to run 135-mile 'ultramarathon'
By Michael Laval
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.
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
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
"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
"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
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
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
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.
Athletes Foundation believes that involvement in sports
at any level increases self-esteem, encourages
independence and enhances quality of life," Harper
Anyone interested in
donating to the cause or learning more about Harper's
run can log onto
Friends at home can
follow Harper on his adventure by watching a live
webcast of the race July 11-13 at