Earlier today, the 2011 Badwater Ultramarathon got underway in Death Valley, with some of the top endurance athletes in the world setting out on a 135 mile course will test their abilities, while pushing them to the limits both physically and mentally.
Held annually in the July heat of Death Valley, this ultra is always listed amongst the toughest in the world. The race begins in the small town of Badwater, which has the distinction of being the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere at 280 feet (85 meters) below sea level. From there, the runners head out into the desert towards the eventual finishing point at the Mt. Whitney Portals, located at 8300 feet (2530 meters) on that mountain. In between, they’ll cross over three mountain ranges, with a cumulative altitude gain of over 13,000 feet (3962 meters).
Of course, by now we’re use to reading about these amazing endurance athletes running incredibly long distances that would require a car for most of us. But what usually sets the Badwater apart, is the extreme heat that the runners can experience in Death Valley. As of this writing, temperatures are around 93ºF/33.8ºC, but it hasn’t even reached the hottest part of the day yet.
Traditionally, it takes about 24 hours for the first runners to cross the finish line, give or take an hour. Last year’s winner, Zach Gingerich, completed the course in 24 hours, 44 minutes, and 48 seconds. That’s a long time to run in the best of conditions, let alone in the desert heat and up and down some mountains. The vast majority of the runners will take 35+ hours to complete their Badwater experience.
For the record, I’ll go for a run today in temperatures that are expected to be around 101ºF/37.7ºC. The difference is, my run will be somewhere in the neighborhood of 4-5 miles (6-8km) in length, and afterwards I’ll be rehydrating for an hour. I can’t imagine what it must be like for these athletes.
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