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Photo credit: AdventureCORPS.

It’s back and it’s still Bad: Badwater 2017


Last updated: 21-Jul-17

By Alice Morrison

Badwater turns 40 this year, a landmark for anyone, but for one of the world’s toughest races, it looks like it will be a birthday field to contend with.

The anniversary marks Al Arnold's original trek from Badwater to Mt. Whitney in 1977. Arnold, an ultra running pioneer and a bit of a guru, did it as a solo effort: it was just Arnold and his support crew against the elements and the clock. It took ten years for a race to emerge, and in 1987 Badwater, as we now know it, was born. The organisers are proud to say that, “It has been held annually (since then) without serious incident, fatality, or any citations issued by any branch of law enforcement.”

The race takes place on July 10-12, and is organised by AdventureCORPS. This year, there will be 100 runners from 19 countries and 21 American states at the start line of the 135-mile non-stop run from Death Valley to Mt. Whitney, CA.


The start line is at Badwater, Death Valley, which marks the lowest elevation in North America at 85m below sea level. The race finishes at Whitney Portal at 2530m. The course covers three mountain ranges for a total of 4450m of cumulative vertical ascent and 1859m of cumulative descent. The names alone are enough to tempt you; Mushroom Rock, Furnace Creek, Salt Creek, Devil’s Cornfield, Devil’s Golf Course, Stovepipe Wells, Panamint Springs, Keeler, Alabama Hills, and Lone Pine.

This year the 2017 STYR Labs Badwater 135 will comprise 62 Badwater veterans and 38 rookies.

There will be the most women ever running – 31.

Both men's and women's course records were broken in 2016: Pete Kostelnick, 28, of Lincoln, NE, set the new men's record of 21:56:31, while Alyson Venti (now Allen), 34, of New York, NY, set the new women's record of 25:53:07.

The average finishing time is approximately 40 hours, while the overall time limit is 48 hours. For those who finish in less than forty-eight hours, their reward is the coveted Badwater 135 belt buckle. There is no prize money.

The 2017 race field is particularly competitive. Veteran men's contenders include 2015 and 2016 champion Pete Kostelnick, 29, of Hannibal, MO (who also broke the 36-year-old Trans-USA running record last year), 2014 champion Harvey Lewis, 41, of Cincinnati, OH (who placed 2nd in 2016), 2011 men’s champion Oswaldo Lopez, 45, of Madera, CA (Mexico citizenship), two-time men’s runner-up Grant Maughan, 53, of Australia, and other notable contenders such as 2016 Badwater Salton Sea champions Jared Fetterolf, 28, of Dallas, TX and Ray Sanchez, 50, of Sacramento, CA, as well as Marco Bonfiglio 39, of Abbiategrasso, Italy, a three-time Nove Colli champion and Spartathlon runner-up in 2016.

The largest women's field in race history is also stacked with talent, but - for the first time in perhaps two decades - no recent women's Badwater 135 champions. 

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