A marathon for the truly insane

Ransom Riggs

Regular marathons not punishing enough for you (despite the fact that the original one killed the Greek fella who invented it)? Then you've got to try the ultimate in face-melting masochism: the 30th annual Badwater Ultramarathon, held this July 23-25 in Death Valley. Get this: describing itself as "the world's toughest footrace," it's a non-stop, 135-mile journey from the lowest elevation in the Western hemisphere (280 feet below sea level, in the heart of Death Valley) to 8,360 feet up Mt. Whitney (which, if you keep climbing, is the highest elevation in the continental U.S., at 14,505 feet.) On the way, runners ascend and descend three mountain ranges, enduring temperatures up to 130 degrees.

As a result of all this x-tremeness, not many marathoners -- even ultramarathoners -- are able to finish the race. The first guy who tried this, back in 1974, nearly died. Al Arnold was pulled off the course after just 18 miles, suffering from severe dehydration. He had to go through serious desert acclimation and heat training in saunas before he tried again in 1975, when a knee injury stopped him fifty miles in. He finally finished the run in 1977 -- at the age of 50 -- and 10 years later, the ultramarathon was born. The current record is 24 hours and 30 minutes, and as of now, there have been no fatalities. But just you wait.

By the way, this blogger is headed to Death Valley today on a two-day trip -- I'm bringing water, maps, a spare tire, and my camera. But if you don't see any blogs from me on Wednesday or Thursday ... er ... call someone.