Right now, as you sit in your air-conditioned living room or office goofing off online, there are 97 people pushing their bodies to the limit in what has been billed "the world's toughest foot race." The 135-mile slog known as the Badwater Ultramarathon kicked off yesterday in Death Valley's Badwater Basin (North America's lowest point of elevation), moves into altitudes as high as 8,300 feet, and ends tomorrow at Mount Whitney, the tallest summit in the contiguous US, per Mashable. This year, 59 veterans and 38 newbies will vie for bragging rights; the youngest competitor is 22, while the oldest is 80, per a press release. The race takes an average 40 hours to finish—running is halted at 48 hours, and if contenders finish before that cutoff, they get a … belt buckle. And the runners have to work for that "coveted" prize, enduring blistering heat in the triple digits, per Mashable, as well as plain old blisters.
The course is so tough that the National Park Service moved the race last year so it could conduct a "safety assessment," per the Los Angeles Times. The race is back on its regular course for 2015, but with an evening start to take advantage of slightly cooler temps, Mashable notes. "The Badwater portion is like having a hair dryer blowing in your face continuously," Steve Maliszewski, who finished last year's race in under 36 hours, tells the Houston Chronicle. "We wear long sleeves and wet them with ice water, [though the cooling effect] doesn't last long because of the low humidity." Maliszewski was in so much pain after last year's race he needed help getting back to his car, the paper notes, but there's obviously an appeal that elite runners can't resist. "I describe it as the most awful thing and the best thing of my life, all wrapped up in one," he says. (The "queen of ultrarunning" can go more than 24 hours without sleep.)