Citadel’s LeMieux finishes 135-mile endurance race through Death Valley in 42 hours

Will LeMieux, 29, of Charleston, leaves Death Valley and enters Townes Pass in the Panamint mountain range at about Mile 73 of the Badwater 135 ultra on Tuesday morning. (Lidia Bonete)

Citadel graduate student and Army veteran Will LeMieux finished one of the most grueling endurance races in the world, the Styr Labs Badwater 135 ultra through California’s Death Valley, on Wednesday in 42 hours, 13 minutes and 3 seconds.

LeMieux started the 135-mile run at 11 p.m. Monday (Pacific Standard Time) and finished at 5:13 p.m. PST on Wednesday.

According to results posted online, LeMieux was 62nd out of 97 total finishers in the run that started in the Badwater Basin of Death Valley and finished at the 8,360-foot Whitney Portal, the trail head to Mount Whitney.

LeMieux, who served a tour in Afghanistan in 2011, said the severe desert conditions struck him immediately upon his arrival at Furnace Creek to pick up his race packet.

“We got out of the car and it just hits you. I wouldn’t describe it as a breeze, but hot air moving very rapidly … When you get on the ground, it gets real, especially when you know there’s no turning back,” he said.

During the run, LeMieux battled gusty winds and dry heat that reached a high of 123 degrees at Mile 71 at 5 p.m. Tuesday and a low of 69 at Mile 109 at 7 a.m. Wednesday. Even at the 11 p.m. start, LeMieux said the temperature was 111.

“The heat just sucks the moisture out of your body,” said LeMieux, adding that the dry heat of Death Vallegy trumps the humidity of the Lowcountry in regards to suffering while running.

In retrospect, LeMieux thinks he may have started the ultra too fast, clicking off a pace of 8½ minutes per mile for the first 17 miles. That 6.3 mph pace slowed to about 2.5 mph as he climbed, often walked, the latter stages of the race.

While he battled dehydration by drinking gallons of water and diluted Gatorade, LeMieux had issues eating food for the first 80 miles of the race and estimates that he managed to consume no more than 2,000 calories of food up to that point. A trained runner the size of LeMieux typically burns about 100 calories per mile.

After the race, LeMieux has the expected soreness and swelling in his feet and legs, but what seemed to bother him the most was his sunburned and swollen lower lip.

LeMieux, who is 29 and lives in Charleston, was assisted by a crew of friends, including girlfriend and Citadel graduate Lidia Bonete, ultra running friend Tim Preble and fellow Army vet Brandon Purdeu. LeMieux served as a crew member for Purdeu in 2014. Now Preble is considering running Badwater.

Speaking via phone while in route to the Las Vegas airport, LeMieux gave his crew credit for helping him finish.

“They were the right combination to not let me fail,” said LeMieux, who used his effort to promote a local nonprofit, the Warrior Surf Foundation.