LOS ANGELES—Filipino-American architect Benjamin Gaetos made history this month when he became the first Filipino to ever complete the Badwater Ultramarathon, a grueling 135-mile run described as “the world’s toughest race.”
Gaetos, 56, finished the 36th edition of the annual invitational foot race on July 15 to 17 from Death Valley to Mt. Whitney with a time of 44 hours, eight minutes and seven seconds.
The Filipino runner is one of only 96 participants from around the world to qualify to probably the planet’s most demanding and extreme run where temperatures hit 125 degrees or more.
Gaetos finished 64th among 81 elite athletes–marathoners, triathletes, adventure races and mountaineers–who completed the punishing race that included 19 women or about a third of the gutsy finishers.
The race was won by 39-year-old Carlos Alberto da Gomez of Portugal with a time of 24 hours, 38 minutes and 16 seconds. The top female finisher was Australian Catherine Todd, 34, who lives and works in the United Arab Emirates clocked in with a time of 29 hours, 55 minutes and 29 seconds to finish 11th.
Gaetos said he ran his first race, the Run for the Homeless in Griffith Park in Hollywood in 1989, and the experience got him hooked on running. Three years later finished his first marathon in Los Angeles. He then took his running another notch, taking on the 2002 Bulldog 50-mile run in Malibu, California.
To date, his profile says that Gaetos has completed 58 ultramarathons, 58 42-mile races and scores of more than a hundred shorter races. Gaetos, who works as an architect at the City of Los Angeles’ Department of Public Works, said he runs regularly for exercise and to relieve himself of stress.
Gaetos, who received his B.S. Architecture degree from the University of Santo Tomas in Manila, thinks running, including the elite Badwater ultramarathon, is one of the most egalitarian sports.
“In this race, it doesn’t matter whether you came from, what economic circumstances you’re in or whether you’re a minority. Anyone can reach the top,” he told Balitang America. “You can compete with the same level as everybody as long as you do your homework,” added Gaetos, who said he is thankful for the support of his wife, their only daughter as well as fellow Filipinos.
To prepare for the ultimate challenge of running the Badwater race in the height of the summer heat, the Filipino extreme runner said he trained regularly and went to the sauna to get his body used to the heat.
“My secret training is I’ve gone to the sauna almost every day since February, staying there from 20 minutes to an hour to feel the heat,” Gaetos said. Gaetos shares his passion for running by mentoring other runners and by regularly sending running shoes, other running gear and clothes to charities in the Philippines.
For those aspiring to take their running to the next level by running a marathon or even an ultramarathon, Gaeto’s advice is simple and straightforward: Train properly and be prepared mentally for the ultimate challenge.