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Q&A: Ultramararthon Champ Marshall Ulrich on the First Ever Trip Around Death Valley

Find out how he survived and succeeded in circumnavigating the hottest place on earth.

What’s the best way to stay cool in extreme heat?
It was all about drinking water. We also had a good supply of salt tablets that contained potassium, magnesium, and calcium. Those are about the only things you can do. But the body actually adjusts to the heat. Three days before we started this, I ran the Badwater race. Before that, I was training in up to 115-degree weather, so I was well heat-trained. After a week to 10 days, our bodies became so efficient that we were able to do with about 25 percent less water. On a physiological level, the body starts retaining more sodium in the kidneys. We also discovered that our bodies started leaning down. So a big muscle mass like the quads would atrophy, but not lose strength, so that the body could cool better on its own. In those 16 days, I lost 10 pounds, and Dave lost 25 pounds because of the heat.

Amid the suffering, you must have enjoyed yourself. What were the high points?
Those are the things I focus on now. Death Valley is also the darkest place in the country, so you’ve got these brilliant stars. We were caught in a deluge of sorts, a downpour with lightning cracking all around us, and it was just spectacular sweeping through the valley. Then there was the solitude. We found that we reverted back to a natural sleep cycle without the light bulb where we’d fall asleep at sundown, wake up for an hour or two during the night, then fall back asleep. It was peaceful and simple. On some level, Dave and I didn’t want to get back to civilization. Our existence was embellished by the simplicity. 

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