2007 Furnace Creek 508: Epic Battles Add to the 24 Year History of the Legendary Race

By Chris Kostman

The 2007 Furnace Creek 508 was the biggest (192 racers), one of the most competitive (seventeen age group or overall course records set or broken), and most diverse and international in history (twenty-three American states and twelve countries represented). It was an honor to serve as its promoter and race director for the seventeenth year in a row.

On October 6, 2007 seventy-eight solo racers lined up at 7:00am, followed by 41 relay teams totaling 114 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.

Solo Race

The man on a mission this year, just as in 2006, was Michael "Alpine Ibex" Emde, 37, an Austrian living in Spokane, WA who placed third in this race in 2005 and was its solo champion in 2006. Could he win it again, becoming the first men's solo champ to win the race two years in a row?

The race leader was not the only contender, though. Emde passed through mile 82 at California City in 4:18, followed by Sean "Crow" Cuddihy, 38, of Long Beach, CA in 4:30. The Crow placed third at the previous 508 and was hungry for a higher spot on the podium. Close on their heels were a pair of 508 rookies: RAAM standout David "Holstein" Haase, 39, of Fond du Lac, WI in 4:31 and Franz "House Mouse" Preihs, 29, of Graz, Austria in 4:32. Of special note was rookie entrant Terry "Chesapeake Bay Retriever" Lentz, 49, of Templeton, CA in fifth place in 4:40. Lentz was riding a fixed gear bike which he had constructed himself.

Emde passed through the second time station at mile 152 in Trona, CA in in 7:52, followed by Cuddihy in 7:59, Haase in 8:17, Lentz on his fixed gear in 8:22, Joel "Southern Vole" Sothern, 49, of Laugna Niguel, CA in 8:23, Cuddihy in 8:16, and Preihs in 8:32.

Meanwhile, several women were battling for the lead. First through California City was Nicole "Golden Dragon" Honda, 41, of San Mateo, CA in 5:18. She had completed the 508 before on a two-woman team in 2004, solo in 2005 and on a two-mixed team in 2006. Following Honda through the first time station were rookies Caroline "Canadian Turtle" van den Bulk, 40, of Huntsville, Ontario, Canada in 5:20 and Karen "Mako" Armstrong, 47, of Spokane, WA in 5:39. (Armstrong is not related to either Shanna Armstrong, the 2006 solo 508 champ, nor to Lance Armstrong.) At the second time station in Trona at mile 154, Honda continued to lead with a time of 9:53, followed by Armstrong in 10:02, and van den Bulk in 10:04. A total of eight solo women were competing, a record sized field; all but Honda were rookies.

At the mid-point of the race in Furnace Creek (mile 252), Emde continued to lead with an elapsed time of 13:11 (one minute slower than in 2006 and 1:01 slower than in 2005). Cuddihy followed 29 minutes later in 13:40 (almost an hour quicker than in 2006), then Haase in 14:36 and Lentz in 14:34. Women's leader Honda arrived in Furnace Creek after 17:45, followed by Armstrong in 17:58 and Mavis "Ischyodus" Irwin, 26, of Salt Lake City, UT in 18:48. This was Irwin's first ultracycling race; besides being younger than most of her peers, she's also deaf and mute. One can only imagine the challenges she, and her crew, faced as they tackled the course, the conditions, and the competition.

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 time station four at Shoshone, arriving there, at mile 325, in 17:38 (compared to 17:43 in 2006 and 16:11 in 2005). Cuddihy followed in 18:16 (1:10 quicker and three places higher than in 2006), then Lentz, now in 3rd place on his fixed gear bike, in 19:13. Sothern passed through in fourth place in 19:36, then Haase in 20:09.  Moving up into sixth place overall, in 20:18, was Reed "Flamingo" Finfrock, 61, of Springville, CA. This was his 9th appearance in this race. He first competed at age 46 in 1992 and has had seven solo finishes since then. In 2007 he found himself racing faster and better than ever, proving that, like the race itself, some things do just keep getting better with age.

Armstrong covered the 325 miles to Shoshone in 24:20, putting herself in first place, while Honda followed in 24:36, and Irwin in 25:29. The fourth woman as the second day of the race got underway was Ann "Wolf Spider" Wooldridge, 48, of Gloucester, UK in 25:45, followed by van den Bulk in 26:25 in fifth place.

With the 22-mile, seeming endless climb up the Kelbaker Road behind them at Kelso (mile 416), it was Emde in 22:30 (compared to 23:05 in 2006 and 22:12 in 2005), Cuddihy in 23:41 (compared to 25:24 last year), Lentz in 24:42, and Sothern in 25:27. Armstrong hit that 416 mile mark in 30:17, then Honda in 31:57, and Wooldridge in 33:11.

Crossing the world-famous finish line in Twenty Nine Palms, after 508 miles, Michael Emde sealed his victory with a time of 27:32:30 (compared to 28:23:21 in 2006 and 27:49:07 in 2005). He set the second fastest solo time in history, just 17 minutes shy of Kenny Souza's course record set in 2005, a new 30+ age group record, and also became the first solo male back-to-back champion.

Sean Cuddihy crossed the line in second place in 29:05:35, a one hour, 21 minute improvement over his 3rd place in 2006. In third overall, first among rookies, and crushing the fixed gear course record in the process, was Terry Lentz in 30:13:05 (over six hours faster than the previous fixed gear record). Next was Joel Sothern in 31:21:18 in fourth, then David Haase in 31:49:48 in fifth place. Impressing everyone with a sixth place overall finish was 61-year-old Reed Finfrock with a time of 32:10:30. This was his eighth solo finish, and a personal record, regardless of age.

Karen Armstrong won the women's solo race with a time of 36:58:24 in her rookie effort. Next was the women who led the race for the first half of the race, Nicole Honda, with a time of 39:52:59. Third female was Ann Wooldridge in 40:27:09, followed by fourth place finisher Mavis Irwin in 41:26:22, and fifth place Caroline van den Bulk in 44:42:57. The other three women DNF'd, but all plan to return.

Other solo finishers included the other fixed gear cyclist in the race, George "Red-Eyed Vireo" Vargas, 42, of Encinitas with a time of 45:12:45, plus the two solo recumbent raers, veteran Timothy "Werewolf" Woudenberg, 50, of Moss Beach, CA in 36:28:14 and rookie Karta "Godzilla" Atehortua, 30, of Palo Alto, CA in 41:56:33.

Death Valley Cup

Altogether, six finishers of the 2007 Kiehl's Badwater Ultramarathon 135-mile running race had hoped to become Death Valley Cup finishers in 2007 by also completing Furnace Creek 508 in 2007. Three managed this feat which had only been accomplished twelve times before in history. First among them at the 508 finish line was Steve "Desert Duck" Teal, who also completed the Cup in 2005 and 2006, the only athlete to complete the Cup three times. Teal, 42, of Phelan, CA, placed eleventh male solo in 34:16:04, for a combined time of 78:32:31. Having placed fifth at Badwater in July, rookie entrant Charlie "Water Dragon," 45, of Greensboro, NC was hoping to eclipse the seven year old DV Cup record held by Kaname Sakurai. He made a valiant effort in his first ever bicycle race, placing 13th in the solo field with a time of 34:31:12. With his 27:42:32 finish at Badwater, his combined DV Cup total was 62:13:44, good enough for the second fastest DV Cup finish in history. The third DV Cup finisher was Danny "Wiener Dog" Westergaard, 48, of Rolling Hills, CA, who was also competing in his first bicycle race. He placed 19th male solo in 35:51:38, for a combined DV Cup time of 68:14:36.

2x Team Race

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. 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. 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, 104 in 2006, and 114 in 2007.

Men on a mission in the 2007 508 team race, just like in 2006, were the two-man "Hammerhead" duo of Joe Petersen, 49, of Bakersfield, CA and Kevin McNulty, 43, of Ramona, CA. They were half of the 4x Hammerhead team that set the new four-man course record in 2005 and the same duo which set the 2x course record at the 2006 508. This year they covered the 82 miles to TS#1 in 4:03 (3:53 in 2006), the 152 miles to TS#2 in 7:16 (7:21 in 2006), the 252 miles to Furnace Creek (TS#3) in (12:19 12:20 in 2006), then 381 miles in 18:58 (19:17 in 2006), 416 miles in 20:30 (21:25 in 2006), 450 miles in 22:12 (22:58 in 2006), and the full 508 miles in a new overall two-man course record of 25:56:28 (compared to 26:16:25 in 2006). This record is a mere 18 minutes slower than the "open relay" format two-man record. They also beat all the 4x teams and passed all the solo racers except for Michael Emde. This was Hall of Famer Petersen's seventh team finish and McNulty's third finish.

Although the Hammerheads set an impressive, off-the-front pace, there were a lot of impressive battles in the 2x field and numerous records set or broken. Second over the line in the 2x field was the mixed duo of Team "Pickled Herring" comprised of Catharina Berge, 41, of Sweden and Jan Christiansen, 40, of Denmark in a 2x mixed 40+ age group record time of 27:34:29. Third over the line and second among 40+ teams was Bone Dog, including Steve LaChaine, 40, of Atascadero, CA and David Fischer, 45, of Santa Barbara, CA with a time of 28:25:27.

Altogether, twenty-seven two-racer teams competed in the 508 in 2007. Ten new course records were set, including the Men's 30+ Two Rider record by Team Ox in 30:00:12; the Men's 40+ Two Rider record by Team Hammerhead in 25:56:28; the Mens' 60+ Two Rider record by Team Whooping Cranes in 31:46:29; the Mixed 20+ Two Rider record by Team Labrador in 34:38:32; the Mixed 40+ Two Rider record by Team Pickled Herring in 27:34:29; the Mixed 50+ Two Rider record by Team Wrentit in 31:59:05; the Men's Recumbent 30+ Two Recumbent record by Team Mussel in 29:31:10; the Men's Recumbent 40+ Two Recumbent record by Team Cuckoo Bee in 32:02:13; the Mixed Two Recumbent record by Team Sea Dragon in 36:51:22; the 40+ Mixed Two Tandem record by Team Basenji in 35:11:36. Whew! Just try to imagine how action-packed the race course, and the finish line, were this year!

4x Team Race

Fourteen teams tackled the four-racer team race: nine four-man, four four-mixed, and one mixed four-tandem team. Leading all the four-racer teams from start to finish was Team "Prairie Falcon," made up of 2x veterans Jack Brunk, 51, of Newbury Park, CA and Ashton Johnson, 55, of Camarillo, CA, along with rookies Kurt Pickle, 37, of Santa Rosa, CA and Chad Smith, 37, of Danville, CA. This dynamic foursome had splits of 4:46 for 82 miles, 8:59 for 152 miles, 15:42 for 252 miles, 19:51 for 325 miles, 22:19 for 381 miles, 24:41 for 416 miles, 26:20 for 450 miles, and 29:41:09 for the full 508 miles.

The 4x race mirrored the 2x race in that there were multiple battles going on throughout the field and within the various age groups and gender categories. Second over the line, with a time of 30:27:15, was the lead four-mixed team, "Sphinx," headed up by veterans Lissette Baker, 35, of San Dimas, CA and Christina Renee Ellis, 25, of Altadena, CA, along with rookies Eric Foster, 41, of San Diego, CA and Allen Yee, 42 of South Pasadena, CA.

Mention must be made of Team "Chinook" of Kennewick, WA which crossed the line in 36:09:49. This venerable team included David Fischer (a different David Fischer than the one on Team Bone Dog), who now has an unbroken, and unparalleled, streak of nine consecutive two- or four-racer team finishes to his credit, as well as an age group record as of 2007. The first four-tandem team to tackle the race since the stage race format began in 2004 was "Mighty Millipede," headed up by 508 Hall of Famer Roehl Caragao, completing the course in 28:11:04. Also, our first ever 70+ team, Team "PAC Rats," with just three racers, actually, went the distance in 43:15:25.

Altogether, a total of five 4x team course records were set or broken this year. These included the Mixed 30+ Four Rider record by Team Sphinx in 30:27:15; the Men's 70+ Four Rider record by Team PAC Rats in 43:15:25; the Mixed 40+ Four Rider record by Team Kites in 32:21:06; the Mixed 50+ Four Rider record by Team Chinook in 36:09:49; the Mixed 40+ Four Tandem record by Team Mighty Millipede in 28:11:04.

Conditions were often windy and chilly at the 2007 Furnace Creek 508. The competition was fierce and the desire to set personal, or course, records was higher than ever at the 24th anniversary, and 33rd edition, of the race known worldwide as both a spiritual odyssey and "the toughest 48 hours in sport."

For complete results, time splits, over 2,100 images, and much more from this year's race, visit the 2007 webcast of Furnace Creek 508 at this link. The 2008 edition, celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the race, will be held October 4-6, 2008. Applications to compete will be accepted April 1-15, 2008 only, then the race field will be announced on April 25, 2008.