Running a single marathon is hard enough. Now imagine running five of them back-to-back in temperatures exceeding 120°F and you will understand why the Badwater Ultramarathon is often referred to, as the 'world's toughest footrace'.
Now in its 36th year, the 135-mile route was originally conceived as a race between the lowest and highest elevation points in the United States: Badwater Basin (282 ft. below sea level) and the 14,496ft. summit of Mt. Whitney, both of which are located in California. Only four people - three men and one woman dared to even compete and since there was no set course they took short cuts and one even used cross-country skis to traverse the Badwater salt flats.
Today, the route is set in stone with no shortcuts allowed! Also, thanks to environmental concerns, the path leading to the summit has been closed to all races, forcing organizers to end the ultramarathon at the base of the mountain instead of the summit. That however, has not made things any easier - runners still have to scale over three mountain ranges for a cumulative vertical ascent of over 13,000 ft. and drop 4,700 ft., before getting to the finish line within the allotted 48-hours. If that is not enough, the annual race is held in mid July, which happens to be the middle of summer in an area that is already known as Death Valley, due to its extreme temperatures.
But if you think the harsh weather or terrain act as deterrents, think again - The organizers of the race are so inundated with applications from all across the world that they have had to impose certain pre-qualifications for people wishing to compete. Besides being seasoned athletes they must have previously run a Badwater Ultramarathon, completed a race organized by a member of the Badwater World Cup, or run two other races, each at least 100 miles long.
Among the 96 athletes that made the cut at this year's event which took place from July 15-17th, were veteran runners Pam Reed and Dam Kamazes, both competing in their 11th Badwater Ultramarathon! Though that in itself is impressive, what is even more so, is that Pam, a mother of five first ran this race in 2002 at the age of 41, when she not only won it outright, but also, shattered the woman's record by a whopping 1 hr 52 mins! Pam won the title once again the following year and the women's title in 2005. This year, she came in second-place, crossing the finish line just 40 minutes behind the women's champion - Australia's Catherine Todd.
Fellow veteran marathoner Dan Kamazes is no slouch either - Besides competing in eleven of these grueling races, the 2005 winner who took up the sport seriously at the age of 30, has run 350 miles in three straight days, competed in a 199-mile relay race all by himself and most recently, completed 50 marathons in 50 days! This year, he placed 17th, an achievement he is proud of given that the conditions were even more grueling because believe it or not, Death Valley was undergoing a heat wave resulting in temperatures as high as 130°F in some areas. Even worse was the temperature of the asphalt that covers the roads, which exceeded that of the atmosphere by at least another 40°. Added to this were strong headwinds of between 20-25 miles an hour that runners had to endure during a particularly steep ascent.
It is therefore no wonder that a record 15 runners did not complete the race and that it took 39-year-old Portuguese athlete Carlos Gomes De Sa, 24h:28m:16s, or about two hours longer than the 2012 winner, to cross the finish line. Catherine Todd, the women's winner came in at 29h:59m:29s about seven minutes slower than last year's champion. While Pennsylvania resident Keith Straw did not win, he did attract a lot of attraction by running the world's toughest foot race in a pink tutu and showing the world that one could have fun even in the most punishing environment! The best part? He managed to finish the race well within the allotted 48 hours!
Source: Wikidpedia.org, Runnersworld.com, Badwater.com, RockyMountainnews.com