HCSS employee Steve Maliszewski now walks the halls of the company's Sugar Land, Texas, campus with a big ol' shiny belt buckle on his waist. Since the 1970s, it's been tradition to reward finishers of races 100 miles or longer with a belt buckle, and this one is the tell-tale sign of Maliszewski's135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon adventure.
Finishing No. 28 overall out of 100 total competitors in the race, which is run non-stop from Death Valley to Mount Whitney, Calif., Maliszewski was the first Texan to cross the finish line out of the six competitors from the Lone Star State. His finish time was an impressive 35 hours and 49 minutes.
HCSS tracked his progress in real time by installing one of our GPS Units onto his crew’s van. His supporters watched with anticipation as “Super Steve,” as he is known in the Texas running community, started out from Lone Pine, Calif., on July 21, waiting to see the lines of the GPS slowly move along the race route via HCSS’s website. Also feeding in was a stream of tweets with updates from his crew via Maliszewski’s Twitter handle @drunkenb. Even from afar, it was exhilarating to track his progress.
21 July, Steve @drunkenb : The journey of 135 miles begins with one step!
Just after the race director played the national anthem on his iPhone, Maliszewski, decked out in Lone Star State garb, started his race at 7 a.m. Rested, he recounted that the first few miles were effortless.
21 July, Steve @drunkenb : Steve just finished marathon number 1. Only 4 more to go!!
The first major climb of the course was a straight 23 miles uphill, traversing through a series of seven switchbacks up to 10,000 feet in elevation. At Mile 19 Maliszewski read what would be the first of a series of letters received throughout the race.
“It was an idea of Grady Harrison's, my crew chief, to read me letters from people to give me inspiration or a pick-me-up when times were low and I needed some extra motivation,” said Maliszewski. “It was an incredibly thoughtful and wonderful gesture, and I enjoyed each of my letters when they were delivered.”
The first letter was from Comrades legend Bruce Fordyce, a South African ultra marathon runner who has won the South African Comrades marathon a record nine times, eight consecutively. Other letters from inspirational runners and good friends continued to trickle in throughout the next 30 hours, giving him words of encouragement to run by.
21 July, Steve @drunkenb : Steve is at mile 60 and headed up the second big climb. 8 miles up, 4,000+ ft of gain.
The HCSS-provided GPS unit helps Maliszewski's crew -- and HCSS -- track his progress in real time.
“We put it in right when we got there, and we checked the HCSS website a few times to make sure it was working,” said Maliszewski. “My crew members said they actually used the HCSS website to figure out where they were. They had to do the navigation as there’s no course markings so they referenced the site a couple of times while helping me out. It was just more convenient to use that as opposed to Google Maps, since the map was already there.”
21 July, Steve @drunkenb : Steve just reached the summit of Cerro Gordo. Half way!!!
Running these distances means everything should be monitored, including what goes in and what comes out. His crew tracked every last detail into a spreadsheet that “made me feel like a lab rat,” said Maliszewski. Staying fueled with water, fruit, a Subway sandwich, and a tailwind, his favorite staple was gummy worms. "They were always pushing the gummy worms."
Blisters and painful tendinitis in one of his ankles along the route meant Maliszewski also took Tylenol to ease the pain, and the medication was also added to the spreadsheet.
“There was one time I said, ‘Where’s the Tylenol?’ and [a crew member] said, ‘Oh we forgot it.’ But really, it was too soon to take more so they were making sure I didn’t take too much,” said Maliszewski.
Keeping his best interests in mind, his crew -- it turns out -- was lying to him.
22 July, Steve @drunkenb : Steve just hit mile 80. He is walking strong. 11 miles to the turn around.
As far off the beaten path as Maliszewski was, one would expect him to see some wildlife. Did he catch a glimpse of any sort of exotic desert creature to keep him company on these long stretches of empty road?
“I saw some vultures and crows, and I told them that I wasn’t ready yet,” laughed Maliszewski. “There were these little desert rodents that were perfectly colored as the desert, and I would see them every now and then and see them run across the roads real quick. They’re little guys. That was about it.”
The horseflies proved to be brutal, especially in the back stretches.
"I am not sure if it was because I was wet and they were searching me out, or what, but they would fly up the brim of my hat and into my sunglasses," Maliszewski said. "I could feel them on my shoulders, and they would bite. Up Cerro Gordo with the headlamp at night, they were attracted to the headlamp so I was getting things stuck to my hair. Vikki, who was pacing me, had a flashlight. She was nice enough to take the headlamp away and just use the flashlight, so I followed her light and that helped me not be so annoyed. It was really tough, and she got bit up really bad. We had bug spray, but I don’t think they cared. Apparently, I smelled good enough for them to want me.”
22 July, Steve @drunkenb : It's a beautiful clear night out. LOTS of stars. We have seen a few shooting stars while we are sitting here.
With the moon hanging like a sliver of light in the sky, the stars put on a show. Maliszewski said he gathered energy at night due to the change in the atmosphere and the disappearance of the sun?.
“It was really neat to see the stars -- they were so bright,” said Maliszewski. “It was good that it started to cool off a bit. Once I got down from Cerro Gordo I sat and ate a little bit. Once I got back up, I moved a lot better and ran a lot more. So that section was really nice.”
22 July, Steve @drunkenb : Steve was like Pacman during the night. He was gobbling up other runners like candy!
The vast landscape meant there was little point of reference throughout the race. During the day the road rolled on endlessly and the mountains never seemed to shrink. At night, Maliszewski had only the night sky and a headlamp to move him forward, with little perspective. It seemed at times like a race to nowhere, but Maliszewski was able to break up the monotony of the route.
“I was using the cars ahead to focus on," he said. "It kind of reminded me of the HCSS team relay that we do, the Texas Independence Relay, where you run at night too, of course in shorter sections. All the runners and crew members have blinkers, little flashing red lights, so you could see those in the distance. I could see the other support cars so I used those as points of reference. It was like a game where I was trying to catch them so it started to get real fun. I started to see that and I would see a light and then catch them. I passed a lot of people there. That started to become a lot more fun.”
22 July, Steve @drunkenb : Mile 114 and Steve is dreaming of the cool blue waters of the Lone Pine Comfort Inn swimming pool in 6 miles.
Not just a race of physical endurance, Badwater is a venture of mental tenacity. What ran through his mind logging mile after mile?
“I would think about what section I was on and the different little things that I was looking forward to," Maliszewski said. "Coming down the mountain, I was looking forward to the planned slushy my crew was going to bring me from town. Going up Cerro Gordo, I was cursing the mountain but I was imagining what the ghost town up ahead looked like, about how cool it was going to be. Then I’d think about clever things to say to my crew members since I hadn’t seen them in a while. But I’d forget to actually say them, so it was all in my head.”
22 July, Steve @drunkenb : It's 100 F out, he has already gone 119 miles, and Steve just ran an 11 min mile! He CANNOT be stopped!!!!!
“In a lot of respects it still feels like a dream,” Maliszewski said, talking about the breadth of the race. “When I think about the whole thing, the whole thing was so vast it’s hard to even sit down and read my recap. It was tough to read. I think I was lucid the entire time so I pretty much remember everything even though after a while I wasn’t talking that much. I would listen to a whole bunch of things, I was absorbing it all. It was pretty neat.”
22 July, Steve @drunkenb : It's official, Steve is done! 35:49:58. Truly inspiring!!!!
Dressed in his HCSS team shirt with “the end in sight, I felt a few tears drop as I linked up hands with my friends and team members,” said Maliszewski.
He and his team crossed the finish line and broke the tape together.
“I might have traversed all 135 miles myself, but I couldn't have done it without each and every one of the people I was now surrounded by. After we were done I hugged and thanked each of them individually before standing on the backdrop to get our picture taken with my shiny belt buckle.”
The Badwater statistics soon started rolling in post-race. Of the 704 people who have finished Badwater since it began, 20 have been from Texas. Maliszewski’s time is the fourth-fastest from a Texan.
“Finishing fourth all-time just leaves me room for improvement,” he said.
After 135 miles logged, 36 hours of no sleep, 8 lbs. lighter and little left in the tank, it's hard to imagine how a person levels back to normality.
“I was good post race -- I think my crew members were sorer than I was, and they were pretty upset about that,” Maliszewski said. “I was able to eat a McDonald's hamburger an hour after I finished -- not sure if that constitutes as a meal. When I woke up the following day I was stiff but I could move, and I was walking pretty fine to help my crew pack up the van. I spent the day walking around the Vegas strip. It was kind of weird seeing all the strangeness of Vegas.”
So what’s next for the ultra-marathoner. His race time at Badwater qualifies him for an ultramarathon in Greece, the Spartathlon, which follows the path of Pheidippides, the first man to ever run a marathon.
“There’s a little-known story about Pheidippides -- everybody focuses on, ‘That’s the guy that died running the marathon, right?'” says Maliszewski. “That was actually the second day. The day before [the marathon], he ran this huge run over 150 miles from city to city, then ran the marathon, where he died. This run recreates that, through all these small towns in Greece.”
Other runs in mind include a race of man versus horse. From time to time, man actually wins.
“Since the horses can’t cool themselves, they tend to slow down after a while, "Maliszewski said. "Also, in steep declines, the horse will be tentative trying to navigate down such as a big ravine, where the man will take caution to the wind. So you make up time doing that.”
You can read Maliszewski’s adventurous recap in his own words on his personal blog. And keep your eyes and ears tuned for his next insane run.
Read our lead up article to Badwater about Maliszewski's preparation for the race.
Watch a timelapse video of HCSS's GPS Unit tracking his crew along the Badwater course.
Read how Reece Albert cut their trucking budget by $900,000 using HCSS's GPS Units.