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Glenn Sutton approaches toughest climb in world's toughest footrace

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Sutton's race started 85m below sea level at Badwater Basin when the second wave of runners were sent off into the desert night air at 9:30pm Californian time (4:30pm NZST) on Monday, July 15.

Held through Death Valley, California, on the first full moon at the height of the northern hemisphere summer each year, the 135-mile (217km) race is renowned for its extreme temperatures, which can soar past 50C. The start line had a temperature of 45C when Sutton began his epic journey.

"I'm happy with how my race is going so far," Glenn admits. "I'm enjoying the cooler night air, I'm eating well and peeing well, so staying hydrated. I'm not really looking forward to the heat of the day."

Glenn Sutton stands at the startline of the 2019 Badwater 135 event, 85m below sea, at Badwater, Death Valley. Death Valley is regarded as the hottest place on Earth during July, August months.

Taking on a challenge like the Badwater 135 race across Death Valley is a team event. Even though Sutton is the only one running non-stop along the baking course, he will be fed, watered, weighed, medically assessed, ice-bathed, paced and morally supported by a team of four.

The support team for 2019 includes Steve Barton, of Southern Motor Group, Bruce Adams, of Adams Flags, Greg Yee, of Clint's Autos Dunedin, and Glenn's eldest daughter Emily Sutton, of Dunedin. They've survived their first night.

"He's chewing it up, making good time and eating and drinking exceptionally well," Adams said. "He knows there is a big climb to come - 17 miles up, so that will be the next bog challenge for him."

Support crew member Steve Barton said getting Sutton to this point in good condition was great but warned this was only the beginning.

"It's good get to Stovepipe Wells so we can stock up on food and ice ahead of the first big climb that is looming," offers Barton. "We'll be climbing from sea level to Townes Pass at 4956 feet (1511m). And the heat of the day will be looming. We expect the hottest part of the day to come between 10am and 6pm."

Sutton is now faced with the three big climbs of the 135-mile course. The first two will coincide with the hottest part of the day: Townes Pass, a 1511m climb, then Father Crowley, a 1030m climb that tops out at 1615m at Panamint Pass. From there he will take-on a never-ending slog around the dry Owens Lake towards Lone Pine and Mt Whitney.

The final climb from Lone Pine to Whitney Portal - starting at the 122-mile, is a brutal 1424m slog that is the final straw for most racers. It is run by few. Most will run-walk it at best.

They call it the race of champions and these next 93 miles will certainly ask everything of the runners. Last year a third of the field failed to finish. Sutton is optimistic as he looks off into the distant heat haze shimmering off the black top.

"The body is holding up well, no blisters and I'm feeling good," Glenn said. "Looking forward to the next stages and hoping the heat of the day doesn't get too intense."

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