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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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If the race's front end, decided long before the finish, had been anticlimactic, it was no less storied. As Jurek put the hammer down on Hawke, he zeroed in on another target-the course record. Running where most others walked on the final 12-mile climb, he crossed the line at Whitney Portal in 24:36:08, besting the previous, once-thought unbeatable mark by half an hour. Hawke, whose blistered and bleeding toes had slowed him, nonetheless hoofed it out in 26:33:00-an improvement of almost an hour over 2004 and the fourth fastest time in history.

After the race, the runners met the media. Jurek, a bottle of restorative green goo in hand, and Hawke, looking all too Canadian with his cup of beer, chuckled, swapped stories and played buddy-buddy while cameramen jockeyed on their elbows for a shot of Hawke's disasterized digits. The suppurating flesh and raised nails nicely summed up the physical cost of Badwater (one long-time participant had his toenails surgically removed to avoid the annual trauma).

For his part, Jurek was feeling humble in the face of victory. On the podium, he talked about being pushed to his limits only two weeks after the tough Western States 100. "This is one for the history books," he declared. "I came with respect for the race and its participants but I'm leaving with way more."

"Yeah, a fat cheque," joked Hawke. "Next year, your ass is mine."

The 2009 Badwater Ultramarathon takes place this weekend, July 13 to 15. In 2008, Squamish-based adventure racer Jen Segger took on the course, placing ninth overall and fourth among women with her time of 32:31:57.

This year's race is being hailed as one of the most competitive ever with athletes from 17 countries taking part. Just four Canadians are in the field this year, all of them hailing from Ontario: Iris Imhof, Robert Lebrun, Geoff Linton, and Monica Scholz.

You can follow the race online at www.badwater.com.

Postscript: After finishing 2nd in 2004 and 2005, Ferg returned to Badwater in 2006 with the goal of winning. But laid low by a flu, he was only able to manage 4th place. He has vowed to return one day. A documentary DVD of the 2005 Badwater race is available at www.thedistanceoftruth.com.