53C heat and melted shoes: is the 135-mile Badwater the world’s toughest race?

Welcome to the Badwater Ultramarathon: a 135-mile non-stop race over three mountain ranges in sweltering mid-summer desert heat with a vertical ascent of 13,000 feet

At 9.30pm on 23 July 2018, the second wave of runners lined up at Badwater Basin in Death Valley, 280 feet below sea level. The heat from the day had not cooled and the temperature was 118F (48C), even though the sun had long since gone down. To make matters worse, it was abnormally humid for the California desert. Sixty-two-year-old Pamela Chapman-Markle looked down the line of racers, recognizing about half the competitors from previous years. On a normal day she would be heading to bed in a half hour, and although her heart was racing with anticipation, she was already tired, acutely aware that she was about to miss two nights of sleep.

The starting gun fired and the runners set off on an incline. There would be 14,600ft of cumulative elevation for the runners to climb over the course of the 135-mile race ahead.

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