Death Valley, California
By Lucy Nicholson
Park Sukhee, 46, had been running and walking for more than 35 hours when he approached the base of Mount Whitney. His friend handed him a South Korean flag and he broke into a jog and a smile. Running ahead of him to take photos, and realizing I was his only other spectator, I lowered my camera to applaud his achievement.
Park had just run 135 miles (217 km) from the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere, Death Valley, to the trailhead to Mount Whitney, climbing a total of 13,000 feet (4,000m) over the course, in temperatures that blazed to about 120 degrees Fahrenheit (around 49 degrees Celsius).
The Badwater Ultramarathon bills itself as the world’s toughest foot race. Competitors run, walk and hobble through one or two nights to finish the grueling course within the 48-hour limit.
When I told people I was covering the race, the typical reaction was: “those people are crazy”. But there was something very moving about watching runners stride toward a goal most of us can’t even fathom, let alone accomplish, smiling proudly as they marched towards the finishing tape.
No cheering spectators in bleachers, no prize money, no television coverage, no security guards. Just a handful of race staff, a few curious hikers, birds chirping in the pine trees, and the glory of receiving a Badwater Ultramarathon belt buckle. And perhaps the euphoria of having run the equivalent of more than five back-to-back marathons through the harsh California desert to reach the beautiful Sierra Nevada mountain range.