The Toughest Footrace on Earth

Frank returning to BadwaterThe Badwater ultra-marathon has been recognized as the toughest footrace on the planet according to National Geographic magazine. From the starting line in the bowels of Death Valley, athletes traverse 135 miles with temperatures at 130 degrees plus on scorching 200 degree pavement with several elevation changes from sea level to the finish line high on Mt. Whitney.

Frank McKinney, real estate mogul, five-time best-selling author including the faith based book, “The Tap,” philanthropist and extreme ultra-marathoner, has made this trek and journey of faith, sacrifice and survival eight times for one large purpose; The Caring House Foundation.

“Suffering a little voluntarily, which I choose to do for those suffering a lot more involuntarily in Haiti is why I headed back to the Badwater and Death Valley for an eighth time in 2013,” states McKinney.
Frank uses his Badwater challenge to live out his mantra, “Compassion without action is a wasted emotion.” Over 20 self-sufficient villages in Haiti have been developed through the Caring House Foundation.

The toughest of the tough
There are only 300 athletes in the world that have finished this grueling madman’s march through the summer heat where this year’s temperatures are closing in on the 1913 all-time world record of 134 degrees. 100 runners, by invitation only, are accepted each year. The 2013 race saw 20 countries and at least two dozen states represented by men and women of all ages, including veterans like Frank McKinney (8-times) and always a new batch of 45-50 rookies. The time limit to finish is now 48 hours; it was 60 back in Frank’s rookie year of 2004.

Frank never heard of Badwater before his summer vacation to Death Valley with wife Nilsa back in 2004. Being a casual jogger in Delray Beach, Florida, Frank decided to go out for a short six mile jaunt in the desert. He would run three miles from their hotel and three miles back to check out the beauty of Death Valley. He barely made it back to the hotel, running out of water halfway out, and heat exhaustion setting in. He had a purple glaze when Nilsa opened the door of his hotel on his return and she knew something was not right.

After an ice bath, they rushed down to a general store to get some electrolytes in Frank’s body and more water. As fate would have it, he stumbled into what would become an integral part of his family’s life and mission from God over the next decade. He immediately researched the race, watched the video documentary Running in the Sun over 50 times, and got infatuated with the challenge.

Exactly one year after that Death Valley vacation, Frank McKinney finished his first Badwater in 48 hours, 49 minutes, after working with a veteran Badwater trainer for a year. “Badwater has become a special place for our family making many lifelong friends and seeing how God has blessed us with the privilege to do this race over and over to benefit those less fortunate with our Caring House Foundation initiative of building self-sufficient villages in Haiti,” adds Nilsa.

When he missed getting a finisher’s belt buckle in year one by just 49 minutes, it didn’t take long for Nilsa and Frank to sit down and start planning a return to Badwater to break the 48 hour mark. God had also tapped Frank to open up his heart to serve. The Caring House kicked into high gear to start building self-sufficent villages all over Haiti.

Team McKinney was up for the challenge in 2006, and Frank reduced his finish time by six full hours to 43 earning him his first Badwater belt buckle.

A microcosm of life
“When you’re a true Christian we get tested all the time and sometimes the faith just isn’t where it should be. I look at Badwater as a microcosm of life and what our faith can go through. What I’ve learned is a three word mantra, “Relentless, Forward, Motion.” So in life with our faith we must always be moving forward with Christ, regardless of setbacks, challenges, doubts, anger and disappointments we have to relentlessly be moving forward,” states McKinney.

“While reading the Bible cover to cover, I realized why so much was written about the desert as there is a spiritual cleansing that takes place in that Death Valley race across the desert. It’s like running on the moon at times and although stunningly beautiful I do have so much time to be alone with my thoughts and Christ,” he adds.

“The perfect verse for Badwater that is prominently displayed on the side of our crew vehicle is Psalm 121:5-6. I rely on these words year after year after coming across them training for my first Badwater in 2004. It reads,’The Lord is your guardian, the Lord is your shade, He is beside you at your right hand. The sun will not harm you by day nor the moon by night.’ I reach out my right hand many times on that 200 degree blacktop for the Lord to strengthen me and protect me from the sun. The moon by night I relate to the sleep deprivation I encounter over the 48 hours.

Not finished yet
Badwater 2013 was extra special for Frank, Nilsa and daughter Laura McKinney because Laura, for the first time, was able to participate as an official crew member for the 48 hour endurance jaunt through the desert. “His goal is my goal. His happiness is my happiness and as a wife that’s what I feel marriage is all about. Support your spouse in what’s important to him and now that’s also important to me,” says Nilsa.

As we anticipated Frank returning to Badwater to attempt to do the “undone” of not finishing in 2012, God had another plan and the desert’s heat literally took the feet out from under him at mile 91.

Frank posted to his fans and followers on his website from Death Valley: “I have some heartbreaking news regarding my Death Valley Badwater 135-mile Ultramarathon. I developed severe blisters covering the bottom of both feet and all ten toes beginning at mile 35. After having my feet tended to by Denise Jones the “Blister Queen,” by mile 91 I was only able to move forward downhill at 2 mph. Each passing hour I was slowing more. It became clear that I would not make the 48-hour cutoff, and I made the agonizing decision to drop out just after mile 91. I want to thank all of you for your support and well wishes. Today was a very tough day, but I accept His will.”
Is there another Badwater race in Frank and his family’s future? Don’t write the final chapter just yet.

Carl is a veteran sportswriter/sportscaster that has interviewed Frank McKinney numerous times for his Good Sports Magazine Radio Show over the past eight years. He also traveled to Haiti with Frank’s Caring House Foundation and ran through the streets of Port-au-Prince with Frank visiting several of the 20 self-sufficient villages he’s built.

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