This quiet revelation last week came as a huge blow to endurance athletes all over the world – a ban for (at least) 2014 on athletic events in Death Valley National Park. The Badwater 135 (a 135 mile footrace from the floor of Death Valley to the portal of Mt. Whitney) is like the Boston Marathon of ultrarunning (but much more so) – and it has always taken place at and in Death Valley National Park. This is where runners come to lay it all out there against some of the harshest conditions on the planet:
- Heat? – CHECK (120°+)
- Wind? – CHECK (60MPG gusts)
- Sun? – CHECK (constant sun with no shade)
- Climbing? – CHECK (three large peaks to climb – all over 5,000′)
Yet, all of those things are part of the draw for endurance runners. Having paced a friend at Badwater a few years ago, I know a bit about the race and what it takes to participate in it. It is extreme but it is amazing! Death Valley became one of my most favorite places in the world for its beauty (both at night and day). To be able to run in one of the hottest places in the world and watch these amazing athletes compete was really a highlight of my running life.
But, at least for 2014, this will not be the case for many runners who have planned and trained with the hope of getting into the 2014 edition of the Badwater 135 Ultra Marathon as the park director made the decision to conduct a safety review of all athletic events in the park. They make a point that they are not banning them but just not accepting applications for such events until the safety review can be completed.
This is a real shame to have this happen. With over 89 cycling and running events that have taken place in park in the last decades, there have never been any fatalities. Runners are required to have at least 2 crew members and vehicles acting as crews for each runner. Yes, there is a highway that is being run on during the race, but there are not that many vehicles (other than crew vehicles) that pass the runners during the course of the race (with July being the hottest time of the year), there are not that many tourists that are stopping in the park.
What is the point?
Even if you have never entertained a desire to participate in a Death Valley event, you could be a big help to ensure that the event with continue on the actual course.
A petition has been set up at the White House petition site. There are not that many names on it right now, but you could help my signing the petition here.
In addition, you could also write to any (or all) of these politicians and voice your thoughts on this ruling.
Senator Dianne Feinstein
331 Hart Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Senator Barbara Boxer
112 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Representative Col. Paul Cook (Ret.)
8th Congressional District
1222 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Secretary of the Interior
Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, N.W.
Washington DC 20240
Mr. Jon Jarvis, Director
National Park Service
1849 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20240
Ms. Christine Lehnertz, Regional Director
National Perk Service – Pacific West Division
333 Bush Street, Suite 500
San Francisco, CA 94104-2828
On behalf of all endurance runners, thank you for taking a few moments to encourage the powers that be to allow the races to continue on their original courses.