In many ways, David Goggins and Akos Konya are polar opposites.
At 6 feet 1, 192 pounds, the sculpted Goggins resembles an NFL safety. Konya goes 5-8, 130.
Goggins was raised in America’s heartland, outside Indianapolis. He lives in Chula Vista. Konya grew up in Hungary. He lives in Oceanside.
Ultramarathoner David Goggins of Chula Vista tackled the last 13 miles of the Badwater Ultramarathon – an ascent to the Mount Whitney Portals – in 2006.
Akos Konya’s best time in the marathon is seven minutes off the U.S. Olympic Trials qualifying standard.
Goggins is black; Konya is white.
The men, both 33, are friends, brought together by their fixation with ultramarathon running. At 10 a.m. Monday when a horn blares in Death Valley to signal the elite-wave start of the Badwater Ultramarathon, they’ll be two of the favorites in one of the sport’s most insane events.
One hundred thirty-five miles. Temperatures in the 120s, 13,000 feet of cumulative climbing, 4,700 feet of descent. The reward for those finishing in less than 48 hours: a belt buckle. There is no prize money.
Goggins, third last year, and Konya, second the past two years, are expected to lead the way to the finish, 8,360 feet up Mount Whitney.
Before he walks out the front door for every run, Goggins mutters the same words to his wife, Aleeza.
“I hate this (stuff).”
This from a man who last year finished seven 100-mile races, seven 50-milers and ran 203½ miles in a 48-hour event. His total mileage last year: 7,781. Or 149½ miles a week. Or 21 miles a day.
Goggins, a Navy SEAL and former power weight lifter who once weighed 281, likes pushing himself to the extreme for two reasons. One, he thrives on the pain, discovering how far sheer will can take him.
Second, there’s the kids. In 2005, 11 military personnel were killed in Afghanistan when a helicopter recovery effort to save endangered SEALs went awry. Goggins had attended training school with four of those who were killed.
He vowed to raise money for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, which pays the college tuition for children of special-operations personnel killed in the line of duty.
“It’s a gesture from me, letting the families know their husbands or daughters did not die in vain,” Goggins said.
“What’s funny is that people do not believe me (when he tells them he hates running). I try to tell them the only reason I do it is to raise money for the foundation.
“People respond to pain,” he said. “If I go out and wash cars for $10, who gives a damn? People want to see you throw up, cry and go through tremendous suffering.”
Goggins estimates that he has raised $200,000 for the foundation.
For one Badwater workout, Goggins runs in the heat of day, dressed in layers. He’ll wear three pairs of sweat pants, a T-shirt, a long-sleeve warmup top, two hooded sweat shirts, topped by a jacket.
After Aleeza drops him off six miles from a gym, he’ll run to the gym, peeling off the layers and stuffing them in a backpack as discomfort sets in. Then he sits in the sauna for an hour, puts on shorts and a shirt and runs 16 miles home.
He said he lost 18 pounds during one such workout.
“A lot of the things I do don’t help you physically,” Goggins said, “but mentally, they give you such an edge.”
Said Aleeza: “Since he was a kid, all he wanted to be was Rambo. That’s kind of how he lives his life.”
The born runner
Goggins didn’t run a road marathon until he was 31 – after his first 24-hour ultra. In contrast, Konya sampled his initial 26.2-miler when he was 15. He walked to a neighborhood track in Kecskemét, Hungary, and as friends counted the laps by jotting chicken scratches on paper, he jogged 106 laps.
“Pretty much, I have been loving running forever,” he said.
Konya’s marathon personal best: 2 hours, 29 minutes – seven minutes off the U.S. Olympic Trials qualifying standard.
Konya moved to Wyoming in 2001 to spend three months at Yellowstone National Park as part of a foreign-exchange program. He then moved to Oceanside, where some high school friends had settled. Although the friends have returned to Hungary, Konya still calls Oceanside home. He works as a server and manager at Ruby’s Diner on Oceanside Pier.
Running at a hard pace exacted a toll on Konya, and in 2001 he underwent surgery on his left knee. He said he didn’t run for two years. Then one day he was in his Oceanside apartment, bored, and headed out for a three-mile jog. Running at a leisurely, nine-minute pace, his knee didn’t hurt.
Thus, an ultramarathoner was born.
While many have tabbed Konya the Badwater favorite this year, he says hamstring injuries will prevent him from winning. He hasn’t scheduled another race this year because of the injuries.
“Even though he says he’s been in pain, I’ve been with him in training,” said Carmela Rosas, a fellow ultramarathoner who will work as a member of Konya’s support crew. “He looks real good.”
Like Goggins, Konya prepares for Badwater with some unusual training methods. In late June, he drove to Borrego Springs five consecutive days, blasting the heater to acclimate himself to the Death Valley furnace. Once in Borrego Springs he ran an average of 29 miles a day, then drove back home, blasting the heater.
In January and February, both Goggins and Konya were recovering from injuries. They spent some time at each other’s homes, often watching movies. For Goggins’ birthday, Konya gave him the first season of the series “Everybody Loves Raymond” on DVD.
Goggins doesn’t believe that Konya’s hamstring problems can prevent him from winning Badwater.
“He’s modest, but he knows he can win the race,” Goggins said.
The respect is mutual.
Konya tried calling Goggins on Christmas last year, but couldn’t reach him. Turns out Goggins left on Christmas Eve for a bike ride – from Chula Vista to Yuma, back home, then back to Yuma again.
Try 492 miles in 31 hours. “That’s just me,” Goggins said. “I do some really crazy, absurd things.”