Death Valley to Mount Whitney
Lowest to Highest
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Jacksonville’s best-known marathon runner, Jay Birmingham, broke another record yesterday, this time in California’s Death Valley region. The 36-year-old Episcopal High School biology teacher covered a 146-mile route between the lowest and highest geographical features in the contiguous U.S. His time of 75 hours and 34 minutes eclipsed the standing mark of 84 hours set in 1977 by Californian Al Arnold.
Birmingham set a record last summer for an unaccompanied solo run across the United States. His performance of 72 days, 23 hours, for the 2964-mile route from Los Angeles to New York City.
“The Death Valley run was tough,” Birmingham reported from a Las Vegas hotel where he and his family were recovering last night. “The highest temperature was over 120. But it was snowing on the summit of Whitney. This was, without doubt, the toughest 146 miles I’ve ever run.”
The 145-pound veteran of over 60 marathons prepared all summer for his confrontation with historic Death Valley, putting in more than 100 miles a week, most of it in Jacksonville’s sultry summer heat. The final three weeks of preparation were in the mountains of North Carolina and Colorado to get, “some climbing legs and altitude acclimation,” Birmingham said.
Unlike his solo trans-continental run of 1980, Birmingham had his family along on this quest. Wife Anita, a teacher at Arlington Elementary, and their three children, Bob, Scott, and Tammy Reardean–all standout runners at Episcopal High School–served as support crew and running companions. All five climbed the final steep eleven miles of the trail to Mt. Whitney’s summit. The peak, at 14,496 feet, is the highest mountain in the lower 48 states.
Birmingham started at Badwater, the lowest point in the western hemisphere. Located at 282 feet below sea level in the southern part of Death Valley National Monument, a two-lane road took him and his family north, then west over two small mountain ranges. After three days of running in century heat, about 45 miles a day, Birmingham confronted Mt. Whitney in the Sequoia National Park, part of the Sierra Nevada range.
“Training in the heat and humidity of Jacksonville was great preparation,” Birmingham said. “There’s almost no humidity out here. I was very conservative because of my apprehension about the extreme heat.”
Birmingham was sponsored by Baptist Medical Center where he works as fitness consultant and teacher of employee wellness programs. When asked about his next challenge, Birmingham said he just hoped he could finish the 5-Mile Jacksonville Beaches Run in two weeks.