WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – When 57-year-old Peggy Ward ran her first-ever marathon – a traditional 26.2-mile race – she wanted more.
“I got second in my age group,” said Ward. “I was just going to be ‘one and done’ after that, but then I decided – let’s try it again.”
Her second marathon still left something to be desired. “I felt like I was kind of reliving the same goal and the same dream,” said Ward. “I thought – there has to be more.”
Still, on the hunt for a challenge, Ward would give ultramarathons, any footrace longer than the traditional 26.2-mile marathon length, a try. She found a 50-mile race in Cassoday, where she set a women’s course record.
“I’ve been hooked ever since,” said Ward.
The former Wichita State University professor would become one of the top endurance runners in the world before looking to qualify for perhaps one of the biggest challenges in the running community – the Badwater Ultramarathon.
“It’s a race that thousands of people apply for, but it’s really hard to get in,” said Ward, who got accepted to race in her second attempt. “It wasn’t just crossing the finish line. It was crossing that finish line that made a difference.”
The race, dubbed as ‘the World’s Toughest Foot Race,’ covers 135 miles non-stop from North America’s lowest elevation point in Death Valley to Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous United States.
“It takes so much planning and so much training to get there. It isn’t just figuring out the mileage. A lot of times, it’s figuring out the nutrition, the gear, everything it’s going to take you to get through those miles,” said Ward. “The real challenge could be the terrain or the weather or other factors that could come into play that makes it even harder.”
Ward started preparing for the July race back in January with intense total body workouts.
“You would think it would be about the running, but to me, it was all about how to make sure that everything from head to toe was ready to go,” said Ward. “I would do hot rowing in a 135-degree sauna to get ready for being in Death Valley.”
With love for planning, Ward would lean on the tight-knit running community for help throughout her journey: “We just help each other to the finish line and truly root for each other the whole time.”
Ward had to nourish her body throughout the race, which took nearly two days to complete.
“I was probably eating 225 to 250 calories an hour, so I really wasn’t hungry,” said Ward. “I didn’t eat until it was dinner time.”
Each runner has a ‘crew’ to help pace them across the finish line and keep them safe throughout the race.
“You run the mile that you’re in at the starting line, I wasn’t thinking about all 135 miles,” said Ward. “I was always thinking about what I would ask my crew for next, whether it be nutrition or something to cool off with.” But, she added, “It was 100 degrees when we started, and it got up to 116, so most of my mind was just around what I needed next, not going 135 miles.”
After the race, Ward surprised herself: “You would have thought I would have dropped from exhaustion, but no, adrenaline kicks in because you’re just so excited for what just happened.”
While Ward is ‘one and done’ with the Badwater 135, running will always keep her going. “It’s my me time,” said Ward. “It’s my time to destress, and instead of meditation, I use running.”