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Into The Inferno

It’s five marathons long, hotter than Hades and arguably the most insane race on the planet. And for one Canadian, the Badwater 135 was a chance to prove that he was the toughest of them all.

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Touted as the world's top 100-mile trail racer, Jurek generally avoids pavement and had vowed he'd never run Badwater. Whether personal challenge or personal profit (there were rumours of appearance money) changed his mind mattered little in the thick of the race. He'd taken conventional precautions such as wearing lightweight sun-reflecting gear and holding back his pace, but was still suffering enough at Stove Pipe that his support crew implemented Top Secret Plan B: immersing Jurek in a cooler full of ice water. It was the first of five dunkings, and they'd prove remarkably resuscitating.

Runners employ many strategies to counteract the heat. Hydration and electrolyte management are paramount; most crews have a secret formula or two and a schedule for when to use what. Some, like Hawke, run with commercial drink preparations such as CarboPro, while others tinker with homemade combinations of essential ions and anti-oxidants. (Jurek, went the buzz, was doing something squirrelly with pomegranate juice). Same goes for clothing: the lessons of Arab Sheiks notwithstanding, it still seems counterintuitive to see runners most fully clothed during the hottest parts of the day. (One German, bedecked head to toe to fingers to nose in a self-tailored white suit, gloves and face cover, was dubbed "the Alien.") In addition, smart runners' crews maintain a constant misting brigade to keep their charges moist and ensure that as much water as possible is evaporating from their clothing and not their body. But the biggest weapon employed against heat is training: running in absurd temperatures wherever and whenever possible, whether on trips to the tropics or, as in Hawke's case, in a home-built heat chamber where he could crank it up to unbearable while legging it out on a treadmill. "I ran in it a little, but mostly walked," Hawke says. "I figured out in 2004 that no matter how good a runner you are, you have to walk on this course-a lot. Which is weird because in real life I never walk; I'll drive around a mall parking lot for half an hour to avoid walking." Hawke would end up walking 25 per cent of the course-far more than Jurek-but would still arrive at the 90-mile mark ahead of him.

Walking not only helps relieve the wear and tear on the joints, but also gives racers a Zen-like opportunity to get in touch with their surroundings. As the leaders began the steep, 17-mile climb up to 4,900-foot-high Townes Pass, they could gaze back down over the string of runners stretching into the Saharan landscape and fully appreciate the inferno they'd been at one with.