Zach Gingerich blazed to victory at the Badwater Ultramarathon yesterday morning on the steep trailhead of Mount Whitney, California. The 30-year old runner from Aurora, Illinois, beat out second-place Oswaldo Lopez (Mexico) and third-place/first-woman Jaime Donaldson (Colorado) to claim the win with a time of 24:44:48. The victory places Gingerich among the world's most elite athletes.
At the finish line, the soft spoken champion was solemn. "I didn't make goals. This is Badwater. You've got to respect the race and see what happens," Gingerich said, before almost losing consciousness and quickly sitting down, head in his hands.
The previous night had seen a significant shakeup in the lead pack. By the time the sun broke over the peak of Mount Whitney, two of the first day's top three runners had fallen far behind. Shortly after Panamint Springs (72 miles), lead runner and 2008 winner Jorge Pacheco's record-breaking pace proved too rigorous to sustain. His hopes for victory disintegrated as Marco Farinazzo (Brazil), Gingerich, Lopez, and Donaldson picked him off, each jockeying for the lead in the last 60-mile stretch.
"I was feeling very negative when I fell to fourth," Gingerich said, "but it's a long race." He took the number-one spot between the 90-mile and 122-mile checkpoints, relying on a race-day diet of Diet Coke, and 5-Hour Energy to keep him going through the final miles.
The victory marks Gingerich's third consecutive completion of the race. His first race in 2008 took him more than 37 hours to finish. As for Gingerich's plans for celebration: "I'm going to go home and lay down," he said. "Hopefully it won't be like last year where I'm in bed for days."
The AdventureCORPS Badwater Ultra Marathon is a race of extremities. From the staggering heat in the martian-like landscapes, to the grueling climb up the Mount Whitney Portals, the course is designed to break all but the toughest of athletes. Temperatures can reach up to 130F.
At the time of writing, there are still runners battling the course, nearly 48 hours after the start. For complete Badwater Ultra Marathon results, check here.
Photos by Shauna Sweeney