Williamsburg runner prepares to race 100 miles through Death Valley

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Last summer, Piggott ventured on a 9-hour day hike along the Grand Canyon rim to the Colorado River. (Courtesy Maggie Fox)

David Piggott does nothing half way. If you’ve seen him running through Williamsburg, or competing in the many local races in town, you know.

His typical route finds him running the Colonial Parkway some days, or running from Penniman Road to Richmond Road and then down Monticello Avenue.

“You see a lot of great people and it’s a great route,” says Piggott. He’s even been known to commute to work on foot.

Piggott works at Williamsburg Neck & Back, a chiropractic center, as a rehab aide and conditioning coach and also sees clients at Tidewater Physicians Multispecialty Group, where he’s a personal trainer. 

The 28-year-old endurance runner, who runs shirtless and sports back-length
dreadlocks, has been competing in more races lately in preparation for his biggest
challenge to date, a 100-mile section of the famous STYR Labs Badwater 135 in Death Valley.

Now in its seventeenth year, the STYR Labs Badwater 135 covers 135 miles (217km) non-stop from Death Valley to Mt. Whitney, Calif., and dubs itself as “the most demanding and extreme running race offered anywhere on the planet.”

The 2016 race, run July 18-20, drew 100 runners from 17 countries. With daytime temperatures reaching a scorching 116 degrees and athletes facing elevations as high as 8,300 feet, it should come as no surprise that not every competitor can finish the event.

This year’s race left 17 runners short of reaching the finish line. The course ends at Whitney Portal— the trailhead to the Mt. Whitney summit— the highest point in the contiguous United States.

Currently Piggott’s training includes roughly 40 to 50 miles per week, and since the daytime high temperatures of Death Valley aren’t available in Virginia, he creates adverse conditions to simulate the run.

“So some days you may have to run in sweat pants and in a double hoodie in the summer,” he said. “Some days you go to the sauna and sit for hours. Some runs you run in a fast state without eating. Some runs you run without water. Majority of my training runs are done without food and water.”

David Piggott competes in the Lynchburg Half Marathon and 5K in Lynchburg, Virginia. (Courtesy Robert Copeland)

Piggott wasn’t always a runner. An active child and teen, he fell in love with martial arts and was convinced to give running a shot as an adult. 

“My friend Corey called me and said, ‘Dude, you’re if not going to fight professionally, you should try running,” he remembers.

Being someone who likes a challenge, Piggott decided that if he’s going to give running his best effort, he was going to go big with it. He decided his first race was going to be a full marathon.

“I had never run an official race,” he said. “So I started training every day…I would get up every morning and run anywhere from five miles to eight miles.”

Piggott learned that every run is different — and from a health standpoint, that when you feel pain on a run, you have to learn to assess your routine. You have to check your shoes for uneven wear, check your posture, check your foot strikes. Understand your body and know what may be the cause of your pain. 

“I realized that if I run a seven-minute mile today, I can’t run the same seven-minute mile tomorrow because my body hasn’t recovered,” he said. “As a runner, we think we’re doing one thing but sometimes we’re doing another. In recovery, you need to focus on eating good healthy food and get plenty of sleep.”

“You’re building something. You can’t rush fitness,” he said. “America teaches us that in order to make gains you have to work hard. That may be true, but you can’t rush it. You have to listen to your body.”

David Piggot prepares to cross the finish line at the 2016 Colorado Fund for Muscular Dystrophy 5K in Richmond, Virginia. He finished first overall. (Courtesy Maggie Fox)
David Piggott prepares to cross the finish line at the 2016 Colorado Fund for Muscular Dystrophy 5K in Richmond, Virginia. He finished first overall. (Courtesy Maggie Fox)

For those who want to start an endurance running habit, Piggott advises knowing your fitness level and addressing any issues you might have before you start. And he would know. As a trainer, he understands what it takes to build a body for endurance running, or any other sport for that matter. 

“You have to be a little crazy,” says Piggott, who claims to be the first person to run the 53-mile Capital Trail from Williamsburg to Richmond. “Being an endurance runner is about building little by little. Think about when you were a kid and you have to learn the alphabet. You start with A through F, then you learn a little more and a little more until you get it. Then over the summer you learn how to write sentences and paragraphs. It’s breaking it up into small chunks.”

He also encourages runners not not get caught up in tracking distance, but instead track your time as a measure of growth. 

“Don’t time miles. That doesn’t matter,” he says. “If it’s 60 degrees today and 80 tomorrow, your time will be different. Run for time—Monday run 30 minutes, Wednesday run 30 minutes, take Thursday and Friday off and Saturday run an hour. If you happen to know how any miles you run, cool, but don’t be stressed about hitting a certain number of miles. You’ll take the enjoyment out of it.” 

In the end, Piggott’s true test as a trainer will come in 2018, when he puts his own body to the test in Death Valley during the STYR Labs Badwater 135.

“It is one of the hardest places you can run,” Piggott said. “Most of the people who run there have to run on a line in the middle of the road because the concrete will melt your shoes. It can get up to 120 degrees out there. And I have a go hard or go home mentality, so I want to be the best at this, so what better race to attack than Death Valley?”