Death Valley Race pushes the limits

Posted on July 12, 2008 by



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BADWATER, Calif. — Many people don’t savor the idea of crossing Death Valley in the summertime by car.

Some actually prefer to go on foot.

This July 14-16, Route 190 in Death Valley National Park will be littered with people who do just that during the 31st annual AdventureCORPS Badwater Ultramarathon.

The extreme sport event will track participants on foot through 135 miles of the hottest, most treacherous and isolated country in the country and the world: from Badwater, Death Valley National Park, to the trailhead of Mt. Whitney in California.

The race route yo-yos from a plunging 280 feet below sea level across three mountain ranges before rising to the chilling heights of Mt. Whitney.

Some contestants will even choose to scale the tallest mountain in the Lower 48 as an unofficial finish to their journey.

Much like the Iditarod race from Nome to Anchorage, Alaska, is to dog-sledding, the AdventureCORPS Badwater Ultramarathon is famous as the end-all of marathons and is highly publicized.

“Recognized globally as ‘the world’s toughest foot race’ this legendary event pits up to 90 of the world’s toughest athletes — runner, triathletes, adventure racers and mountaineers — against one another and the elements,” according to the publicity, “it is the most demanding and extreme running race offered anywhere on the planet.”

Because of the heat and length of the race, where temperatures are likely to rise to 130 degrees Fahrenheit, it is considered too hazardous to accept many of the applicants who apply.

Invitations are limited to the most highly trained athletes in the world.

These must run similar routes under similar conditions to be considered. Yet no amount of preparation and training is enough to ensure successful completion of the course.

Every year contestants drop out of the race due to exhaustion and painful injuries.

Although there is no prize money, the running event draws athletes from around the globe. This year’s “ultra-runners” include representatives from 13 countries and 19 American states.

Twenty-one women and 62 men will run, varying in age from 27 to 66 years old. About half of the competitors are veterans to the race.

The charitable event offers only a T-shirt, a hat, Race Magazine and goodie bag to each participant. Those who finish within 60 hours will receive a finisher’s T-shirt, certificate and medal. Those who finish within 48 hours receive a commemorative belt buckle.

All proceeds from the event go to the event’s official charity, the Challenged Athletes Foundation. One of the primary goals of the ultramarathon is to raise funds and enhance awareness for the foundation.

AdventureCORPS is also a member of One Percent For The Planet, an umbrella organization that oversees donations to environmental organizations worldwide.

Members donate 1 percent of all revenues (not profits) to the charity.

In addition to charities, runners will also be supporting possible life-saving scientific research. This year The Montana Center for Work Physiology and Exercise Metabolism will conduct studies on 12 volunteer participants to measure water turnover, body temperature, activity and heat strain during the Badwater Marathon.

The study hopes “to determine the human ceiling for water turnover in order to further characterize the hydration needs for extended work in hostile environments.”

The researchers will measure the participants’ water loss (through sweat and urine) compared to water consumed while monitoring statistics such as temperature, activity and heat strain throughout the race.

The study hopes to reveal information about the human hydration mechanisms and cellular defenses in extreme circumstances and how to best protect the body from dehydration. It is an extension of previous studies performed with wildland firefighters, Air Force combat controllers and Ironman athletes in laboratories.

While supporting great causes, participants invariably run for their own reasons. Many participants reveal the race to be a life-changing event.

Most famously, Kirk Johnson, sports editor for the New York Times, ran in 1999 while reeling from the tragic suicide of his brother. He later chronicled his experience in the book “To the Edge.”

Regardless of the mysterious motivation of the human soul to push the body so far to the edge as to risk death from exhaustion and the elements, the Badwater Ultramarathon is an amazing race for amazing athletes.

As Lana Corless, race staff of 2007, put it, “Badwater represents the human spirit of challenge within a realm of a unique community that emphasizes how well we all can work together given the opportunity.”

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