Thursday, August 11, 2016

Badwater Ultramarathon Pictures You Have To See To Believe!

Running the Badwater ultramarathon a few weeks ago was undoubtedly the hardest thing I've ever done. It was also one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. You can read about my experience and see my pictures HERE.

But I wanted to share some Badwater behind-the-scenes shots from my crew member Jud Burkett. Jud is a remarkable photographer and did an amazing job capturing the spirit of the 135 mile race through Death Valley.

The morning of the race, we decorated our van to say Team Fast Cory. (Our van was large enough to carry a casket. You know, just in case.)

The race started at Badwater Basin, the lowest point in the western hemisphere - 282 feet below sea level. We had a bit of time before the race started to catch up with old friends and meet new friends.

The most common question I'm asked is "How hot did it get during the race?" The night before the race we had a pre-race meeting at Furnace Creek. The official thermometer showed 121 degrees at 6:00pm. My crew taped this thermometer on the back of the van. This shot was taken after midnight.

During the first sunrise of the race, I was running past the stunning Mesquite Sand Dunes. Jud caught this jumping picture right before the sun rose over the horizon bathing us in fiery hot magma.

I've heard that the pavement can get up to 200+ degrees during the race. It's enough to make your feet feel like they are about to spontaneously combust. Around mile 50, Mel did a bit of doctoring with some hot spots on my feet.

That mountain range you see in the background of the following picture....we climbed that. The ascent up and over Townes Pass was long, steep, and brutally difficult. The descent was equally steep and my legs felt like they were right on the brink of going into wild spasms. (Fortunately I was able to hold them off.)

We approached Panamint Springs Resort at mile 72. If you look half way up the picture, you can see a little clump of trees and cabins. There ain't much to look at. Except they had cold showers! If you had asked me to pay my firstborn child for a cold shower at that point, I'd gladly pay up since it was around eighteen BILLION degrees.

After a five minute cold shower and a change of clothes, I visited renowned foot care specialist John Vonhof to fix some hefty blisters I had given birth to. It didn't tickle. You can see I'm gritting my teeth.

From there, we embarked over the second mountain range of the race toward Father Crowley Point. This is my amazing friend Clair Coleman joining me for this section.

The second night of the race was so profoundly difficult that it's hard to put into words. I was so gripped with sleep deprivation and exhaustion that every step seemed to take a monumental effort. It sounds strange but such a smothering exhaustion can physically hurt. This shot with me and Mel is less than flattering but it's real. And it's a good representation of how I was feeling. I may or may not have had some eye leakage.

It felt like it would NEVER come but we FINALLY made it through the second night of the race and saw the second sunrise. I was infinitely grateful for my friend Toby who got me through some very difficult miles on that second morning.

Mel has noticed that when I'm really, really struggling during a race, she always notices that I have my hands on my hips. Since she pointed that out during a race a few years ago, I've started to notice it too. As we neared Lone Pine at mile 122, my hands were undoubtedly planted on my hips. (Meanwhile, Clair, who is more than two decades older than me, looks as fresh as a daisy! That I may have been asleep during this picture.

I'd like you to meet Jud, the taker of all these amazing pictures. Jud was the opposite of my exhaustion. During all the steepest climbs of the race Jud was with me. (Toby took this shot of me and Jud.)

Badwater starts at the lowest point in the continental United States. But it also climbs three mountain ranges and ends at Whitney Portal, more than half way up Mount Whitney...which is the highest point in the continental United States! Over the course of the race, we climbed a total of 14,600 feet! This was the beginning of the last climb up Whitney Portal Road.

Someone told me that parts of that last climb were at an 18% grade. (If it's on the internet, it must be true!) Whatever the grade was, I have never seen a road so steep for so long. (HOLY OUCH.)

By this time, we were thousands of feet higher than the starting line. Theoretically it should have been cooler, but the road had recently been resurfaced and the heat from the hot tar was radiating up through the soles of my shoes. For me personally, leaving Lone Pine to climb up Whitney Portal Road was the point in the race when I felt the hottest.

At one point on the climb I told my crew "I need two minutes with a chair." That two minute nap was wonderful. (Seeing this picture from Jud made me love my crew even more. Seeing their thoughtful concern and care in moments like this was so touching.)

Mel joined me for the last few miles of the race. I can't express how thankful I am for such an amazing wife. She was 100% solid support leading up to and during the race. That last mile of Badwater with her was a moment I will never forget.

After 45 hours and 135 miles I experienced the fulfillment of a dream. I found myself at the finish line of Badwater.

There was a celebratory jumping picture and fortunately I managed to stick the landing and avoid collapsing into a pile of melted skin and bones.

Race director Chris Kostman handed me the Badwater belt buckle and finisher shirt.

Badwater was so crazy hard. And it was equally so crazy rewarding. It felt so good to have months of hard work, countless miserable hours in the sauna, early mornings, late nights, and long training runs pay off. Badwater reaffirmed my belief that we are capable of hard things. We are capable of so much more than we could imagine.

Do me a solid. Go find Jud on Facebook HERE or on Instagram @judburkett. He did such an awesome job of capturing the good, the bad, and the ugly of Badwater.


  1. Fantastic photojournalism. He did a great job capturing the experience.

  2. Those pictures dictate I'm certain only a fraction of the raw emotions you felt out there, but for what they did portray, they did an amazing job. I have climbed Mt. Whitney and I have hiked around the Badwater basin...I can't for the life of me ever imagine combining the two. You are my hero, Cory! Well done. I hope you're getting a lot of rest and recovering well!!

  3. OK so I'll be the third Jill to comment :) CORY!!! you are and always will be my running inspiration. AMAZING! That is what you are :)

  4. Great pictures. You are awesome!

  5. What a life experience! Congrats!

  6. WOW! Awesome photos of a super awesome athlete conquering a super duper crazy difficult race. My hat's off to you. Thanks for sharing Jud's fine photos of your journey.

  7. Awesome! I like your sharing. Congratulation! The photos look great! ^^

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  15. The race started at Badwater Basin, the lowest point in the western hemisphere - 282 feet below sea level. We had a bit of time before the race started to catch up with old friends and meet new friends.