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California Race Challenges Runners Across 200 Kilometers, Scorching Temperatures

  • Rebecca Byerly

Each summer, scores of runners from around the world compete in a grueling 200 kilometer race in scorching temperatures across [the western U.S. state of] California. Nearly 90 competitors begin in Death Valley, nearly 90 meters below sea level. Over a period of one, two or even three days, they run uphill, finishing more than 2,500 meters high on Mt. Whitney in the Sierra Nevada. The race is produced by AdventureCorps, Inc., a company that produces what it calls extreme sports events.

Charlie Engle is about to take on an amazing challenge. He and dozens of other athletes from around the world have come here to run a race called Badwater. They were selected to tackle over 200 kilometers of intense temperatures up to 55 Celsius, fierce blisters, and extreme exhaustion.

Charlie was a 10-year cocaine addict who was headed for self-destruction but his life was transformed when he found another addiction. This time, a healthier one - running.

This is Charlie's sixth time running "Badwater." His drug addiction behind him, he's here not just to compete but to win. "I said a couple of months ago that I am here, to win this race," he said.

At 46-years-old, Charlie believes that to take on a challenge like "Badwater," you must have lived long enough to have suffered properly.

Nickademus Hollon has no such checkered past. He's only 19, but has his own reasons for taking on this grueling event. "Feels like I'm on top of the world and looks like it too," Hollon states.

He is the youngest competitor to ever take on "Badwater." When he entered the race, few thought he would finish, much less have the physical and emotional ability to compete. "I knew since I entered in the race in February I was going to finish," he said.

To prepare for "Badwater," Nick ran the entire course twice. Although such training can get you to the starting line, it doesn't guarantee you'll finish.

There are many issues that can get in the way of that. Upset stomachs and blisters are a common part of "Badwater."

Charlie threw up (vomited) repeatedly during the first half of the race and lost over five kilos in just a few hours. Chuck Dale, a member of his crew, says, "I'm surprised he did not puke when he was running, he actually stopped, puked, and kept going."

By contrast, Nick got off to a fast start but his pace slowed considerably after 140 kilometers.

Why would anyone put themselves through such torture?

Charlie welcomes the pain because he sees it as a metaphor for his life. It reminds him of the progress he has made from his drug addiction to this success.

In the end, Charlie didn't win the race but achieved a personal best - a milestone for anyone who believes drug addiction cannot be overcome. While Charlie looks for his next athletic fix, he has shown that at 46, he has no plans to slow down.

Meanwhile for Nick, this is just the beginning of his running addiction, and his desire to explore the depths of his abilities. He promises to be back next year and will no doubt be joined by other competitors determined to either chase their demons or test their limits.

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