Runners in a prior year along the Badwater Ultramarathon course from Death… (Robyn Beck AFP/Getty Images )
It was 125 degrees in Death Valley National Park on Wednesday, and 126 on Tuesday. Of course, the searing temperatures did plummet to a low of 98 degrees at night.
But the excessive heat and red-flag warnings won't stop a bunch of rarefied runners from competing in the 35th Badwater Ultramarathon beginning Monday at Badwater, the lowest point in Death Valley, about 17 miles south of Furnace Creek.
Race director Chris Kostman says temperatures are supposed to cool down during the weekend but the race goes on -- rain or ultra-shine. "We've held the race in 130 degrees, but we certainly prefer it a bit cooler than that," he said in an email.
Badwater brags it's the "world's toughest foot race" for the 95 or so runners who run 135 miles from the low-point (282 feet below sea level) to a high point of 8,360 feet at the portal to Mt. Whitney near Lone Pine.
So where's the fun in that? "What the race is really about is when the runners are spread out, and 40 to 130 miles into it, battling themselves and the elements," Kostman said. The race begins Monday at three start times -- 6 a.m., 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. -- and runners continue along the grueling course well into the night. Best winning time ever: 22 hours 51 minutes and 29 seconds in 2007 by Valmir Nunez of Brazil.
OK, that's what trained athletes with aid stations and support teams will be doing at Death Valley. For the rest of us who might be visiting the park (especially to watch the race), it's all about being a lot more cautious.
"We encourage people to stay indoors," Ranger Cheryl Chipman said. "We tell them, 'Sightsee from your car.'"
That and drink lots of water if you are touring the valley floor -- and don't dare go off-pavement. There's an escape clause too: Head to high country.
Good heat-busting places to visit are Dante's Peak at more than 5,000 feet in elevation and Mahogany Flat Campground beyond the charcoal kilns at 8,133 feet. From the campground, for those who feel fit, a hike to Telescope Peak brings you to a cool 11,049 feet.