Racing High and Low at the 2006 Furnace Creek 508

By Chris Kostman

The 2006 Furnace Creek 508 was the biggest (179 racers), one of the most competitive (twelve age group or overall course records set or broken), and most diverse and international in history (twenty American states and eleven countries represented). It was an honor to serve as its promoter and race director for the sixteenth year in a row.

On October 7, 2006 seventy-five solo racers lined up at 7:00am, followed by 37 relay teams totaling 104 racers at 9:00am, to tackle "the toughest 48 hours in sport." Ahead lay 508 miles of nearly traffic-free roadway and over 35,000 feet of elevation gain, ten mountain passes, Mother Nature's greatest sports arena (Death Valley), plus the awesome beauty of the Mojave Natural Preserve. The climbing began immediately as the racers headed up San Francisquito Canyon, just outside the start line in Santa Clarita, CA. But even with the intense climbing, the record field size and an equally record level of competitiveness kept the majority of the field near other racers as they progressed through the entire race course.


The man on a mission this year was Michael "Alpine Ibex" Emde, 36, an Austrian living in Spokane, WA who placed third in this race just one year before: When he took a tumble descending into Panamint Valley from hitting a pothole with just one hand on the bars, he simply got back up and kept racing; he didn't clean the blood off his arm until the finish line, over 300 miles later. This indicated clearly the focus he was bringing to bear on the race course and his competition.

The race leader was not the only contender, though. Emde passed through mile 82 at California City in 4:02, followed by Mike "Snow Leopard" Trevino, 31, of San Diego, CA in 4:07. Trevino placed 2nd in the 2004 Race Across America and also won the Badwater Ultramarathon in 2001 during his previous career as an ultrarunner. Close on their heels were 508 veterans David "Mudcat" Holt, 54, of Laguna Niguel, CA and Wade "Wren" Baker, 51, of Atascadero, CA in 4:22.

Emde passed through the second time station at mile 152 in Trona, CA in in 7:38, followed by Trevino in 7:59, Holt in 8:11, Sean Crow Cuddihy, 37, of Long Beach, CA in 8:16, and Baker in 8:19.

Meanwhile, the woman on a mission was Shanna "Dik-Dik" Armstrong, 32, of Lubbock, TX. She had completed the 508 on a two-person team in 2004, but dropped out in her solo 508 effort in 2005. Since then, however, she'd won the Ultraman Triathlon in 2005 and the Race Across America in 2006 and was focused on crossing the line in the solo division of the 508 this year.  She covered the 82 miles to California City in 5:19 and the 152 miles to Trona in 10:01.

Also out to improve upon her previous 508 experience was Monica "Scarlett Fairy Cup" Scholz, 39, of Jerseyville, ON, Canada. A world-class ultrarunner, she completed the 508 along with the Badwater Ultramarathon 135-mile running race in 2004, earning the "Death Valley Cup" in the process. With two years of cycling now under her belt, she returned to the 508 intent to improve upon her rookie 508 finishing time, and combined "Death Valley Cup" time of 2004.

At the mid-point of the race in Furnace Creek (mile 252), Emde led in 13:12 (exactly one hour slower than in 2005), Trevino followed 22 minutes later in 13:34, then Kenneth "Titanium Triceratops" Philbrick, 28, of Kezier, OR in 14:08, Holt in 14:23, and Cuddihy in 14:34. Women's leader Armstrong arrived in Furnace Creek after 17:09, followed by Scholz in 18:31, then Linda "Monarch Butterfly" Bott, 49, of Ventura, CA, another 508 solo veteran, in 19:32.

Racing south through Death Valley, Emde passed Badwater, the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere at 282 feet below seal level, and up over Jubilee and Salsberry Passes to Shoshone, arriving there, at mile 325, in 17:43 (compared to 16:11 in 2005), followed by Trevino in 18:10, Philbrick in 18:59, Holt in 19:19, and Cuddihy in 19:26. Armstrong covered the 325 miles in 23:28, Scholz in 25:05, and Bott in 26:18.

By Kelso (mile 416), it was Emde in 23:05 (compared to 22:12 last year), Trevino in 24:05, Holt in 25:17, Cuddihy in 25:24, and Baker in 26:26. Armstrong hit the 416 mile mark in 31:00, then Scholz in 31:57, and Bott in 33:18.

Crossing the world-famous finish line in Twenty Nine Palms, after 508 miles, Michael Emde had sealed his victory with a time of 28:23:21 (compared to 27:49:07 in 2005). Mike Trevino crossed the line of his first ever 508 in second place in 29:41:11, followed by Sean Cuddihy in 30:26:21. In fourth overall and first among 50+ racers was David Holt in 30:46:36, followed by fellow 50+ racer Wade Baker in 31:55:44.

Avenging her solo DNF from the year before, Shanna Armstrong won the women's solo race with a time of 38:46:15. Close on her heels was Monica Scholz in 40:00:02, who also lowered the women's Death Valley Cup combined Badwater/508 record from her previous 73:51:44 to 71:07:02. Third female was Linda Bott in 40:48:56. A total of ten solo women entered the race, including finishers Jennnifer "Fast Rabbit" Flenner, 31, of Ridgecrest, CA in 45:05:48, Louise "Hoodoo" Comar, 53, of Atascadero, CA in 45:52:56, and Emily "Archaeopteryx" O'Brien, 24, of Medford, MA, who became a two-time 508 solo fixed gear finisher with a time of 47:23:23.

Other solo finishers included the one tandem in the race, "Blandy Dragons," consisting of the married team of Sandy Mohr-Bader, 41, and Blake Bader, 45, of Turlock, CA with a time of 47:22:02. Setting a new overall "superstock" recumbent record of 31:50:35 was veteran Timothy "Werewolf" Woudenberg, 49, of Moss Beach, CA, and setting a new "stock" recumbent record of 35:49:13 was rookie Michael "Flicker" Wolfe, 32, of Portland, OR. Woudenberg placed fifth overall against the solo men on traditional bikes, while Wolfe placed 15th against the uprights. Although five 2006 Badwater Ultramarathon finishers had hoped to become Death Valley Cup finishers in 2006, the only other to complete the two-race journey besides Scholz was Steve "Desert Duck" Teal, who also completed the Cup in 2005. Teal, 41, of Phelan, CA, placed 29th male solo in a time of 41:24:06, for a combined Badwater/508 time of 83:53:22.

The 508 was the most popular and prolific 2006 qualifier for the Race Across America. Sean Cuddihy was the first not previously qualified rider to finish, thus setting the following qualifying windows for the solo men who weren't already qualified: 35:00 (age 18-49), 38:03, (age 50-59), and 41:05 (age 60+). In the women's race, Armstrong, Scholz, Bott, and O'Brien were already RAAM qualified, so both Flenner and Comar qualified for RAAM. Altogether, nine racers newly qualified for RAAM.


As introduced in 2004, the Furnace Creek 508 team race follows a "fixed relay" or stage race format, rather than an "open relay" format as used previously at the 508 from 1993 through 2003 and as still used in other ultracycling races. Each team member races one "stage" from one time station to the next, then passes a baton to another team member. There are seven time stations and thus eight stages on the course. Racers switch off while stopped at each time station, passing a baton between them before resuming racing. The incredible popularity of this team racing format is undeniable: In 2003, the last year with the open relay format, the 508 had 46 team racers. In 2004, with the advent of the stage race format, there were 58 team racers, followed by 70 in 2005, and an incredible 104 team racers in 2006.

In its third year in existence, the new team race saw course records fall left and right, while many new records in divisions not represented in 2004 or 2005 were set, for a total of nine new team course records.

Men on a mission in the 2006 508 team race included the two-man "Hammerhead" duo of Joe Petersen, 48, of Bakersfield, CA and Kevin McNulty, 42, of Ramona, CA. They were half of the 4x Hammerhead team that set the new four-man course record in 2005, but the duo tackled, and won, two-man RAAM in 2006 and wanted to finish off the season with another record at the 508. They covered the 82 miles to TS#1 in 3:53, the 152 miles to TS#2 in 7:21, the 252 miles to Furnace Creek (TS#3) in 12:20, then 381 miles in 19:17, the 416 miles in 21:25, the 450 miles in 22:58, and the full 508 miles in a new overall two-man course record of 26:16:25. (Incidentally, this record is a mere 38 minutes slower than the "open relay" format two-man record!)

Although the Hammerheads set an impressive pace, they were followed closely by the rookie, two-man, Team "Platypus," consisting of John Heiss, 26, and Noah Dowell, 28, both of Los Angeles, CA in 28:16:00, a 20+ age group record. Third over the line and first among 30+ teams was Red Kangaroo, featuring 508 veterans Paul Skilbeck, 43, a Brit living in San Francisco, CA and Andres Caicedo, 36, of Lafayette, CA with a time of 29:08:41. A 60+ age group record was set by the Silver Foxes, veterans Dan Crain, 61, of Irvine, CA and John Clare, 65, of Long Beach, CA in 33:08:16. Altogether, fourteen two-man teams competed in, and completed, the 508 in 2006.

The mixed two-racer team race was also a high-speed show-down. Setting the overall two-mixed and 30+ age group records were "Gallus-Gallus" from Denmark, Christina Peick and Martin Kristensen, both 32 of Copenhagen, with a time of 28:20:31. Close on their heels and setting a 40+ two-mixed age group record were former solo 508 finishers Catherina Berge, 40, a Swede living in Visalia, CA and Paul McKenzie, 52, of Richmond, CA, racing under the moniker "Bumble Skipper" with a time of 28:49:39. Altogether, eight two-mixed teams competed in, and complete, the 508 in 2006.

Fourteen teams tackled the four-racer team race: eleven four-man, two four-mixed, and one four-woman team, of which all but one finished officially. Leading all the four-racer teams from start to finish were the veteran "Mongrel Dogs" of Los Angeles, CA with splits of 4:28 for 82 miles, 8:14 for 152 miles, 13:25 for 252 miles, 17:36 for 325 miles, 20:22 for 381 miles, 22:58 for 416 miles, 24:43 for 450 miles, and a new 30+ age group course record of 27:59:15 for the full 508 miles. This represents a tremendous improvement over their 2005 performance, when they placed sixth in 30:41:26. Biting at the Mongrel Dogs' heels were the "Mojave Green," rookies from CA and MI, with a 28:59:23 in their 508 racing debut. Placing third were the all vegan "Fruit Bat" team from Northern California, sponsored by, with a time of 29:15:30 in their rookie debut.

The first four-woman team to tackle the race since the stage race format began in 2004 was "Swallow," made up of rookie women from the Glendora and Pasadena, CA area. Their splits were 82 miles in 5:29, 152 miles in 9:49, 252 miles in 15:16, 325 miles in 21:28, 381 miles in 25:05, 416 miles in 27:33, 450 miles in 29:38, and 508 miles in 33:25:02, the first overall, and 30+, four-woman course record.

Two four-mixed teams tackled the race, both of them veterans. First over the line was "Zorilla" from CA and MN with a time of 33:41:06, followed by the venerable "Chinook" team of Kennewick, WA in 36:46:46 which included David Fischer, who has an unbroken, and unparalleled, streak of eight consecutive two- or four-racer team finishes to his credit.

Establishing a new course record was "Bonobo" of Los Angeles, CA who competed the course on fixed gear bikes in 32:23:35 with a documentary film crew in tow. Vegan like the "Fruit Bat" team, they competed on behalf of Bonobo Preservation and established a fund-raising website at to further that effort.

Conditions were mild at the 2006 Furnace Creek 508 – the "high" was 82 degrees in the middle of the night in Death Valley and winds were generally slight– but the competition was fierce and the desire to set personal, or course, records was higher than ever at the 23rd anniversary, and 32nd edition, of the race known worldwide as both a spiritual odyssey and "the toughest 48 hours in sport."

For complete results, time splits, audio interviews, and over 2,100 images from this year's race, visit the 2006 webcast.