Ok, I kind of already gave it away with that title but I still want to review and break down what the Badwater 267 VR Elite is and what it was like. It is coming up again for the second year so maybe you want to give it a try!
Review of the Badwater 267 VR Elite
This year, the Badwater 267 VR Elite takes place from April 2 – April 17. It again covers 267 miles and the cost is $165
The Onslaught of Virtual Races
When Covid hit and races around the world began to cancel due to health protocols, the emergence of the virtual race came fast. This was something that traditional races were offering registered runners as a way to get rid of the gear they already ordered and also keep some of the money that was already paid – while still giving runners a way to use their training.
There was a lot of hate on virtual races as well as many that really jumped into it. I actually signed up for a few virtual marathons because I was already running 26.2 miles (or more) on my own anyway so why not get some cool medals to go along with it! I ran the Marine Corps Marathon (twice) and the Marine Corps 50K (once) as well as the Eugene Marathon and the Boston Marathon – all virtually. This meant that I actually ran the distance on my own, wherever I happened to be, and then uploaded my results.
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But, Virtual Races Were Not Easy to Verify, Until…
But, these races were really not a great way to compete because some of them would just let you enter your results in a field – no GPS or verification. Even the ones that did have you upload your watch data didn’t require things like HR monitoring. This meant that, technically, you could have ridden a bike (really slow) or even split up the distance with friends.
Then there was a race that came on the scenes that offered the most stringent scrutiny yet on a virtual race. And it was no wonder it was being done by the Badwater group. After all, the Badwater 135 is one of the hardest races on the planet (traversing 135 miles from the floor of Death Valley to the portals of Mt. Whitney – in July) so they have some experience in making things challenging for runners! And the Badwater 267 VR Elite was certainly a challenge!
What is the Badwater 267 VR Elite?
Last April, Badwater put in their first Badwater 267 VR Elite which was a combination of the Badwater races (the 51-mile Badwater Cape Fear, the 81-mile Badwater Salton Sea, and the title event, the 135-mile Badwater 135) that had to be done in a 16 day period. That meant running 267 miles in 16 days – and providing information each and every run to help verify that the runs were done by the entrant.
Running 267 miles in 16 days works out to 16.7 miles per day, every day for 16 days. For an elite runner, this is just called “training” and nothing special. Even for some ultra runners, this isn’t abnormal. But, for a bunch of runners like me, this is a stretch for sure over regular training! But, this wasn’t regular training – this was a race!
How Does the Badwater 267 VR Elite Work with a Leaderboard?
So, with a race that lasts 16 days, how do you win? The Badwater 267 VR Elite tracks the results by overall cumulative time. This means that it is not who finishes first but who has the lowest cumulative time from the whole event.
How Does the Badwater 267 VR Elite Track Runners’ Times?
Now we get to the tough part – how does Badwater really track people that are running a virtual race? This is part of their verification process. To begin with you are encouraged to wear a device that tracks your heart rate and you MUST use a GPS device. Only outdoor miles count and no live-event miles count (so you cannot run an actual marathon and include those miles).
All runs have to be uploaded to the Strava and you are included on the private Strava group for the event. After you have uploaded your run to Strava, you then take the information from Strava – elapsed time, distance, and elevation – and put that into a special race page. ALL THAT INFORMATION has to come from Strava, not your watch.
And notice I said elapsed time. This is a race so you cannot just stop your watch and take a break – every second of the run is counting towards your total cumulative time from the time you push “start” on your watch until your finish that run. This certainly makes things interesting! Unlike normal races, the roads around me were not closed to traffic so there were sometimes I had to wait for traffic to clear to cross a road. That time was included in the overall time. It was also included if I stopped to go to the bathroom during the run or to get some water.
Badwater 267 VR Elite Cutoff Time
Previously, there had been cutoff times for each “race” that was part of the total but this year, it is just a cut-off time for the whole event. You must finish the 267 miles in less than 90 hours. That works out to just under 20 minutes per mile so that should definitely be doable for anyone that would think to sign up for this event.
What Else is Required for Verification?
In addition to tracking your runs with GPS and uploading all that data to Strava and then putting it in to the race page, you also have to post photos of you and where you are running for every run. You also need to include the link to that run on Strava for verification as well as writing about what the activity was like (things like weather, difficulty, fuel, etc). This way it works to help verify that this was you getting the job done as well as serving as something of a diary to look back on later.
What Was the Overall Badwater 267 VR Elite Experience Like?
When you sign up for the event, you will receive invitations to the private Strava group as well as the Facebook group for the event. You will also have access to the RunSignUp page for the event which is where you will put your data in each day.
It was a lot of fun interacting with the more than 200 entrants from all over the world throughout this event last year. We would get to see each other’s runs, encourage each other, track competition and feel the pain with everyone all at once!
I had trained for just 5 weeks for this (before that, I was only running about 30 miles a week for 5 weeks and before that, nothing for about a month) so had only signed up for this to go for the awesome Badwater belt buckle and also keep myself running during the Covid closures. This was especially true since where we were was experiencing a strict lockdown that only allowed for people exercising to leave their areas.
So, my plan had been to do about 15 miles during the day and walk 2 miles with my family each night. But, the temperatures dropped a bit so I dropped the family walks. Also, I realized that I could possibly place in the top 100 if I tried harder so I had the goal to go for that.
As the race progressed, I went through some highs and lows. Around the 4th day of the event, I started having horrible foot pain that made it difficult to even walk. This was due to my shoes being completely shot. The problem? My good shoes were 12 miles away at another location and I could not drive there. That meant I was going to have to run there one of the days using my shoes that were shot. At this point, I didn’t think I would be able to complete.
But, after a couple of days of slower running, I was back again! Not only that, but when I entered the second week of the event, I noticed that my both my running heart rate and my overall paces were dropping quite a bit. This meant that I was going up even higher in the placement of contestants and now I was shooting for top 50.
My second week, my average pace for the 120+ miles was 8:45 per mile. That was quite an improvement over the first week and I found a system that worked for me – doing three runs each day.
In the end, I finished in 29th place with an overall time of 40 hours, 29 minutes and 38 seconds in 15 days of running 267 miles. That worked out to an average pace of 9 minutes and 6 seconds per mile.
There were some amazing runners that participated last year, including one runner who beat me by just a bit. I actually thought he was done (he had Covid during the race) but he came back with an awesome 50+ mile run on the last day, just under the wire, to complete the race.
So, What Was the Badwater 267 VR Elite Like and Should You Do It?
What I Liked About the Badwater 267 VR Elite
I loved the accountability of the Badwater event. It meant that I made sure to never stop running during a run and to come up with strategies to get the runs in that I needed to. I loved the push of the event. I would NEVER have run miles like this – lockdown or not – if there had not been this event to push me out the door. Towards the end, I was physically exhausted. I was still working the whole time and keeping up with this site as well as other things and the running just sucked my energy out of me. But, I loved that feeling! 🙂
I loved the fact that the director kept to the rules – if you didn’t follow the rules, you didn’t finish. There were some runners that missed out on earning finisher’s status (and the belt buckle) because they didn’t follow the rules correctly. One runner missed by just a few hundred meters because he didn’t transfer the data from Strava. Another runner had miles pulled because he ran an actual race and included them (this runner still went ahead and did the miles over on his own to earn the buckle! Awesome!)
As sad as it was to see some runners not earn their buckle after putting in so much effort, it was this exact precision that made the Badwater 267 VR Elite the truest virtual event around. I mean, I was worried right up until the results were certified that I may have messed up and didn’t really finish!
This made the Badwater 267 VR Elite an even worth doing for sure!
One Thing I Would Like to See Different
During the Facebook video talking about the race, the director talked about how it would be in the spirit of the event to take like a one hour pause/break in between runs. This was to prevent someone from running a fast 1 mile, taking a 10 minute break, and doing it again. Just repeating that could enable some runners to post really fast times but it really was not in the spirit of the event.
However, there were a couple of runners that did just that. It was not a rule that they couldn’t so they just went ahead and did it. I and others thought that this was not the proper spirit of the event yet these runners didn’t even acknowledge it. I would like to see a rule that would formalize some kind of time requirement in between runs to make sure people were not doing this.
Also, it was part of a strategy but I (and others) also felt it was not in the spirit of the event – there was one runner who would drive to the top of a hill/mountain and then dash down it for 3-5 miles. And he would do it again and again and again. Of course, racing downhill is going to artificially lower your times and really is not fair to those that either only have flat land or do not have people to drive them up hills all day. I live atop of a 500+ hill where my normal runs are at sea level. I could have done this easily but chose not to because it just wasn’t a true part of my race. If I ran down it, I always ran up it.
Anyway, those are just two rules I would like to see implemented to keep the overall race more of a race of effort than shortcut but it certainly isn’t anything that would keep me from running this again! I think the director, Chris, did an amazing job with this event, just like he does with all the Badwater events.
Should You Run the Badwater 267 VR Elite?
If you want to train for an ultra, this is an incredible way to implement some high mileage into your training to prepare you for it. I couldn’t believe how fast my body adapted to it and how my fitness increased during the race. I mean, you have to run every day so it certainly pushes you!
The race costs $165 but I think it is a very fair price for all the work involved and the gear that you get. The belt buckle is pretty cool and something amazing to have if you are into race hardware.
I would say that if you want to push yourself, definitely go for it! You will have a couple of hundred other runners helping to encourage you along the way. There were a lot of runners who had never covered this kind of distance in a month, let alone 16 days. But, they managed to finish by pushing themselves and being smart to avoid injury.
The Badwater 267 VR Elite was the best virtual event I have ever done and the most challenging race I have ever finished. This thing was an awesome experience that really helped me to reach some fitness goals and learn more about what my body was really capable of.
The Badwater director, Chris Kostman, was amazing. He was involved all along the way and right there to answer questions, give encouragement, and help runners notice if they weren’t doing something right. He did an amazing job and then spent hours upon hours post-event to verify that everyone had finished.
I would have signed up to do it this year again, but I have my eyes set on getting a PR in the Stockholm Marathon just a few weeks after that and this kind of mileage load would not be productive for me in that quest. But, I definitely want to try it again!