considered as Badwater “veterans” and 49 runners are “rookies”/”first-timers”. Ben is one of the “rookies” for this race but he is an accomplished ultrarunner for having finished almost 60 ultra running events to include 100-mile runs, 100K races, 50-milers and 50K runs. Ben is also a Finisher of the BDM 160 and 102 Ultra Marathon Races where he finished the BDM 160 Ultra in less than 24 hours.
In this year’s race, the runners consist of 74 men and 23 women. The Overall Champion Award went to Carlos Alberto Gomez De Sa of Portugal with a finish time of 24 hours 38 minutes 16 seconds. The Lady Champion went to Catherine Todd of Australia with a finish time of 29 hours 55 minutes 29 seconds with a ranking of 11th overall finisher.
Valmir Nunez of Brazil still holds the course record with a time of 22 hours 51 minutes 29 seconds which he set in 2007. On the other hand, Jamie Donaldson of Colorado, USA still holds the women’s course record with a time of 26 hours 16 minutes 12 seconds which she set in 2010.
At the age of 56, Ben Gaetos said, “The mountain ranges near my house in Eagle Rock, California had helped me with my strength and endurance in preparation for the race. The hot weather in California and regular sessions of “Sauna” since February of this year had also given me the confidence and acclimatize to the heat in the Death Valley Desert”. Ben had also a good familiarity of the route as he had served as a member of the Support Crew and Pacer for the Badwater’s Past Champion Jorge Pacheco and top ultra runner Badwater Finisher Adalberto “Flaco” Mendoza in 2010.
Ben, in an interview with him, said that he had been to, as far as, Las Vegas Red Rock Canyon Park and at the Death Valley Desert for some practice runs weeks prior to the race event for him to acclimatize with the extreme heat in the desert. And most of the time while he was doing his heat training in Palm Desert, Palm Springs and Twenty-Nile Palms in California, he would be stopped by the roving California Highway Patrols and he would be asked with these questions: “Are you lost?”; “Where are you going”; “Where did you leave your car?”; “Are you out of gas?”; “Do you need help or a ride?”. The funniest thing that he relayed to me was that, he was suspected to be a terrorist running in the desert where he had to give his hydration pack and bottles for inspection to the CHP Officers.
Constantly running for 135 miles on the white line on the left edge of the asphalted road along CA Highways 190 and 136, Ben complained of swollen ankles on his last 35 miles to the finish line. “I slowed down with my pace before I reached Lone Pine with my swollen ankles but I never thought of quitting the race. I know my ultra friends back home in the country expected much from me as my participation and finish would be a significant part in the history of ultrarunning for the country. I will not fail my friends and my country”, Ben Gaetos said after he was awarded with the Badwater’s Medal & Buckle at the Mt Whitney Portals.
“My successful finish in the 36th Badwater Ultramarathon would not be possible without the help and assistance of my Support Crew and Pacers led by my Ultra Coach Nancy Shura-Dervin, a Badwater Ultramarathon Finisher, who patiently bandaged my feet on the night prior to the start of the event. The bandage made by Nancy on my feet prevented me from having any blisters during the run which had been the culprit of numerous DNFs of runners in this race”, Ben said. Filipinos based in the Los Angeles area have also served as members of the Support Crew/Pacers of Ben.
A Runners Circle (ARC) Specialty Store in Glendale, California owned by Pinoy runners & triathletes Joe Matias and Derek Lee Biesheuvel is one of the major sponsors of Ben Gaetos’ participation to the 36th edition of the Badwater Ultramarathon.
Ben Gaetos is presently working as an Architect of the Los Angeles City Government’s Department of Public Works and he is humble not to mention openly that he is the main/chief architect of the newly constructed bridges/overpass/underpass and parks within the City of Los Angeles. It is worth mentioning also that he also a part of the team of city architects that made the latest transformation and reconstruction of the famous Echo Park Lake in Los Angeles.
Ben Gaetos is a regular donor of Bald Runner’s Donate-A-Shoe Project for the past 5 years where he would send Balikbayan Boxes of used shoes from California. He is also a Contributing Writer to the Ultrarunning Magazine for his Race Reports in Ultra Events. His Race Report in the BDM 160 Ultra was featured in the said prestigious monthly magazine last April 2012.
Ben Gaetos’ parents are from the Province of La Union and he was born in Santa Ana, Manila. He graduated from the University of Santo Tomas with Bachelor of Science Degree In Architecture. Ben is a full-blooded Ilocano! He is married to Josie Manila and have only one daughter, Paula.
When I asked if he is going to do the race again in the future, he immediately replied, “Never Again!” “But I will continue sharing my experiences to all Pinoy ultra runners and ready to help by being a Pacer or Support Crew if they intend to join 100-Miler events here in California”
(Note: All pictures were taken & copied from Benjamin Gaetos Facebook’s Wall)