On Aug. 3, 1977, Al Arnold began running in the 135-degree heat of Death Valley, the world's highest recorded temperature that year. The air scalded his lungs like a blow-dryer; the rubber soles on his tennis shoes began melting; sweat dried before it could cool his skin. Still, Arnold ran.
After 84 hours, the 49-year-old from Walnut Creek had completed the 146 miles of roadway from Badwater, the country's low point at 252 feet below sea level, to the top of 14,497-foot Mt. Whitney, the highest place in the continental U.S.
The run gave birth to what would soon become the world's most grueling endurance event: the Badwater Ultramarathon.
Now the run is shorter than Arnold's original route, with 11 miles to the top of Whitney having been lopped off for safety reasons.
"Today there are about 25 annual 100-mile races in the U.S., but nothing compares to the one that's 35 miles longer and about 35 degrees hotter," says race director Chris Kostman.