For the Madera Tribune
Madera’s Oswaldo Lopez runs in the Heavenly Half Marathon in 2015, where he placed first among 40-49-year-old runners. He has competed in the last seven Badwater Ultramarathon 135-mile races, including a win in 2011.
It’s a foot race that seems more like torture, beginning at Badwater Basin, 279 feet below sea level, and winding through California’s Death Valley for 135 miles in sweltering heat.
It’s a competition few would attempt, but Oswaldo Lopez of Madera has finished it six times, including once when he finished first.
Lopez, 45, said his best memory as a runner is winning one of the most difficult foot races in the world, known as the Badwater Ultramarathon.
It was 2011 when Lopez won first place. He has competed in the race every year since 2010 and placed in the top five each time he finished. The year he won, it took him 23 hours and 41 minutes to finish the course that routes through Death Valley, one of the hottest spots in the world during mid-July, with an average high temperature of 117 degrees.
“I won one of the best races in the world,” Lopez said. “I enjoyed the 135-mile race with many good champions in the world. When I finally won this race, I was happy because I know I was competing with the world’s best runners. It is a real good memory for me and I will never forget this one.”
The race begins at Badwater Basin, 279 feet below sea level, the lowest point in the U.S. and journeys to the base of Mount Whitney, gaining 13,000 feet of cumulative elevation.
Brad Castillo, 62, has known Lopez since 2010. Castillo also has an extensive track record of completing 60 marathons and has been involved with the sport for more than 30 years.
“I know him through the running community,” Castillo said of Lopez. “I crewed for him for one of the races that he ran last year. As a runner you have to have a crew, because it is such a difficult race.”
Last year, Lopez finished the Badwater race in 27 hours and 59 minutes.
Castillo, who lives in of Fresno and has been a marathon coach for six years, described the challenges of the Badwater race.
“I guess the easiest way to put it is, from the start to the finish it is torture,” Castillo said. “It is really a mental torture, because if it is not the temperature that is killing you, it is the distance that is killing you. It is very easy to get dehydrated if you don’t drink enough fluids. It is also easy to drink too much fluids, because it’s very hot. You have to as a runner know your body, what you need and when you need it.”
Lopez prepares for his races on a daily basis with dieting and exercise. Lopez runs 10 to 15 miles every weekday and 20 miles a day on the weekends. Lopez actively competes in marathons, which are races that run up to 26.2 miles. He is even better known for competing in ultramarathons races, which run at least 50 miles, but can extend to enormous distances, in Lopez’s case, up to 135 miles.
Though ultramarathons can be long and strenuous journeys, Lopez said that he never thinks of giving up during a race.
“I imagine myself at the finish line,” Lopez said. “I imagine the pain is going away and just focus on finishing the race. I tell myself ‘I need to finish the race’ and I forget the pain and know I must finish. Whenever we are tired, we take a break, recover and run again. There is no point in stopping. The only thing that can stop a runner is an injury.”
Castillo said that in last year’s Badwater race, Lopez stopped one time and he slept on the side of the road for 10 minutes.
“Part of the training that these guys do is just not the distance and the miles, but they have to learn to deal with sleep deprivation,” Castillo said. “Especially with him because he runs really hard. A lot of runners will do a lot of walking and their goal is to just finish the race, but his goal is to always win the race.”
Lopez has an impressive marathon history.
“I’ve won many awards, medals and trophies,” Lopez said. “In Mexico, I ran from 1989 to 1993. I have won at least 60 to 70 races there. Right here, in the U.S., I have at least 300.”
In the last 15 years, he has been invited to compete in 24 different countries, including Brazil, India, Germany, Japan and Greece, but has decided to stay within the U.S., because he is married with two daughters.
“I’m really happy that I received a lot of invitations,” Lopez said. “I think my best races are because I am training close, here in the Yosemite National Park and many places around Madera and Fresno.”
Lopez said that after he finishes any race he is happy. He also said that he works really hard training and recovers very well.
“My best time for a 100-mile race was 14 hours and 22 minutes non-stop,” Lopez said. “I did this time last October in Chicago.”
Lopez began competing as a marathon runner 12 to 13 years ago when a friend invited him to a race. He placed second place overall in the 12-mile race.
In the last five years alone, Lopez has competed in many states in the U.S., including Illinois, Texas, Florida and Wyoming, often landing first place.
“I’m real happy to represent the Central Valley in different states,” Lopez said. “They always tell me that I am a long-distance runner because we enjoy the long races, but any race is very good.”
Lopez trains by himself for the most part, but he is also supported by the two-time New York marathon winner, German Silva.
Lopez not only competes with ease on national levels, but he has also helped many young competitors from different countries, who ask for his advice. He often gives advice on training plans, such as distance and how many miles they should train every day.
“Many young kids from different countries always ask me many things,” Lopez said. “I am always busy on my phone giving them answers. When I have a chance I call all of those guys. I am really happy that they ask me questions and I like to support kids the best way that I can.”
Lopez said that he is well supported by multiple sponsors, such as Sole 2 Soul, a running, walking and fitness store with locations in Fresno, Visalia and Bakersfield. As a day job he works for a Central Valley vitamin company.
“There is so many things that you can say about him, but the thing that sticks out the most to anyone who meets Oswaldo is just how genuinely nice he is,” Castillo said. “He is just a good-hearted giving person. He feels he has to give so much of himself to anyone who ask anything of him.”
Lopez’s next race, “Badwater Salton Sea,” an 81-mile competition, will take place in May.
Sierra Frank is a student in Gary Rice’s community journalism class at California State University, Fresno.