By Mary Beth Sallee
Hart Co. News-Herald
The Badwater 135.
It’s known as the world’s toughest footrace, a brutal 135-mile ultramarathon held in sweltering July heat with a 48-hour time limit. The Badwater 135 start line begins at Badwater Basin in Death Valley, Calif., the lowest elevation in North America at 280 ft. below sea level. The race concludes at Whitney Portal at 8,300 ft., the trailhead to the Mt. Whitney summit, which is the highest point in the contiguous United States.
Thousands apply to compete, but only 100 get in. Kaylee Frederick was one.
The daughter of Hart County native Georgetta Frederick, Kaylee became not only the youngest person at the age of 18 to ever compete in the Badwater 135 but also made world history as the youngest person to ever cross the finish line.
“It’s honestly still a crazy concept to grasp,” Kaylee said. “People kept saying, ‘You just set a world record.’ And I was just like, ‘What?!’ It’s all so surreal, and I am so thankful for the opportunity.”
Kaylee’s running career began at the age of seven when she competed in 5ks and 10ks. By the age of 10, the Pennsylvania resident was also winning competitive races. At 13, Kaylee ran a half marathon with her elementary school music teacher.
“I did it and realized there was a whole other world out there,” Kaylee said. “My friend, Kristin, helped me find a marathon that would let a 14-year-old in. After completing that, she told me an ultramarathon (50k), was only five more miles. And from then on, I was absolutely hooked. I ran my first 50-miler at age 14, my first 100-miler at age 16, and my first 200-miler at age 17.”
Kaylee’s friend, Keith Straw, told her about the Badwater 135.
“At the time, he was an eight-time finisher and told me he thought I could be the youngest person to ever run the race, and if he believed in me as an eight-time finisher (now a nine-time finisher after completing it this year), then I should believe in myself,” Kaylee said. “From then on, it’s been a dream.”
Once Kaylee qualified and was chosen to compete in the Badwater 135, training began. She knew the high temperatures in Death Valley and beyond would play a major factor during the race.
“I used a sauna (for training),” Kaylee said. “I also ran in a sauna suit. I did a lot of runs in that and with a lot of layers on to make it as hot as possible.”
This year’s Badwater 135 began July 4 and ended July 6. Runners had 48 hours to complete the 135-mile ultramarathon. Kaylee took off from the start line on July 4 at approximately 8 p.m. PST. The temperature at that time was around 115 degrees Fahrenheit . Kaylee’s crew, which consisted of Fran Brown, Andrew Boyd, John Radich, and her crew chief and mom Georgetta Frederick, leapfrogged Kaylee, seeing her every 1.5 to 2 miles. They provided her with nutrition and hydration at every stop throughout the race.
By day two on July 5, Kaylee’s crew rotated every few miles to help pace Kaylee and provide her with renewed energy. Sunscreen was applied regularly, and at every stop Kaylee filled her ice cap and exchanged her ice bandana to help keep her core body temperature down. She made it to Panamint Springs, the fourth checkpoint, at 2:52 p.m. The next major celebration was the Darwin checkpoint at mile 90.7, which Kaylee arrived at by 10 p.m. That second night was also mentally exhausting for Kaylee as the sleep deprivation began to hit.
“I knew sleep deprivation would be the biggest issue,” Kaylee explained. “It’s always my biggest issue in 100+ milers. Knowing that ahead of time was definitely helpful. I did have to take more nap breaks than planned. I planned on one 20 minute nap, but ended up taking one 20 minute nap, two 10 minute naps, and one 5 minute nap. I just had to adjust as we went. Quitting was never an option. There was never a point when I thought, ‘I can’t do this.’ Finishing was always the thought.”
On July 6 at 6:41 a.m., Kaylee arrived at the 118.5-mile checkpoint. As her energy grew, she crossed the last checkpoint of mile 131.1 at 11:21 a.m.
At12:06 p.m., Kaylee crossed the finish line and set a world record as the youngest person to complete the Badwater 135. She finished the ultramarathon in 40 hours.
“Crossing the finish line was simply amazing,” Kaylee said. “I really don’t have any other way to describe it. There were so many people cheering, giving hugs, and celebrating. It was a dream come true. I had envisioned that moment hundreds of times, and it finally happened. My dream became reality. I ran the world’s toughest footrace and was the youngest person to ever do it.”
“Running was a good fit for Kaylee,” added Georgetta, who is also an accomplished runner. “…I am very proud of her for dreaming and then going for it. One of her mottos is, ‘You are not promised tomorrow, so do it today.’ I had no hesitations with her doing this because I knew she would put in the training necessary to accomplish the task.”
Kaylee said she couldn’t have completed the Badwater 135 without the support of her crew.
“They kept me sane, moving, and healthy the whole race,” she said. “They got me to the finish line in one piece. The community support behind me was insane. I had no idea how many people were following me until after the race when it took me hours to scroll through social media. The Badwater family is real, and it’s something you can’t really understand unless you’re there. Everyone is so kind. I am so thankful for all of the support I received throughout this journey, especially my ma.”
Kaylee is attending the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown to double major in biology and secondary education and minor in chemistry. She plans to become a high school biology teacher as well as continue her career as a CrossFit coach and soccer coach.
“A dream of mine has always been to be a professional runner,” Kaylee said. “I guess only time will tell.”
The next Badwater 135 is scheduled for July 22-24, 2024. Additional information about the ultramarathon and other races can be found at www.badwater.com.