Athlete Profile: Ultramarathon Runner Darren Fortney


Among the approximately 1,200 runners participating in the 35th annual Lake Monona 20K race on May 4, 2013 was an athlete who is preparing for a race that is itself in its 36th year – a race that is legendary among runners worldwide. Middleton, WI runner Darren Fortney has been invited to participate for the third time in the Badwater Ultramarathon, a 135-mile race from Death Valley to Mount Whitney, CA on July 15-17.

Dubbed as “the world’s toughest foot race,” the Badwater Ultramarathon originated in 1977 when solo runner Al Arnold completed the course after two previously failed attempts. Badwater became an organized race in 1987, although to this day it remains completely unsupported – no aid stations, no water, no food…just the runners and their self-organized, self-supporting crews. Athletes rely on training, logistical preparation, and wits to survive temperatures reaching up to 130 degrees F.

Fortney is no stranger to fortitude, as evidenced by a 2010 athlete profile by Focal Flame Photography describing his role in an annual ultraswimmingevent across Lake Mendota named “Gills for Gilda’s.” Charitable donations raised from the Lake Mendota Crossing helped to fund programs for cancer patients and their family at Gilda’s Club.

This year, Fortney is once again raising funds for Gilda’s Club – with a goal of raising $15,000. Focal Flame Photography writer Robyn Perrin caught up with Darren between training sessions to ask him about why he is taking on the challenge again, and what the mission of Gilda’s Club means to him personally.

Focal Flame Photography: As a 2-time Badwater alum, what are your expectations for Badwater in 2013?

Darren Fortney: My goal is really simple this time.   It is to work in conjunction with my support crew to fully execute our race plan and run the "smartest" race of our three trips to the desert.  I have recently made some modifications regarding my nutrition plan, body management, support team, and overall strategy that I think will ensure some positive results this coming July.

FFP: What made you decide to train for Badwater again?

DF: As one of 90 athletes in the world who are fortunate and healthy enough to be asked to compete, I felt it would be an opportunity missed if I did not once again apply to participate in this amazing event.   After battling through some rather serious health issues in 2012, I have once again discovered my passion for running long and pushing my body and mind to new levels.  Last fall I competed in the Yellowstone 100-miler and had some decent results.  At that point, I know I was back and wanted to give Badwater another run.

FFP: Why did you want to include the Lake Monona 20K as a training event?


DF: I always enjoy the Lake Monona 20K race.  Race Day Events puts on an amazing show, not only on the race course, but post-race as well (beer!).   I have also found that mixing up various distances and paces helps bring variety to my training and avoids burn-out.   I also love the concept of running around an entire lake.  How cool is that?

FFP: Tell me in your own words a little bit about your relationship with Gilda's Club - why you are fundraising for the organization, your interactions with the organization, what their work means to you personally.

DF: As a cancer survivor myself, I have a strong desire to give back to the cancer community, especially here in my hometown.  I have been involved with Gilda's Club since 2008.  I have served on the Board of Directors at Gilda's Club now for about two years and have found not only the organization, but [also] the people to be truly amazing while providing this critical service to those battling this disease.  Over the years I have made supporting and fundraising for Gilda's Club part of my life.  Leveraging my Badwater experience once again will hopefully result in another successful fundraising campaign.   We are once again targeting $15,000!  

FFP: From cancer to back surgeries, you've overcome so many physical challenges during your career as a runner. What draws you back to the sport again and again?

DF: Unfortunately, injuries are part of the game, no matter what level runner you are.  I am fortunate that my most recent injuries were not directly related to running so my transition from being injured back to running has been easier.  I think it also helps that I enjoy running and competing so motivation is not hard.   That alone draws me back to the sport.  When I am injured, it only serves to remind me how lucky I am to be able to do what I am doing......and makes me work that much harder to take care of my body as best I can.

FFP: What do you want people to know about Gilda's Club?

DF: Cancer can and will affect you at some level in your life.  Everyone will eventually need to face this disease on some level in their life, be it a friend, co-worker, family member, or neighbor.   Gilda's Club is there for those in need in our community, right here in the Madison area.  It is local and that is why I am with them.  It offers greatly needed social and emotional support for the entire family.  Many people close to me have utilized Gilda's Club and for that we are all thankful.  All of its services are provided at NO CHARGE.   That alone tells you what kind of a place it is.  Fundraising is a critical part of Gilda's Club success and I am grateful to have so many wonderful people in my life to help contribute fundraisers such as the Badwater campaign.

To contribute to Darren Fortney’s fund for Gilda’s Club, visit Donations of $25 or more made before July 13 will qualify for a $10 coupon off Mizuno shoes and an entry for a grand prize. Focal Flame Photography is proud to support Darren Fortney’s efforts at the 2013 Badwater Ultramarathon.