(excerpted from the AdventureCorps email newsletter. You can subscribe to the newsletter here.)
The race began with the traditional CHP escort followed by excellent tailwinds as the racers sped north through the Mojave Desert. A full moon would rise that evening. On Saturday, the high was 82 degrees, but that would rise to 90 degrees at night in Death Valley.
Turning east onto Towne Pass, the 10-mile, 5000 foot ascent which is the entryway to Death Valley, the began to blow in a less favorable direction. By the time the racers started to traverse Death Valley proper, near the giant sand dunes at Stove Pipe Wells, the wind was blowing a steady 30mph from the south, with sand blowing across the road like a river.
As the race route turned due south on the way to Furnace Creek (the halfway mark) and beyond to Badwater, the wind was blowing straight in the racers’ faces at 30mph or faster, with gusts up to 50 to 60mph. Some racers walked their bikes into the wind. Many averaged no more than about 5mph through the night. Race leaders required over six hours to cover the 73 miles from Furnace Creek to Shoshone. The wind truly terrorized the competitors in this year’s race, easily outblowing the “thermonuclear headwinds” of the 2004 race.
Chris Ram Ragsdale, 32, of Seattle, WA led the race to Furnace Creek, just barely, then fell to second during the worst of the wind conditions, with three-time champion Michael Alpine Ibex Emde, 39, of Spokane, WA taking the lead. At Baker, mile 383, Ragsdale decided he would catch Emde by the top of the twenty-mile climb into the Mojave National Preserve. Ragsdale passed through the Kelso time station a mere one minute behind Emde, then was just 15 seconds back at the final time station at Amboy. Shortly thereafter, he made his move and took the lead, putting 15 minutes on Emde on the final climb up Sheephole Summit.
Ragsdale’s victory, with a time of 29:10:31, represents a five year effort: 9th in 2005, DNF in 2006, 2nd last year, then the victory in 2009!
Michael Alpine Ibex Emde took 2nd in 29:47:34 and has the strongest 508 career record yet: 3rd in 2005, 1st in 2006 06, 2007, and 2008, and then 2nd in 2009. He earned his Furnace Creek 508 Hall of Fame entry, too, with his 5th finish in 2009.
Rookie of the Year honors went to third-place finisher Brian American Kestrel Ecker, 37, of Bellingham, WA with a time of 33:14:06. Ecker left 100% of himself out on the race course; at the finish line he required over 90 minutes to ready himself to receive his finisher’s medal and jersey.
Note that the top three male solo finishers are from Washington State. What’s up with that, California???
Charlie Water Dragon Engle, 47, of Greensboro, NC took 4th solo in 33:19:25 and broke the ten year old Death Valley Cup record set in 2000 by Kaname Sakurai by one hour, 20 minutes. Engle was 1 hour, 12 minutes faster at the 2009 508 than his first effort in 2007. He was also 1 hour, 58 minutes faster at the 2009 Badwater Ultramarathon than in 2007.
Women’s winner Leah Mighty Mouse Goldstein, 40, a dual citizen of Canada and Israel, is a professional cyclist, racing for Team ValueAct. She is the current Israeli national champion in the road race and time trial. At the finish line she stated “I’ve competed in the Tour de France, the World Championship, National Championship, and many other races and can honestly say that the Furnace Creek 508 is the toughest, hardest race I’ve ever done.” Her time was 35:01:50, also placing her 6th overall among all the solos.
19-year-old Nick Hollon of San Diego, CA, who also completed the Badwater Ultramarathon this year, crossed the line in 44:06:44, the youngest ever Death Valley Cup finisher and in his first bicycle race!
US Navy SEAL and two-time Badwater Ultramarathon finisher David Goggins, 34, of San Diego, CA, had heart surgery in May. He finished the 508 in 41:45:58, in 17th place, in his first 508 appearance.
The 2x teams were led by 50+ Team Ratel, comprised of four-time finisher Doug Patterson, 49, of Orange, CA along with his rookie teammate David Elsberry, 58, of Laguna Niguel, CA, with a time of 33:06:50. Not only did they win the 2x division, but Patterson (AKA Polar Bear) notched his fifth finish and thus his Hall of Fame membership. Close on their heels in 33:13:53 was the first place 2x mixed team, Team Godwit, Cara Gillis and Jeff Lawler.
4x men’s team Bloodhound, with three veterans on board, placed first among the 4-rider team with a time of 28:59:29.
4x female team Hammer Frogs, fueled with Hammer Nutrition, finish in 32:39:33! Lee “Maggot” Mitchell was their lucky, hard-working crewchief.
For those with the courage and commitment to rise to the challenge, Furnace Creek 508 has a category for everyone. This year’s race included 2x and 4x tandem teams, 2x classic bike teams, 2x fixed gear teams, 2x recumbent teams, and more. More details to follow in the full, official Race Report! Meanwhile, here are some stats:
179 racers began the race.
There were 59 solo, 52 on 2x teams, 68 on 4x teams.
15 US states and 4 Canadian provinces were represented, along with seven countries or nationalities.
There were 148 males and 31 females.
There were 92 rookies and 87 veterans.
98 of 120 team racers finished = 81.67%.
29 of 59 solos finished = 49.1%. Although that is low by recent years’ standard (finishing averages went up when the race organizers implemented a selection process, rather than first come, first serve, to determine the race field), it is line with the historical solo finishing average of 49.35%.