The annual Badwater 135 ultramarathon bills itself as “The World’s Toughest Foot Race” and there’s nothing to suggest the tagline is hyperbole. Taking place in the United States’ hottest desert during the peak of summer, the pavement can get so hot that it melts the soles off shoes.
BADWATER 135 ULTRAMARATHON
The start line for the race is at Badwater Basin, Death Valley, which marks the lowest elevation in North America at 280 feet (85m) below sea level. The finish is at Whitney Portal at 8,300 feet (2530m), which is the trailhead to the Mt. Whitney summit, the highest point in the contiguous United States.
In all, the Badwater 135 course covers three mountain ranges for a total of 14,600 feet (4450m) of vertical ascent and 6,100 feet (1859m) of cumulative descent.
To prepare for the brutal run through the desert, participants train at home wearing multiple winter coats to simulate the heat, or even directing the output of multiple heaters toward their treadmill.
GOING THE DISTANCE
Pioneered by Al Arnold in 1977 as a 146-mile journey all the way to Mt. Whitney’s summit, his original run took 80 hours to complete. The Badwater 135 course record was set in 2016 by two-time winner Pete Kostelnick when he traversed the slightly-shorter distance in 21 hours, 56 minutes and 32 seconds.
Of the 100 or so elite athletes that participate in each year’s Badwater 135, as many as 40 percent are unable to complete the grueling race. Past participants have included ultra running legends Dean Karnazes and Scott Jurek, both of whom won twice, and endurance junkie David Goggins, who placed fifth in 2006 on his first attempt.