Upstate News

May 30, 2007
Darryl Geddes 315 464-4828

Nurse is tapped as one of 90 individuals to compete in 135-mile ultramarathon

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Todd Baum, a nurse at University Hospital’s Olivia Pietrafesa’s Center for Children’s Surgery, is about to undergo one of the most grueling and punishing athletic endeavors on earth—a 135-mile foot race through some of America’s most hostile terrain. The Badwater Ultramarathon challenges participants to complete the intimidating run from Death Valley—the lowest elevation in the United States at 282 feet below sea level—to the 8,360-foot Mt. Whitney Portals within 60 hours, from July 23 to 25, when the average temperature will be an even 120 degrees.

Baum of Fayetteville was selected as one of 90 individuals from around the world, one of 54 from the United States—and one of only three from New York state—to participate in the ultramarathon. The selection committee reviews each applicant’s ultra endurance resume and how each answers a set of questions about the race. The 90 who are invited to participate meet qualifying standards and are said to be some of the world’s toughest runners, triathletes, adventure racers and mountaineers. But why take this human endurance test, especially at the age of 49?

Why not, Baum replies.

Actually, Baum, who ran track in high school, became obsessed with the concept of running an ultramarathon after reading the book “To the Edge: A Man, Death Valley, and the Mystery of Endurance” by journalist and runner Kirk Johnson. In the book, Johnson details the excruciating task of ultramarathoning and his state of mind throughout the ordeal.

“I was mesmerized by the concept of ultramarathoning and thought maybe I could take this on one day,” Baum said. “Since reading that book, my heart has been on that road in Death Valley. Participating in this event is part of trying to find out what’s possible.”

Over the last several years, Baum has pushed himself to run farther and faster with a possible entry in the Badwater Marathon as a reward for this punishment. The Boston Marathon, which he first ran in 2003, now seems like a jog around the block. Runs of 30, 50, 70 and 100 miles dot Todd Baum’s resume. Last September he completed 109 miles in 20 hours during a 24-hour race in Ottawa, before a nagging ankle injury forced him to retire. He hasn’t attempted a run of that distance since, but he has been quietly preparing for this race.

Six-hour workout routines include long runs through the Central New York countryside, treadmill and strength training. Finding it difficult to simulate the 120-degree heat he will have to endure, Baum spends time in the steamy hot sauna, and he’s watching his diet and paying extra attention to foot care.

While Baum has not run 135-miles before in a competitive race under such harsh conditions, he will not be a novice in the experience. He was a crew member last year for a runner who could not complete the race after becoming ill from dehydration. He got another look at the scenic route this winter when he spent his vacation out West with his wife Laurel, who will serve on of her husband’s six-member run crew.

“It’s a fascinating opportunity for Todd, and it hasn’t happened overnight,” said Laurel Baum, a partner with the Syracuse law firm of Hancock and Estabrook. “He’s worked and trained very hard for this opportunity and I’m excited about the opportunity to help him succeed at this remarkable venture.”

Laurel Baum and the other crew members will ride along the route in two minivans and provide water and food to Baum at certain intervals. They’ll also keep a close eye on his physical and mental well-being.

“I figure if I don’t sleep, I can finish the race in 36 hours,” Baum said, “but this is more than a footrace—it’s you against the desert and sometimes the desert wins. Debilitating foot blisters, severe dehydration and heat stroke are very real possibilities. My crew will also be at risk. This will be a team effort.”

Additional crew members are Ben Clardy, a teacher in the Fayetteville-Manlius School District; Pat Riccardi, M.D., Jim Costello, sales associate with G & C Food Distributors & Brokers, Margaret Hartmann, president of the Syracuse Track Club.

Nearly all participants in the Badwater Ultramarathon choose a special cause to raise money for and Baum has selected the Golisano Children’s Hospital. “I’m overwhelmed by the support the Central New York community has shown and continues to show for this project,” he said. “I’m close to this effort; I’m caring for the children and families who will soon be served by the Golisano Children’s Hospital.”

Money raised to support Baum’s effort will go to benefit patient services at the Golisano Children’s Hospital. For more information on making a contribution, go to: http://www.upstate.edu/gch

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