Las Vegans Conquer 'The Toughest Foot Race In The World'


Courtesy AdventureCORPS Inc.

Participants of the Badwater 135, a 135-mile ultra-marathon that begins in Death Valley National Park.

It’s not particularly fun to stand in Death Valley during the summer when it’s 115 degrees out.

So, imagine running there — and not a quick jog or a short sprint, but a two-day slog that starts at the lowest point in the United States and ends at the top of a mountain.

Sounds fun, right?

It does to the elite athletes who compete in the Badwater 135, a 135-mile ultramarathon known as “the toughest foot race in the world.”

Ninety-five people from all over the world ran the race July 10-12, including two Las Vegans.

The race starts in Badwater Basin in Death Valley, the lowest point in the United States at 280 feet below sea level, and it ends three summits later at the top of Mount Whitney in California. All told, the runners ascend by more than 14,000 feet.

“You add it all up — the 135 miles, the mountain ascent, the descent, the weather changes, the extreme heat, and pounding of the pavement and then the intense competition with 100 invited athletes from all over the world — and you end up with the world’s toughest foot race,” Badwater organizer Chris Kostman told State of Nevada.

Karla Kent of Las Vegas has completed Badwater six consecutive times and plans to run 10. She finished this year in 43 hours, nine minutes. Colleen Zato just ran her first Badwater, with a finish time of 45 hours, eight minutes.

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“It was definitely the hardest race I’ve done,” Zato said. “I knew it was hard going into it, but I wasn’t prepared for the amount of pain.”

Despite the nausea, the blisters, the scorching hot asphalt, Zato says the experience was worth it.

“Going back home and just going back to day-to-day life, you just feel different,” Zato said. “You look at things differently, and just knowing how much I pushed during the race, and times I wanted to give up, but I didn’t and I kept pushing. It’s something that you carry with you always through life.”

Although running might seem like a young person’s game, the average age of runners this year was 46, and at least one 70-year-old competed.

“I think endurance is something you build up to,” said Kent, 54, who started running in her mid-40s. “Endurance is more mental. Any ultra is more mental than physical, and you just get stronger mentally as you get older.”

For runners, the races never get old. In September, Kent will head to the island of Corsica, France.

"I'm going to a staged race that's over 600 miles [over] 17 days," she said.



The coveted Badwater 125 belt buckle.


Chris Kostman, organizer, Badwater 135; Karla Kent, ultramarathon runner; Colleen Zato, ultramarathon runner

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KNPR's State of Nevada