I started the Darth Valley Challenge in 2010 just to see how tough I could really make a run. I was 39, not very fast, and rounder in the middle than I’d like… and I didn’t have the strength and endurance of the Badwater athletes, or the speed of a sprinter.
But I like to think I have heart.
I chose the one-mile sprint because it probably won’t kill me. I could run farther, but as well as potentially injuring myself I might encourage others to try it – and I really don’t want to do that.
Yes, it’s utterly, insanely tough to sprint for a mile in that heat, but funnily enough it’s the breathing that’s hardest – even with new air holes it’s still almost impossible to get any air inside the mask. Especially with the balaclava on underneath.
As for the heat itself, I estimate that inside the mask it’s probably 180 degrees… and you’re mostly breathing your own CO2 for the last half-mile.
Some people collect porcelain kittens. I run in the heat. I do it partly because I love the look on people’s faces as they pass by in their air-conditioned cars – the bewilderment, the innocent, wide-eyed expression of pure disbelief. It’s great.
In 2010 I managed 6:19 for the mile, and in 2011 it was 6:13. Unfortunately I was injured doing a ten-mile warm-up for 2012, and my time was a pitiful 8:20.
In 2013, the June world record temperature of 129.2F didn’t stop me from a pretty nifty 6:36 mile, but in 2014 I had breathing problems and ran a 7:27.
2015 was the worst year yet – straight into a powerful headwind, I managed a 7:57 (and injured my throat!). In 2016, the last year of the Darth Valley Challenge (for me, at any rate) I ran a leisurely 7:27 along the path between Furnace Creek and the Harmony Borax Works.
Unfortunately my ankle won’t permit any more runs… so the 6:13 mile remains the record until someone has the gumption to beat it!
I’d like to thank the folks who turn out each year to support and be a part of this fun challenge, especially Laura, Randy, Hannah, Tracy, Jason and Carrie.
This is a ludicrously dangerous endeavor. I don’t support you doing it. I don’t even really support me doing it.
If, for the Force-alone knows what reason, you decide to do this, you do so entirely at your own risk and you agree that you fully understand the dangers inherent in running at 129 degrees in a black costume.
They are myriad, and include dehydration, heatstroke, heart attack, leg-knack, really badly chapped lips, death, death, more death, and getting a purple face. I cannot be held responsible for encouraging any of that. So if you ever decide you want to try this, train properly!
In all seriousness, I train all year round for this run – I spend dozens of hours in the sauna, and dozens more running in high temperatures without the costume. I’ve crewed Badwater three times, run marathons, and run in Death Valley for seventeen years. PLEASE DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS KIND OF THING UNLESS YOU ARE SERIOUSLY WELL TRAINED.
In other words, I might look like an idiot, but I’m a well-prepared one.