Half Marathon in the Death Valley

Why you shouldn’t run fast through desert? How to freeze your “bells” at + 40 ° C? Which roads can’t stand foolish people and how’s the most severe ultramarathon in the world going?

I left behind the Escape from Alcatraz, where I froze like a puppy, that’s why I decided to warm my bones a bit. The perfect place for it is the Death Valley in California.

The Death Valley is a huge desert in the South-Eastern part of the US, located at the border between California and Nevada. The lowest point of the Northern America is located in the valley, 86 meters below sea level; and the highest temperature in the world – +56,7°C was also recorded there.

This is also the place where the toughest run in the world takes place – the Badwater Ultramarathon.

Every year, 70-90 people participate in this race and this is the most extreme ultramarathon of the world: 215 km at a temperature of 40 degrees during the night, and rising above 50 degrees during the day, depending on location, with no water sources, but with several mountain passes and a total climb of 2.500 meters.

Sometimes, the runners wear white sun-reflecting robes with hoods. Every runner must be accompanied by a car with two helpers, water, food and ice, and he should have ultra-racing experience: not less than two races, 80 km each and a 160 km race. But nevertheless, the distance is completed by only 20 to 40% of all the people at the start.

Requirements for participant eligibility are really high: experience of running two 50 miles races, or one 100-mile race, and availability of an escort car, this is precisely why accomplishing this masterpath is not for everyone. A far from shabby challenge!

Well, I’ll try to chase a few rabbits:

Rabbit No.1: Run the half marathon (a tenth of the entire race) in such harsh conditions.
Rabbit No.2: Check if I have a chance to ever run the whole distance.
And the third rabbit – warm my bones up after the cold waters of the SF bay.

My friends and I got to the starting point at noon. The temperature was +38°C.  I decide to wait an hour and a half more, to have the most from the desert. So I started at half past one, at a temperature of 40°C in the shadow.

First few kilometers I was flying – the heat was not burdening, the pace was comfortable, silence all around, the road towards the horizon – a perfect place for running…

As agreed, my friends on the car stopped every 2.5 km and gave me water. First time it was on the beam – drank half a bottle, and threw the other half on my head.

At kilometer 5, the euphoria passed, my body warmed up, and running became more difficult.

At kilometer 8, I had a liter of water swaying in my stomach, but the feeling of overheating didn’t pass. Good we had ice in the car, and I threw some under my shirt.

Never do this if you’re wearing a triathlon suit. Within 5 minutes I was plagued not only from heat, but from freezing cold in the groin – all the ice slid down and built a freezing zone there. I have never experienced anything like this – burning hot air outside, and burning frost between my legs!

However, the ice did its job and the following half an hour I felt well. Even if I was hot, I was enjoying the desert view – they say it is one of the most beautiful places in California, and maybe even in the US.

At kilometer 15, after a new sip of water, I felt queasy, and this has never happened to me before. Pancakes were striving to get out, the sun roasted, a prolonged uphill started and my mood together with my pace started to fall…

The feeling was I was falling asleep on my feet, falling into a sort of marathon coma. The pace fell down to an awful 7 minutes per km…

Waking up, I looked at my watch and realized I would not make it within 2 hours. One would say – so what? The important thing is to get to the finish. But this somehow hurt my feelings a lot.

I decided to do the impossible and not to fall out of the 2 hours target (although my half marathon time is 1:32). After I fuelled with ice and refused water – I shot forward.

I lack inspiration to describe these last kilometers, but you can imagine what was happening to me if my pace went up to 4:40 and my heart rate to 185: I was shaking, had no air to breath, I’d been blacking out, and a single thought was drilling my brain – “Am I stupid? Way am I running like this?”

I “reached it”… 1:59:33 – a shameful time for the cool Amsterdam half-marathon and a decent one for the Death Valley.

The air-conditioned car felt like heaven, and the ice bucket where I put my feet – pastures of heaven.

Thanks to all my friends and to my Vikulea for giving me to drink, watering me, throwing ice on me and cheering me up on this difficult race. It was not in vain – running at a temperature below 40 would feel quite comfortable now. And this is cool!

Conclusions – drink water wisely, small sips, and water yourself more. For these kind of extreme races use a special suit with internal pockets for ice. Usage of SPF cream is a must!

And never push your horses, like some did – these paths don’t tolerate fools.

P.S.: Alcatraz should have been built up in the Death Valley. There would have been no chances to escape…

And those who did a good run received a good charm – Vibram FiveFingers, for minimal running. I’ll try to run “barefooted”.

Escape from Alcatraz

Escape from Alcatraz

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