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UOWD Professor starts out on ‘the world’s toughest foot race’

Sunday, 14 July, 2013

Following her incredible non-stop run from Dubai to Fujairah last year, Dr Catherine Todd, Assistant Professor at the University of Wollongong in Dubai (UOWD), is preparing to take on this year’s Badwater Ultramarathon in California, USA. UOWD is one of the sponsors of Dr Todd’s quest, which takes place between 15th and 17th July.

Globally renowned as ‘the world’s toughest footrace’, the Badwater Ultramarathon takes competitors over a gruelling 135 mile (217 km) course, from the simmering cauldron of Death Valley – the hottest, driest place in North America – to Mount Whitney, the highest summit of continental United States. Dr Todd is no stranger to these sorts of events, having previously run ten 100 mile marathons and three 135 mile marathons, including last year’s Badwater race.

Explaining what led her to take on such extraordinary challenges, Dr Todd said, “I participated in a lot of sports from a young age and took up marathon running as a student at the University of Wollongong in Australia. After moving to teach at UOWD, I became a member of local running clubs in Dubai and found there was quite a big ultramarathon community here. It was the next logical challenge for me and I love it; every race provides a truly different experience.”

Just one hundred of the world’s toughest athletes are selected to compete in the Badwater Ultramarathon and entry is by invitation only. Runners are allowed just 48 hours to complete the course, which is a huge challenge, even among ultramarathoners. Dr Todd’s training regime has involved road, desert and mountain runs, including back-to-back ascents of Jebel Hafeet, starting out at 3 o’clock in the morning.

Fitting such a demanding training regime around a full-time role at the university is down to good time management, as Dr Todd said, “I firmly believe you can make time for what you love to do. I am very disciplined and have great support from the faculty at UOWD, so I’ve never had any problems fitting everything in.”

Invited to take part for the second time, this year as a ‘veteran’ of the race, Dr Todd is aiming to be the fastest woman through the course, which will expose runners to extreme temperatures of up to 55 degrees Celsius, whilst scaling a cumulative elevation of around 4,000 metres. 

As one of Dr Todd’s sponsors, UOWD will be contributing to her support crew costs. Every runner must provide their own team and vehicle to assist with hydration, food, and pacing, which present some of the main challenges throughout the event. The biggest challenge of all though, Dr Todd says, is maintaining a positive mental attitude.

“These races are not just about conquering the distance, they present a number of other challenges, including coping with extreme weather, having the discipline to use nutrition correctly and overcoming the pain of injury and fatigue. The key is having the mental strength to overcome it all and carry on to the finish.”

Alongside the personal challenge, Dr Todd is also running the race in support of a charity that is assisting in the rehabilitation of her friend, Richard Holland, who was badly injured in a road accident in Dubai.

The race action can be followed on Twitter and YouTube or through the Badwater live webcast.

For more information about the charity Dr Todd is supporting, visit