The Badwater Ultramarathon is,by its own reckoning,the worlds toughest foot race. The 217km race begins at Badwater in California’s Death Valley,the lowest point in contiguous USA (not including Alaska and Hawaii) and ends close to its highest point,Mount Whitney. If the steeply ascending terrain (with a cumulative elevation gain of 5800m) wasn’t hard enough to contend with,competitors must also deal with the region’s blistering temperatures. On July 10,1913,or 100 years ago to the week,thermometers in Badwater recorded 134 Farenheit (56.6 Celsius),then the highest ever temperature recorded on earth. This year’s Ultramarathon,therefore,is extra special.
Any sporting event that involves running and walking distances greater than a marathon (42.195km) is classified as an ultramarathon.
Such races can either be run over a specific distance (100km is an IAAF world record event) or over a specific length of time (with the winner completing the greatest distance).
Ultramarathons encompass a whole range of terrain,from running tracks to mountain trails,and can be run in extreme heat (like Badwater) or intense cold (such as the sub-zero temperatures at the Beast of Burden Winter 100-miler in the UK.
Women compete alongside men in ultramarathons,and more than hold their own. For instance,three of the top five finishers in Badwater in 2003,including winner Pamela Reed,were women.