Charles Haupert seeks out opportunities like the Badwater Salton Sea ultra-marathon.
No matter how muddy, harebrained or precarious the obstacle, Charles Haupert rarely flinches at the chance to run, crawl, jump and climb over or—under—it.
The 35-year-old avid obstacle-course runner/ultra-marathoner has leaped 35 feet off a platform into Lake Las Vegas, ran a sandlot marathon around a baseball diamond (384.5 trips around the bases) and once competed in a Tough Mudder dressed as the Gingerbread Man—which also happens to be the name of his running blog. (Haupert jokingly refers to himself as a “gingerneer” for his red hair and his engineering background.)
“Anything where people say, ‘Hey, that sounds crazy, or that’s stupid,’ is what I like to sign up for,” says Haupert, who lives in Maple Grove with his wife, Michelle.
According to Haupert, competing in obstacle-style mud runs and endurance races can be more challenging mentally than physically. He says most people’s minds quit long before their bodies do. That mental toughness of getting comfortable with the uncomfortable helped Haupert complete last April’s unyielding Badwater Salton Sea team ultra-marathon in Southern California. The race’s lone Minnesota participant and his two California teammates navigated 81 miles of hardscrabble desert and mountainous terrain, climbing 9,000 feet along the way.
It’s the second leg in the three-event Badwater Ultra Cup series. The third race, Badwater 135, takes place in Death Valley in July and is touted as the world’s toughest foot race.
“I’m not that fast, but I can out suffer most people,” he says. “Make it cold, make it hot, make it hard, make it miserable. In most cases, that’s where I thrive.”
The affable Haupert, an electrical engineer at Advanced Engineering and Environmental Services, Inc. (AE2S) in Maple Grove, isn’t driven to win races. Instead, he focuses on his own personal running goals, trying events he’s never done before like Badwater Salton Sea and making friends along the way. “He laughs and smiles a lot,” says John Glines, one of Haupert’s Badwater teammates. “While everybody took the race very seriously [as did Haupert], he didn’t have a heavy feel about him. He was easy to be around, and he disarms you. He makes you feel relaxed and comfortable.”
Haupert admits he doesn’t have your typical runner’s body. As he puts it, he looks more like an NFL linebacker. “I don’t look like much of a runner, but I can tango with the best of them, at least the middle of the pack,” says Haupert, who weighed 236 pounds with all his gear at Badwater.
As a way to improve his fitness, Haupert started running about a half-dozen years ago. During his first 5K, it took quite an effort for him to finish in 38 minutes. Now, he logs 30 to 40 miles a week running in such places as French Regional Park in Plymouth and Elm Park Reserve in Maple Grove. His ever-growing race résumé includes four appearances at the World’s Toughest Mudder, where participants attempt to complete the most laps around a five-mile obstacle course in 24 hours. “It went from something I hated to something I started to enjoy,” he says. “I do run a lot to clear my head. It’s good for your physical and your mental health. You can be alone with your thoughts and enjoy the outside.”
During that ultra-marathon, Haupert, Glines and Tracy Thomas (a late replacement) were the last team to finish. They made it with 40 minutes to spare before the race’s 28-hour cutoff. Team members had to stay within 25 meters of each other the entire race. “About a third of the teams didn’t finish, so even though we finished in last place, we finished,” he says.
The three teammates, who barely knew each other before the race began, had to endure a lot to finish: heat, cold, injuries and rain, and Haupert even had to sidestep a rattlesnake. The Minnesota native didn’t have long to acclimate himself to the desert heat, where mid-afternoon temperatures peaked in the mid-90s. “They encourage us to train with our teammates, but here I am in Minnesota, and it’s still snowing out,” he says.
“It’s a legitimate challenge just to run 81 miles to begin with,” says Glines, who lives in Santa Maria, Calif. “To do it with three people, who didn’t know each other. We didn’t know each other’s strengths or weaknesses and hadn’t spent that kind of time together, especially under those type of circumstances. We bonded very well. We just all seemed to be a great fit for each other.”
They are closer now. “It’s funny what 27 hours on the road will do to you,” Glines says.
The race, a mix of trails and roads north of San Diego from below sea level on the apocalyptic-like shores of the desolate and shrinking Salton Sea, over Anza-Borrego Desert State Park before finishing atop Palomar Mountain, took a toll on Haupert’s feet in the form of painful blisters. Afterward, he snapped a photo showing the bandages that made the final miles a bit more bearable.
“I’m just crawling like a crab in [Disney’s film] Moana at the end just trying to take as much pressure off my feet as we can and keep moving,” he says.
The three were able to pick each other up when one of them was struggling, adding that Thomas didn’t need much help. Early on, it was Glines; later, it was Haupert. “The team factor adds way more of a challenge than people realize,” Haupert says. “If you’re not patient, if you’re not understanding or if you have a big ego, you’re not going to finish. Because these are the people, who are going to leave their teammates.”
The race ended on a Monday, Haupert flew back to Minnesota that Tuesday, and he was back to work on Wednesday. “I spent Wednesday and Thursday walking around the office in flip-flops because my feet were so swollen,” he says. His coworkers are used to his active race schedule, though. “They ask, ‘What are you doing this week, Charles? Good luck, don’t break anything,’” he says. “It doesn’t even faze them anymore.”
Michelle says she understood why Haupert wanted to participate in Badwater Salton Sea. After all, they both share a passion for obstacle and endurance races, though she admits Badwater was a bit out of her comfort zone. “He loves to push himself and has goals and ambitions and loves to reach those goals,” Michelle says.
Haupert is planning to go back to do his fifth World’s Toughest Mudder in Atlanta this month. Last year, he ended up hypothermic and dropped out after 30 miles. He’s aiming for some redemption. “The day tickets were released, I bought one,” he says. Now that he’s completed Badwater Salton Sea, competing in a 100-mile race seems possible. “After finishing 81 miles, what’s 19 more?” he says. “It would be a grind, but I think I can grind it out just fine.”