The Village of Badwater
By Steve Matsuda
Heading for the starting line of the Kiehl’s Badwater Ultramarathon at 5:30 in the morning, there’s stillness in the air. The sun has risen but in the distance, the twinkling of headlights can be seen in the shadows of the Funeral Mountains.
A village of mini-vans and very fit looking people has emerged at a pool known as Badwater. The vehicles are identified with names and race numbers of their runners. #67 Snowberger. 78 Wayne. Albert Martens 61. Runners excitedly call out to crew members who scurry around looking through cargo areas packed with food, fluids and anything to help the runner combat the blistering dessert heat.
The Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America, at 282 feet below sea level. Its name originated when a surveyor, who couldn’t get his mule to drink from the pool said the spring had “Bad water.” Of the minerals in the pool, the most common is sodium chloride, or common table salt. Ironically, intake of salt is critical for runners to stave of dehydration as they navigate their way through Death Valley, the first part of the ultramarathon course.
The runners assemble at the starting line. The national anthem is played. At 6:00, the race begins for one-third of the field. Other racers will start at 8:00 or 10:00.