Ultra-marathons are thick and fast on the horizon

It’s that time of year again. Summer. The silly season. Time to shrug off those extra kgs and while doing  that perhaps planning some extreme target for yourself? Funny, I have two friends who have done just that. Both started training in November and one has already completed, with panache, an iron man type competition in South Africa. The other is planning his debut at a cooler venue – Norway in August.

But for really extreme look no further than the Badwater Ultramarathon which starts in Furnace Creek – the lowest spot in America. Yesterday we did the lowest spot in China – perhaps I should look at all the other lowest spots in the world, apart of course for the Dead Sea which, as we all know, is the lowest of the lowest.

I digress…

The Badwater Ultra-Marathon. What is it?   This might be a 1999 video, but it’s good (AdventureCORPS):

If you’ve been reading our blogs for a while you will have come across this race of all races before. But if you have not – well, here’s some more info:

The event is organised by AdventureCORPS . Runners in this extreme competition will tackle a 135 mile run (217 km) from Death Valley to Mt. Whitney, CA in temperatures up to 130F (55c). This will be the 33rd Anniversary of the Badwater Ultramarathon and is to be held between 12th – 14th  July, 2010. Recognized globally as “the world’s toughest foot race,” this legendary event pits up to 90 of the world’s toughest athletes – runners, triathletes, adventure racers, and mountaineers – against one another and the elements.


It is the most demanding and extreme running race offered anywhere on the planet.

The fact that it takes place in July, when the weather conditions are most extreme and temperatures over 120 °F (49 °C), even in the shade, are not uncommon makes this a particularly gruelling race. Consequently, very few people—even among ultramarathoners—are capable of finishing it. The créme de la créme  take part in this event.

“Yeah, man, it’s Badwater. You don’t turn down a chance to be at Badwater,”  – Mark Paterson.

The field is invitation-only and limited in size. Demand to participate in the race usually far exceeds available spots. Rules have changed somewhat over the years, for example afternoon starts have been discontinued and the use of intravenous fluids now disqualifies a runner.

The start line is at Badwater, Death Valley, which marks the lowest elevation in North America at 280′ (85m) below sea level. The race finishes at Mt. Whitney Portal at 8360′ (2533m). The Badwater course covers three mountain ranges for a total of 13,000′ (3962m) of cumulative vertical ascent and 4,700′ (1433m) of cumulative descent. Whitney Portal is the trailhead to the Mt. Whitney summit, the highest point in the contiguous United States. Competitors travel through places and landmarks including Mushroom Rock, Furnace Creek, Salt Creek, Devil’s Cornfield, Devil’s Golf Course, Stovepipe Wells, Keeler, and Lone Pine.

16 countries will be represented at this event and they include 45 Badwater veterans and 42 rookies.  There are 16 women and 71 men. The youngest runner is 20 (Nickademus Hollon of San Diego, CA, a 2009 finisher) while the oldest is 75 (Jack Denness of the UK, an eleven-time finisher who last completed Badwater at age 70). The average age of the race is 44.

Each runner must arrange for his or her own support crew and vehicle. The crew provides their runner with his or her needs, including water, ice, food, gear, pacing, and first aid. However, because this event is run under such extreme conditions, AdventureCORPS have a 50-person race staff, including a ten-person medical team (doctors, nurses, EMTs, and an ambulance), a three-person foot care team, another ten people producing the live webcast, plus roving race officials, and race staff at six timing checkpoints along the route.

It is a race where you can be sure you will be taken good care of…

The men’s course record is held by Valmir Nunez of Brazil with a time of 22:51:29 set in 2007, while the women’s course record of 26:51:33 was set in 2008 by Jamie Donaldson of Littleton, CO. It is expected that the winner of the 2010 AdventureCORPS Badwater Ultramarathon will finish in 22 to 26 hours. The average finishing time is approximately 40-48 hours, while the overall time limit is 60 hours. 20–40% will fail to reach the finish line as in previous years. That’s no detriment to them… most of us wouldn’t get past the start line!

As Ashleigh Fantz says, “For all the nonsweaters out there — consider how long it takes to drive from Baltimore to New York. Now imagine running that distance…without sleep…with 10,000 blow dryers pointed at you the entire time.”

And don’t think these competitors are only doing it for the prize money. There is none. Runners who complete the course in sixty hours receive a commemorative medal. Runners who complete the course in forty-eight hours receive a belt buckle. And that’s good enough for all.

In 1977 Al Arnold, an ultra-running pioneer and human potential guru, originally competed, in a solo effort, the trek from Badwater to Mt. Whitney in 80 hours. Arnold had a support crew, but it was just them against the elements and the clock. The official head-to-head race began ten years after Arnold’s pioneer trek, in 1987.

This is the eleventh year that AdventureCORPS have organised and managed the race.

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