‘Mind blowing:’ Cincinnati runner breaks 29-year-old world record

Cincinnati runner Harvey Lewis breaks running record in California
Updated: Aug. 13, 2020 at 10:02 PM EDT
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CINCINNATI (FOX19) - Cincinnati native and endurance runner, Harvey Lewis wrote his name in the record books yet again earlier this week.

Lewis ran from the lowest point in the continental United States to the highest in fewer than two days. Through rugged terrain, fast-changing weather and an elevation climb that makes it hard to breathe and think, Lewis was relentless. He describes the experience as “mind-blowing.”

Cincinnati runner Harvey Lewis breaks running record in California
Cincinnati runner Harvey Lewis breaks running record in California(Provided)

But he didn’t do it just for the glory; Lewis was raising money for City Gospel Mission back home.

When he started to struggle toward the end, Lewis said thinking of the charity helped him continue.

“It wasn’t like I was just running for myself,” he explained. “Being out here and pushing to try to help others [gave me] a lot of energy.”

Lewis, a vegan, is known for his endurance events lasting days — or even months. He’s been on the USA 24 Hour Running Team five times. He ran the the entire Appalachian Trail In less then 50 days which was the 8th Fastest Known Time and subject of the film, “Like Harvey, Like Son”. He’s also run the Badwater 135 mile Ultramarathon nine times, winning it in 2014.

Badwater is often described as the world’s most difficult foot race. It’s a 135-mile course starting 279 ft. below sea level in the Badwater Basin in California’s Death Valley. It ends at an elevaton of 8,360 ft. at Whitney Portal, the trailhead to Mt. Whitney.

The next 11 miles — the so-called ‘portals’ to Mt. Whitney, which stands at an elevation of 14,405 ft. — are considered too rugged to hold a race.

Lewis has wanted to tack those 11 miles on to the preceding 135 since 2006.

Ultra runner Marshall Ulrich, 69, did it in 1991, when he set the world record for the course’s fastest pace. It’s a course Ulrich estimates just 100-150 people have ever completed in one continuous run.

The training was intense, Ulrich remembers. His regimen included running in a 210-degree sauna and logging around 110 miles per week.

Now living in Colorado, Ulrich remembers hallucinating when he climbed Mt. Whitney sleep-deprived.

“I can remember seeing lizards pour down like a stream underneath my feet on the trail,” he said.

Sunday evening, Lewis set out on the same path. It was 121 degrees in Death Valley at the time. When he finished at the top of Mt. Whitney 33 hours and 32 minutes later, it was 29 degrees.

Ulrich was arguably his number-one cheerleader.

“It’s about damn time that somebody would break that record!” He said.

City Gospel Mission’s David Pinson was thrilled to hear his nonprofit energized Lewis during the run.

“That is incredible to hear that kind of an athlete be motivated by helping people,” he said. ”In a way, that motivated him to get up the mountain. We are breaking the cycle of poverty and despair one life at a time. And with Harvey, one life on his side is helping many many lives that way.”

City Gospel Mission says the money donated will help feeding the homeless, finding shelter for the homeless, addiction recovery and funding the Step Forward Running program.

Ulrich says he called Lewis several times to give him advice and encourage him to keep going.

“He is just such a quality character,” Ulrich said. “Of course, he was raising money, so you know he’s got a lot of heart. He’s a very giving person.”

Lewis is heading back to Cincinnati to teach at the School for the Creative and Performing Arts. He’s also running a 100 mile ultra race next weekend.

He knows if it weren’t for the pandemic delaying the start of school, this entire adventure would not have been possible. He says that’s a testament to making the most of any situation.

“We get things thrown at us,” he said, “but make the best out of whatever that is, and you may be amazed at what kind of outcome you can create.”

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