Parker Rios Takes Ultrarunning To The Extreme

Parker Rios finished the Badwater Ultramarathon in July and is slated to tackle the Iditarod Trail Invitational in February. Photo: Courtesy of Parker Rios

The Wisconsin resident enjoys pushing the limits whenever he can.

Parker Rios gives his neighbors plenty to talk about.

The 46-year-old ultrarunner from Brookfield, Wis., is completing one of the more impressive running doubles. In July, he finished Badwater Ultramarathon, a grueling 135-mile race from Death Valley to Mount Whitney, Calif., where daytime temperatures routinely exceed 120 degrees. In February, he’ll tackle the Iditarod Trail Invitational, a 350-mile race across Alaska. He’ll be pulling a sled with all his gear as he runs the course, which will likely take him between 4 and 10 days to complete, depending on the weather.

“To acclimate to the heat of Badwater, really the only option is a sauna,” Rios says. “When we did get some hot weather this spring, I’d take advantage of it. I’d put on my winter tights and a couple of more layers of clothes and a hat and stick it out as long as I could.”

Of course, his neighbors should be used to it, especially after watching Rios train this year for the Arrowhead 135, a winter ultra in International Falls, Minn., where, like Iditarod, participants are required to carry their own gear. “I would wake up at 1:30 a.m. and pull a tire behind me for 6 hours,” he says. “That’s how you train to pull a sled without any snow.”

But Rios’ unorthodox training has produced results. He won this year’s Arrowhead 135 in 45 hours and 40 minutes — that includes an extra 3 miles of running. “I convinced myself I was off-course at one point, so I went back a mile to the last checkpoint,” he says. “But I realized that I had been right all along. So I did the same stretch of trail three times. Of course, it really didn’t matter since I ended up winning, but at the time it was frustrating.”

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That victory earned him entry into the Iditarod Trail Invitational. It also gave him the idea of signing up for Badwater to complete “Fire and Ice,” as he’s calling the double.

“I didn’t know if I’d ever do Badwater,” Rios says. “I’m interested more in trail running, but I thought if I ever had a chance to get into the invitation-only race, it would be this year. I got the invitation [into Iditarod], so I couldn’t turn it down.”

Rios started running track in college at the University of Wisconsin. He took to the sport quickly — especially in the longer distances. “I did the Lakefront Marathon a couple of times,” he says. “But then I decided to try the Ice Age Trail 50 during law school. I just loved it. I loved the people and that it was less intense than a traditional marathon. I loved the trails. It clicked for me.”

He’s done the Ice Age Trail 50 for 23 of 24 years, with an injury preventing him from competing one year. “It’s probably my biggest running goal at this point — to stay healthy so I can keep doing that race,” he says.

Badwater was more difficult than Rios expected; he finished in 41 hours, 27 minutes. For the Iditarod race, he’ll have a new set of challenges. “I’m pretty comfortable with winter survival and mountaineering, but you just never know about the weather,” he says. “I’m hoping to be finished in 4 or 5 days and back home in a week. But you never know.”

Waiting for him at home will be his wife and two daughters, ages 5 and 6, who have been very supportive of his quest. “I do my best to not let it interfere with family time — which is why I’m running when the girls are asleep,” he says. “But you couldn’t do something like this without a lot of support.”

RELATED: Runners Battle 120-Degree Temps At Badwater

This piece first appeared in the September 2013 issue of Competitor magazine.

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