Badwater 135 is considered the toughest foot race in the world. Sometimes I was wondering why is it the toughest if it isn’t the longest one. In Poland, there are 240-km races or even 377km foot races. So, why is 135 miles long or 217 km long race considered the most difficult one? I think because the race is built with almost all the hardest parts like distance, temperature, elevation, asphalt, and open spaces. Navigation there is very easy because there is nothing around.
This race is something I have had in my mind for the last few years before it was Spartlathon but since I heard about Badwater I decided that I’ll do it because it’ll be more challenging. If I get a spot next year and I’ll finish this race then I’ll be the youngest Polish who finished this race at the age of 25. I didn’t get a spot for this year but there was one Polish who did get and without knowing him, I asked if he needs someone in his support crew. He did, so I flighted to the USA to be part of his support team and I experienced how is it to take part in the Badwater 135. It was worth doing this because now I know how to prepare and what to expect from this race.
Distance and elevation
The start of the race is in the Badwater Basin at 86 meters below sea level and the finish line is at Whitney Portal at 2548 meters above sea level. Whitney Portal is the gateway to Mount Whitney which is the highest mountain in the contiguous United States. So it could be named that the route is from the lower point in the US to the highest one, more or less. As far as I know, it’s not that easy to get chance to get a permit to go to Mount Whitney. In the past, it was Badwater 146 where the finish line was on the top of the mountain.
When I checked the route’s profile there are 2 significant peaks, the third one in Mt Whitney Portal. Based on my previous experiences I was thinking it’ll be as always, a lot of uphill and a little bit downhill, these downhill parts aren’t visible because of the overall length of the route. I was wrong there, if there is up then there is up until the top. It was something new for me in the USA that it’s common that road can go up for 20km all the time, I think such places don’t exist in Europe but in the US it’s nothing special. So doing only 4450m up and 1859m down, it’s demanding. I called it
only because in the mountains in Poland during UTM 105 there is around 5580m up and 5580m down and the distance is around 103km. However, I didn’t expect that doing such an uphill climb can be difficult but it was. To get to the Towne Pass which is the first peak, there is around 25 km going up all the time, and I didn’t mention the weather yet.
Most ultra running races are in the mountains but not this one, this one is fully on asphalt. From the start to the finish line there is only asphalt for the runner. This is more demanding than trails because, on the trails feet, knees and hips work in a different way during each movement but on the asphalt, you move always in the same way. The same movement over and over engages the same parts of the body and they became tried much faster, it also makes it hard to compensate for movement. That’s why running for 217km with some movement which could cause some injury then there is a huge chance that it’ll cause it.
I think it’s the most magical part of this race, temperature. Going to some places on holidays we wonder if the weather will be as we want but there you don’t need to think about it. During summer, the weather in the Death Valley is almost 100% predictable, there will be hot, a lot of sun, and no clouds to make even a little bit of shadow. Even if the big part of the race is outside of Death Valley then it doesn’t change anything because I didn’t see any clouds during the whole race. Before the race I was wondering about the temperature during the night or in higher places, it should be colder. In theory yes, it should be, but I’m not sure if 30 degrees of Celcius can be named as cold.
This year the temperature was quite fine, when I checked it before the race the forecast showed that there will be 49C for the whole week. It was fine, it wasn’t the best because it could be
colder like 45 and it could be 55 as well, but I think 49 was ok.
Now combine distance, elevation, asphalt, and temperature, it’s 1 PM, the sun is behind you, no shadow because even the pacer is behind you, it’s 49C, you go up for 25km and asphalt warms you up as well. Perfect place to run 🙂
I think almost everyone likes watching landscapes and it doesn’t matter if it’s the sea, mountains, field of wheat or dessert. In the landscapes, there is something relaxing, even if it’s someone’s picture from the holidays. However, in this race, I realized it’s not always that awesome experience and not for everyone. In the USA, the distances between cities are huge compared to Europe so it’s normal that you see the road and there is nothing around, you ride straight on this road by car and nothing changes. Going 65mph (the most common highway speed limit) doesn’t change the view around you quickly, so try to realize what happens when you run or walk, you almost don’t move forward. It’s mentally challenging because you see the road in front of you and you move for 2 hours and you still see very similar things around. Of course, it had a bright side that you see what is in front of you but it also can break you mentally.
There is a long and quite flat part before Lone Pine (122 miles of the race) where it’s easier to run but at the same time on the left side, there is a view of the mountain chain with Mount Whitney which on the one hand shows the finish line but on the another, you realized how high is the finish line. Here it’s important to be able to think about something else because it can break easily and if doubts come to mind then it’s hard to continue.
The last and the most important part of the Badwater135 is TEAM. I read or heard that `team can’t finish the race for the runner but can lose it, I think Chris Kostman said or wrote that somewhere. I agree with that 100%. This race is also named as team race because the team is so important here. The team has to have between 2 and 4 people and there has to be 1 leader of the team. The crew is there to help the runner but they can’t forget about themselves because if any of the team members feel sick then the whole team, including the runner, has to go to the medical point. That’s why is important for each crew member to remember to drink, eat, cool down, and have some rest because how someone can help another person if this person needs help.
There were 3 of us in the team and all of us knew what to do. We were able to exchange our roles easily. It’s very important because one person can do support for a few stops while other team members can sleep in the car and then they can change roles. We were ready for a situation where someone needs 5 hours of sleep to recover. In the end, for the whole time, we did the same things, drive a car and park properly (it was important), prepare something to drink, something to eat when was needed, and prepare sprayers. There were a few extra stops but there were more expectations than normal things.
Besides helping side for the runner, I think it’s crucial to have people in the team who have a great attitude to surroundings. Of course, everyone is tired, of course, the distance is long, of course, it is hot everywhere, that’s why I think it’s important to have people in the team who will enjoy that time even if the conditions are difficult. For example, I with another crew member had around 5 times nosebleeds mainly because of dry air and we didn’t stop moving forward, of course, we had to stop bleeding but it wasn’t something we could complain about. I very much liked when people during Badwater were talking all the time
have fun, it’s something changing attitude for sure. Today, I’m happy that I was in a great team and we have fun together.
I think three components are required to finish this race, awesome team, heat adaption, and long asphalt running.