By Chris Kostman, originally published in Ultra Runing Magazine, October 2000
Death Valley, CA - Sixty-nine runners from a dozen countries ran 135 miles non-stop from Death Valley to Mt. Whitney on July 27-29 in the annual Sun Precautions Badwater Ultramarathon. The international field of athletes, ages 24 to 69 (12 women and 57 men), ran a blistering 135 miles through temperatures up to 128F°. The Badwater course covers three mountain ranges for a total of 13,000’ of vertical ascent and 4,700’ of descent. It is arguably the most demanding, extreme, and prestigious ultramarathon in the world.
Anatoli Kruglikov of Russia won the men’s division with a time of 25 hours, 9 minutes, and 5 seconds, breaking Eric Clifton’s world record by over two hours, 40 minutes. Second place Dusan Mravlje of Slovenia finished 12 minutes later with a time of 25:21:20, followed by Kaname Sakurai of Japan in 27:52:14 and Ivan Labutin of Russia in 29:42:24. The women’s world record was shattered by Irina Reutovich of Russia with a time of 29:48:27, seven hours faster than the previous record set by Angelika Castaneda. The top American finisher, Tim Hewitt of Greensburg, PA, was 6th over the line with a time of 30:14:20. The top American female, Lynn Werner of Seattle, WA, finished in 41:14:57, followed by Lisa Smith in 43:23:56. A total of 49 runners completed the distance within the 60 hour cutoff.
The 2000 race featured the first ever truly international field assembled for this race, with racers from England, France, Germany, Italy, Austria, Greece, Slovenia, Russia, Bermuda, Taiwan, and Japan. Most of these entrants were first-time Badwater racers and so either totally ignored, or were never aware of, "conventional Badwater wisdom." As such, when each wave start of runners departed at 6am, 8am, and 10am, many of the runners took off at a 10K or marathon pace.
The startline temp in Badwater, at 282 feet below sea level, the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere, was 90+ and that quickly rose to 128 degrees. Despite these extreme conditions, the top runners from Russia, Slovenia, and Japan simply poured on the steam. The Americans and the rest of the field were content to deal with their own survival and probably assumed that the frontrunners would soon fade as they traveled through places with names like Mushroom Rock, Furnace Creek, Salt Creek, Devil’s Cornfield, Devil’s Golf Course, and Stove Pipe Wells.
What the Americans didn’t seem to know, however, was that the Russians and the Slovenian are all well known world record holders from the European ultra racing circuit and the Japanese runner is a five time top finisher in the Race Across America bicycle race.
So it was that at the 70 mile mark in Panamint Springs, the Europeans felt comfortable enough with their pace and their lead to stop at this famous resort hamlet to each down a big, tall beer. Then it was straight back into the night and onto the course to climb the second mountain range. By the next morning, Kruglikov was crossing the line so far of any predicted schedule that race staff and journalists from around the world were barely awake in time to document his arrival on Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the contiguous 48 states. He ascended the 13 miles from Lone Pine to Mt. Whitney Portal in 2:51, the only runner to break three hours for the final leg of the race.
From that point on, runners from around the world made their way up the mountain and triumphantly across the finish line. Twenty-three men and five women earned the coveted Badwater Ultramarathon belt buckle by finishing in under 48 hours. Another twenty-one runners made the official course cutoff of 60 hours, including Mary Campilongo of San Diego, who finished with just one minute, 47 seconds to spare and completed the final 13 miles faster than the women’s winner, Reutovich of Russia!
The course was first officially completed in 1977 by ultra running pioneer and human potential guru Al Arnold of Walnut Creek, CA. This run against the clock became an actual race in 1988 under the directorship and sponsorship of the Hi-Tec USA footwear company. But after the 1999 race, which was documented in the just released feature film "Running on the Sun," Hi-Tec abandoned the race to put all of its marketing efforts behind the Hi-Tec Adventure Racing Series.
Filling the void, AdventureCORPS stepped in to produce the race in 2000 and beyond. The organizers of the annual Furnace Creek 508 bicycle race through Death Valley had been long-time fans of the Badwater event and for several years had offered a special prize, known as the Death Valley Cup, to any athlete who completed both of the events in the same year. (Marshall Ulrich and Angelika Castaneda are the current Death Valley Cup record holders.)
The title sponsor of the 2000 Badwater Ultramarathon was Sun Precautions, the Seattle-based makers of Solumbra 30+ SPF sun protective clothing, medically accepted sun protection for sun sensitive and sun sensible people. Additional race sponsors included Brave Soldier, The North Face, Gatorade, Hammer Gel, E-Caps, Cycle Design, mediablend.com, and thefinalcut.net.
A live webcast of text, photos, and videos of the 2000 race received over 95,000 page views during the three days of the event. It remains archived at www.badwaterultra.com for continual viewing.