A Tuesday night start is certainly new territory for the Badwater 135, one of ultrarunning’s most famous races. But in a quest to keep the iconic course in tact, it meant playing by a few new rules for 2015 and beyond.
After re-routing the course in 2014 due to Death Valley National Park suspending race permits while it evaluated the safety of athletes in the notoriously hot park, Badwater is back in Death Valley and starting at its namesake: Badwater Basin, 282 feet below sea level and, during July, sitting in temperatures as hot as 125 degrees Fahrenheit in the middle of the day.
There’s a catch: the Badwater 135 runners won’t be there in the middle of the day anymore. The National Park Service has new restrictions stating that runners in the park must be at least 2,000 feet above sea level between 10 a.m. and sunset to avoid the hottest temperatures.
That restriction altered the Badwater 135, but it didn’t end it. Instead of morning starts, this year’s race will go off in three waves—at 8 p.m., 9:30 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Tuesday, July 28. Why Tuesday? The evening start also coincides with a full moon, another new NPS regulation in place to ensure maximum visibility during night racing.
To make sure all runners comply with the park rules, participants must reach the 2,000-foot elevation sign (about 9 miles past Stovepipe Wells) before 10 a.m. on Wednesday. It’s located 50.5 miles into the 135-mile race.
The extreme 120-degree temperatures in Badwater Basin may not be in play this year, but scorching triple-digit temperatures will still be a factor, and the challenge, while a little different, is still significant.
“For many racers, it will likely require more sleep deprivation,” says Harvey Lewis, last year’s champion who’s run Badwater four times. “Instead of being at the apex of heat when runners are fresh right into the start of the race and it getting cooler at night, runners will start the race at its coolest. This adds another layer of challenge to have run 50 miles before it gets super hot. Runners will experience an additional level of fatigue going into the hottest part of the race this year.”
It’s not the only change runners are adjusting to, either. Another new regulation states that runners can only have one support vehicle and four members in their support crew, down from two support vehicles and six crew members.
What will that require?
“Being well-organized and having each member fully trained, even greater, for aspects of the race,” Lewis says. “In the past, if we forgot something it was easy enough to have a support vehicle pick it up.
“In the past, when the crew was tired, it was easy to substitute between the two vehicles. Now the crew is basically nonstop from Badwater to Whitney. They deserve a great amount of credit.”
Like every year, the 135-mile race will finish at Whitney Portal, some 8,300 feet above sea level which serves as the trailhead to Mt. Whitney, the 14,505-foot peak that’s the highest in the contiguous U.S.
The 2015 race has its usual 100-runner field, with 24 countries represented. Lewis and Alyson Venti, the 2014 champions, are back to defend their titles. Past champions, including Oswaldo Lopez and Pam Reed, are also entered.