Extremes: The Badwater Ultramarathon

Adeline Goss in Seed Magazine:

First, the numbers: It is 10 a.m. here at the Badwater salt flats, and it’s 115 degrees in the shade. At 282 feet below sea level, this is the lowest and hottest spot in the Western Hemisphere. There is a wavering road stretching 135 miles toward the 8,300-foot-high portal to Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous United States. Forming a line across the road, grinning and cheering, are 24 runners, aged 32 to 62. While their body temperatures cling to a normal 98.6 degrees, the pavement creeps up to 200, melting the rubber soles under their feet.

This is the Badwater Ultramarathon, the most demanding and extreme running race in the world. For three days, Badwater runners try to jog—though many walk, and some report having crawled—through Nevada’s Death Valley, up its precipitous walls and over three mountain ranges to the finish line. They try to make their way nonstop, without aid stations, sleep, or IVs; instead, they are trailed by personal crewmembers, medical staff, and the well-loved Ice Man. “If you were to set up aid stations,” says race director Chris Kostman, “first of all, the people in the aid stations would die.”

Something about the runners defies this logic of the desert. This race is largely a test of will; but in a place like Death Valley, the will must first cater to the body. The resulting struggle—between resilient minds and near-death bodies—brings teams of researchers to Badwater each year.

More here.