Horace Langford Jr. / Pahrump Valley Times - The familiar sights and sounds of runners running through the Badwater Basin in Death Valley was absent this year due to a National Park Service safety review. The course was moved by organizer, Chris Kostman, to Lone Pine.
Horace Langford Jr. / Pahrump Valley Times - Badwater Ultramarathon Mark Matyazic (bib number, 56-second runner) running through the Badwater Basin last year. Matyazic describes himself as a heat runner and says he missed the old course this year. He said running in the Badwater race was just not the same.
One of the world’s hottest and certainly one of the hardest running races happens in Death Valley National Park and is known as the AdventureCORPS Badwater Ultramarathon. Temperatures in Death Valley regularly in July exceed 120 degrees. This year it was absent from the Death Valley for the first time in 27 years due to a safety review, which according to the National Park Service should be winding down soon.
The Badwater race was reluctantly moved to Lone Pine, but was still the grueling 135-mile course. Many of the Death Valley veteran runners came out in support of the event. There were 97 runners that ran this year. Instead of heat, the runners faced steep inclines.
This year the race was won by 38-year-old runner, Harvey Lewis, who is a Badwater veteran of four years. He is from Cincinnati, Ohio where he teaches creative performing arts. He finished the course in 23:52:55. Lewis edged out last year’s winner Carlos De Sa of Portugal, who finished in third this year with a time of 26:19:03. Grant Maughan of Dudley, Australia was second.
The lead female racer was Alyson Venti, 32, of Miami, Florida, who was 8th overall. She was followed by 34-year-old runner Catherine Todd of Knowledge Village, United Arab Emirates. Todd finished 11th overall. Veteran Pam Reed was 13th overall and the third woman to cross the finish line.
Chris Kostman said the Badwater 135 covers 135 miles non-stop from Lone Pine, California to the summit of Horseshoe Meadows (elev. 10,000 feet), then crosses the Owens Valley to a 5,500 foot dirt road ascent to the authentic western ghost town of Cerro Gordo. It next follows a trek to the entrance to Darwin and then the final dramatic ascent to the end of the highest paved point on Mt. Whitney, California at 8,360’.
According to AdventureCORPS, there were 19 women and 79 men. The youngest runner was 24-year-old rookie entrant Nicole Matera of Fullerton, California while the oldest was 69-year-old veteran Bob Becker of Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
The women’s field, with 19 entrants, included 10 rookies and 9 veterans.
Chris Kostman, the organizer of the race, billed the race as the “toughest footrace in the world.” Did the race live up to its name this year and will it return to Death Valley next year?
Mark Matyazic is a veteran and has raced Badwater for the past four years.
This year he finished fifteenth. He said he knows that AdventureCORPS tried to make the race challenging but he wants the race to go back to Death Valley.
“At first, I was really apprehensive about the change in the course. To be up front, I prefer the old course. The old course just had all the history. The challenge of the course was natural and it was not contrived. The new course was challenging but it was still contrived. I know they made a conscious effort to make it difficult, which was fine, but it still was not the original race. What Chris Kostman and AdventureCORPS need to do is to work with the National Park Service to show to the park service that the safety of Badwater speaks for itself,” he said.
He added in general, most of the racers felt the same way as he did. They want to go back to Death Valley. Matyazic feels this race should not be called Badwater, but the Lone Pine 135. “Unless you are running from Badwater Basin, it just is not Badwater,” Matyazic proclaimed. “It was 25 degrees colder than last year. The race has more spirit to it when run from Badwater. You couldn’t design a race that physical by itself. Badwater is challenging in itself,” he said.
When asked what the most challenging aspect of the new course was, he replied, “The most challenging was going up the Cerro Gordo. You are doing it at night and you already are depleted. It was very steep.”
In the end though, Matyazic felt there was no “natural progression” to it like the original course. He felt to win this race you had to be a good climber. “I am not a good climber but I do better in heat running. If you come to this race you must be a good climber.”
In addition, the PVT asked him if the race didn’t return to Death Valley would runners not return and he responded, “Badwater loses its uniqueness if it does not go back to Death Valley. There would be no history to it and it would be just another race.”
Denise Perkins, director of sales for Xanterra at Furnace Creek, said the AdventureCORPS people and runners were missed this year. Furnace Creek has provided the racers with lodging for the Badwater race for the past 20 years.
“They were missed but this is a season for us where we get an unusual amount of international travel. From an occupancy standpoint, we were still full at the ranch and the inn and we are just fortunate that this occurs for us. Still the group was missed and they had a nice event in the Lone Pine area. We have worked with them for many years and not having them here was new for the property. We were sorry they could not be here,” Perkins said.
Perkins does see signs of the National Park Service concluding their safety business. On a positive note, Perkins said that they are working with two groups who have events in the fall and winter.
She said Xanterra is just waiting for permits from the National Park. “We do have two events that have been here in years past,” she said. “We will not though confirm a group until we have confirmation that they have received a permit from the National Park Service.”