One of the most brutally difficult endurance events on the planet kicks off today, with the top ultrarunners arriving in Death Valley for the start of the 2009 Badwater Ultramarathon. 88 competitors will hit the starting line this morning and set off into very harsh conditions as they cover 135 miles in what is described as “the world’s toughest foot race”.
The annual event begins in the town of Badwater, which is located 280 feet below sea level at the heart of Death Valley National Park. The course then winds up and down three mountain ranges, punishing the athletes with more than 13,000 feet of vertical gain, before they reach the finish line at the Mt. Whitney Portals, located at 8360 feet on that mountain. Oh! And along the way, they’ll be forced to deal with temperatures reaching 130ºF.
The top racers will cover the entire 135 miles in roughly 24 hours time. (The course record is 22 hours, 51 minutes, 29 seconds), while the main pack will take roughly 45 hours to finish. The cutoff time is at the 60 hour mark, and everyone who completes the race in under 48 hours receives the coveted Badwater belt buckle, but much like the Tour Divide, there is no prize money for running the race.
The field for this year’s Badwater is quite deep with last year’s winner Jorge Pacheco returning, along with three other former champs in Dean Karnazes, Marshall Ulrich, and David Jones. The men will be pushed by the likes of Pam Reed, who was the overall winner in the past as well.
I have to say, I have a tremendous amount of respect, and a healthy dose of awe for these runners. As a runner myself, I can’t imagine putting in this kind of distance in the kind of conditions that they’ll be facing in Death Valley. I run respectable distances in the Texas heat and after 7 or 8 miles, I’m ready to hit the shower. In this event, I’d still have another 127 miles to go.
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