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Glenn Sutton becomes first Kiwi to complete three Badwater 135 races

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Dunedin ultra-endurance runner Glenn Sutton becomes the first Kiwi to complete three Badwater 135 races through Death Valley, California, considered to be "the toughest footrace on Earth".

Sutton, 45, completed the 217km course today in a time of 39 hours and 54 minutes. His race started 85m below sea level at Badwater Basin at 9:30pm Californian time (4:30pm NZST) on Monday, July 15 as the mercury topped 41C. However, the hottest part of the race for Sutton came ahead of the grueling 1030m of vertical ascent of the Father Crowley climb. While crossing the Panamint Valley temperatures reached 50-54C beneath the baking midday sun.

"Everything started well and I was happy with my eating and pace into Stovepipe Wells," Glenn offers. "We hit Townes Pass around sunrise. It is a big climb that coincided with the day's heat really kicking in. It was certainly very hot - I felt okay with the heat, but the climb asked a lot of me."

Glenn Sutton hits the final climb of the 2019 Badwater 135, the climb to Whitney Portal, near Lone Pine. He crossed the tape at 1.24pm local time after 39 hours 54 minutes of non-stop running. The Whitney Portal finishline is at an altitude of 2552m and the race started at 85m below sea level in Death Valley, California.

After Townes Pass Sutton and his crew descended into Panamint Valley where the midday sun super-heated the desert air to around 50C forcing Sutton to step up his cooling with additional ice sleeves around his pulse points, icy water sprays and ice sponges. These needed to be repeated as often as every 10 minutes to stave off the risk of heat stroke and to replace melted ice.

Looming over the crew was the second big climb - the dreaded Father Crowley - an 18-mile long climb to Panamint Pass. Assisted by pacer Steve Barton, Sutton stepped up the tempo and ripped up the climb.

"It wasn't superfast, but it was consistent - I kept moving forward and that helped me to stay in the mix," Sutton offers. "We reached the magic Mile 90 and watched the sun set over the ranges that stretched out in every direction. There are some beautiful vistas on this run."

The second night started well with the crew on a high from the previous 24 hours and temperatures dropping as low as an unseasonal 14C. By this stage Sutton was not enjoying the descents.

"The Sierra Nevada range is there, but it never seems to get any closer," he reveals. "The full moon is out and the pace is okay."

By first light, after running and walking constantly throughout the night, Sutton started to close in on Lone Pine, but his pace had slowed right down.

"After 35 hours on the go and without sleep, we just had the one big climb to go to the finishline at Whitney Portal," Sutton recalls. "It's a tough climb and it tested us. I was already a bit broken."

Sutton limped into the finishline at 1:24pm to become the first New Zealander to complete three Badwater 135 events. His eldest daughter Emily ran in with him and the crew while his wife and two other daughters watched in support.

"It's a bit of a blur right now and I have feet filled with blisters," he managed to smile after his 39 hour 54 minute ordeal.

In the 2019 Badwater 135 edition, which vets the number of athletes for safety purposes, 16 pulled out before reaching the finishline ... mostly surrendering to the heat and extreme distance. Five others failed to turn up to the startline.

Sutton said he couldn't have completed it without the excellent skills of his support team.

Sutton's support team for 2019 included 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.

"It's been an incredible experience," smiled Greg Yee. "A once in a lifetime opportunity to be a part of one of the world's toughest ultra-marathons. It was full-on - if you weren't pacing with him, then you were prepping food, running food, making drinks - pretty much full-time for the entire 39-plus hours. I had about two hours total sleep during that whole time."

Sutton was quick to thank all the supporters in New Zealand who made his journey into the valley possible and all the kind words of support through social media. Now Sutton plans to rest up and consider his next adventure.

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