2XU Community and Events Co-ordinator Chelsea Veloso caught up with US ambassador Harvey Lewis after his victory at the 'Worlds toughest footrace - Badwater135
Not only a high school social studies teacher, but a renown Ohio-based ultrarunner - Harvey Lewis has ran through several off-the-grid trails throughout the United States and beyond.
He recently won what is known as the “world’s toughest footrace” running 135 miles through Death Valley, CA in what most would consider grueling conditions to race in.
He was introduced to running a quarter of a century ago when his sister planted the seed when she was on her cross-country team. She tried to entice him running around the block of their neighborhood, but never thought to run more than that at that time. The next big step was running longer distances, thanks to a family friend who introduced him to FAN's 24-Hour Race in Minneapolis. It was quite the experience and thought it was one of the most insane things he had ever experienced, to try to run as long as he could within in 24 hours. Then as a Sophomore in college, working full-time as a Father, Harvey was looking for a “mountain to climb” at this stage in his life. The thought of that 24 Hour race popped in his mind again as he wanted to chase something that was “impossible” to drive him to become a better person. From there on out, Harvey has sought to run in what the average person would say “the most impossible of races.”
What helped Harvey prepare leading up to the Badwater race was practicing his runs in similar environments. On-course, there is a 21 mile stretch with a 5,000 foot climb, so he would do more vertical climbing, which he never focused on before. He would also run in 90 degree humid weather, similar to that of Death Valley. He would continue to practice his perceived weaknesses and try to “perfect the ingredients and recipe”
“Badwater is one of those races that will just beat you up, kick you around, somehow people manage to pull through those extreme lows so it gives you those extraordinary euphoric highs”
What mentally prepared him for his race was a trip to Malta. His workouts were not in the most ideal of places, which required him to run 10 meters running back and forth in his hotel room. Practicing in that environment, he was reminded of the freedom he was grateful for back home. Also experiencing the sights and especially looking at a wall that weighed over 20 tons and was built over 2,000 years ago. Harvey was in awe that it took an island of primal people with strength, perseverance, and ingenuity to build these walls. That experience ultimately inspired his mind for the race. Also experiencing the beautiful Mediterranean waters of Malta, he would visualize himself being in those waters again and would mentally cool him down when running in hot conditions.
Come race day, Harvey had prepared the best he could. He was more determined this year than prior years and he was ready to “leave it all out there.”
The first leg of the race was a lot tougher than anticipated, he had mentioned there were strong head winds that affected every runner. He worked with 2 other runners and they would strategically switch to the front of the pack to take on the head winds every half mile or so. He saw other runners take-off and knew that they would have used a lot of energy running that speed in that condition, so he felt good about his pace and was hitting the goals he had set for himself during the first 42 miles.
Harvey’s hardest stretch were miles 72-90, he was only averaging 14-minute miles and thought at that point he was out of the game. He would only eat a grape or a potato chip a mile and even laid out on the ground for almost a good-minute. Then came mile 90, something just came over him – a rush just hit him like he and his team just won the Super Bowl. He picked himself up and was back to running at an 8-minute pace.
“At mile 90, I told my team – some crazy sh*t’s about to happen. When we went to mile 90, something hit me. 5 minutes later a fire jet just blazed, and we were just screaming – it looked like we just won the Super Bowl.”
Harvey was battling to catch up with renown Ukraine runner Igor Gotsuliak, who at one time was 35 minutes ahead of Harvey. When Harvey knew he was about 9-minutes behind the runner, he knew he was at a good place and finally caught-up after the 14 mile stretch chasing Igor. Harvey remembers the moment he caught-up to Igor, which was one of the most memorable moments he ever had in his career. Nothing but support and appreciation between these two runners who were battling it out to win the whole race.
To keep the momentum going on the final stretch of the race, Harvey ran into one his students who was a crew member for another fellow race runner. Harvey just kept thinking of his mother who had survived a stroke 25 years ago. His mother lacks mobility and does not have the greatest of verbal speech –but she still stands strong and has a positive attitude which gave him all the inspiration to finish strong.
Overall Harvey’s Badwater race was no small feat. There was tough currents Harvey faced throughout his race journey. He admitted there were times where he could’ve quit and went back to his cool hotel room, but his determination to finish - no matter how he placed was his ultimate motivation. What made this year’s win different than his last win in 2014 was that he’s a bit older and wiser and was a bit more strategic.
“Really tough currents of Badwater, not because it’s easy, but because it is the hottest place on Earth and teaches more about ourselves. Even when you think you have it mastered, you don’t really have it mastered. Requires hanging in there, you don’t have to be the fastest runner or greatest climber. You have to put all these different dynamics, the team, proper nutrition and gear”
“They were staying in there and long as I could, it would be okay if I didn’t win if I finished second third whatever place - I was gonna give it everything I had until the last moment, wherever that left me then that’s where it left, but I had to continue to give my best”
Photo Credit: Dave McCoy
He thanks his crew for their support, positivity, and encouragement while he was running. Harvey also gives props to his vegan nutrition that gave him the proper energy source and gear that helped him through race conditions. He especially loved his 2XU apparel, that helped him on the mountain terrains, like the compression shorts and calf sleeves.
“They were adaptive, good attitude – never a negative statement. Everything has a solution. Always upbeat although things look real sour. Dexter, Max, Matt and Alex – who is 6’9 offered extra shade.”
Harvey has had a couple of days to recover and looks to his plant-based diet, hot baths with epsom salt, natural ice water baths in the Mountains and 2XU compression to help with his recovery process.
His next race comes in full-circle as he’ll be running the 24 Hour Fan race in Minneapolis which is exciting as this was his first Ultrarun race he’s ran 24 years ago and looks to break the record for the longest run. He’s also excited to run Big Dog’s Backyard Ultra, which is a run to the last person standing, so the run could be as long as 4-5 days. He’s excited to race against runners from over 40 countries and ready to take on this challenge as an “underdog” of the race. He looks forward to run Badwater again, but knows that the young runners will push him next year.
His next Finish Line will be trekking the Boundary Waters in Northern Minnesota, having an adventure and journey in the Mountains and pristine River trails with his 81-year old Father.
Photo Credit: Tracey Outlaw