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Community: Oakland

Local businessman to run 135-mile 'ultramarathon'

While the goal for most serious runners is to complete a 26.2-mile marathon, ultra-marathon runners, like Oakland businessman David Harper, run that far on a training day.

The 41-year-old Clermont resident and owner of Harper Financial Services, located on North Tubb Street in Oakland, received news recently that he has qualified for a spot among 90 people who will run the Badwater Ultramarathon. The 135-mile race begins July 11 in California's Death Valley, where temperatures are expected to reach 130 degrees.

Oakland businessman David Harper trains along the West Orange Trail for ultramarathon competitions. Harper will compete in the 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon July 11-13. Photo by Michael Laval

























As if running 135 miles wasn't difficult enough, the competitors will cover three mountain ranges for a total of 13,000 feet of vertical ascent and 4,700 feet of descent. Harper will take off from a starting point in Death Valley that sits 280 feet below sea level and journey toward the finish line atop Mt. Whitney.

Over the past 20 years, Harper has competed in more than 20 road marathons, five Ironman triathlons and a countless number of other triathlons and running and bicycle races.

"I used to race bicycles in the USCF [United States Cycling Federation] at the Category III level," said Harper. "Then I became involved in triathlons. After that, I wondered what else there was that could challenge me."

A television broadcast of the Western States Ultramarathon first introduced Harper to the event about 20 years ago. It's been just two years, however, since he decided to take on this new challenge. In that brief amount of time, Harper has already completed 20 ultra-marathon races of varying distances.

The Badwater competition, though, promises to pose a greater challenge than any Harper has yet to face.

"This will be, by far, the farthest I've ever gone and the first time dealing with this type of heat," said Harper. "There are many unknowns, which is what makes it such an adventure."

In the past few months, he has trained by running one ultramarathon a month at distances of 60, 31, 40 and 100 miles. Harper will run a 50-mile event in early June. Just three weeks after that, he will run the Western States 100-mile race across mountainous terrain. His body will have just two weeks to recover between the Western States and Badwater events.

"To run the Western States 100, then two weeks later finish Badwater, is going to be quite an accomplishment for me," said Harper. "It will take everything I've got, and I know that."

When he's not running monthly ultramarathons across the country, Harper trains at his Clermont home and along the West Orange Trail. Sometimes the lengths to which he goes in preparing for a race might seem extreme.

If you happened to see a man jogging on the West Orange Trail wearing winter clothes in the middle of Florida's summer heat, it's probably Harper.

"I do two runs a week where I overdress," he said. "I try to go out during the mid-day when it's hottest wearing sweat pants and a jacket for 10-plus miles of running."

These methods of training are necessary, Harper said, to prepare for the overwhelming heat he will bear at Badwater.

"The race is run on the hottest place on the planet in the hottest month of the year," he said. "If there is a wind, it's not a comforting breeze; it's a 120-degree blast of furnace-like air that feels like it's coming at you from a hair dryer.

"This race is run on the road, so you have radiated heat of much more than 120 degrees, which melts shoes and blisters feet," Harper said. "Temperatures on that pavement have been measured as high as 180 degrees."

With current outside temperatures still below 90 degrees, though, Harper has taken up riding a stationary bicycle inside the attic of his home, where he can enjoy 120-degree heat. Harper said he is looking forward to the summer months when he hopes his attic will get even hotter.

"It is preparing me for the temperatures I will face out there," he said. "The difference is I will spend 30 minutes to an hour in my attic, but I'll be in the heat for 135 miles at Badwater."

Standing 5-foot-10 inches tall, Harper keeps his body weight between 160-170 pounds. During training and competitions, he will consume about one gallon of water per hour to replace lost fluids and maintain a safe body temperature. Salt tablets must be taken on a regular basis to prevent water intoxication, a potentially fatal condition that occurs when the body is flooded with extreme amounts of water while it is losing salt through sweat.

All competitors must finish the Badwater Ultramarathon within 60 hours. Those who break 48 hours receive a commemorative belt buckle. Harper said his primary goal is to simply cross the finish line. He has aspirations, though, of finishing in between 40 and 48 hours.

During the course of the journey, runners will find aid stations about every five to 12 miles, depending on how much access race organizers have to the course. Each competitor has a team of assistants who supply fluids and food along the way. The runners are free to stop, eat or sleep alongside the trail whenever they want, but they are always racing against the clock and their competitors.

Harper moved to the area about eight years ago with his wife and their three children, who all attend Oakland Charter School. He opened his downtown Oakland business five years ago.

Harper is hoping all the hard work it has taken to prepare for this race will help others in the community. One of his main goals for competing in the Badwater is to raise money for the Challenged Athletes Foundation, which provides grants directly to athletes with physical disabilities. The charity has raised more than $4 million and assisted more than 1,000 challenged athletes worldwide.

"The Challenged Athletes Foundation believes that involvement in sports at any level increases self-esteem, encourages independence and enhances quality of life," Harper said.

Anyone interested in donating to the cause or learning more about Harper's run can log onto raceforareason.kintera.org/harper.

Friends at home can follow Harper on his adventure by watching a live webcast of the race July 11-13 at www.badwater.com.

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