On Monday night, the 44th Badwater 135 Mile kicked off in Death Valley, California. In a field headlined by former male champs and women vying to become first-time winners, the first finishers rolled across the finish line at Whitney Portal, California on Tuesday night.
The race started in three waves at 8:00 p.m., 9:30 p.m., and 11:00 p.m Monday night, and the full field will cross the finish line before the 48-hour cutoff on Wednesday evening.
The Badwater 135 covers three mountain ranges for a total of 14,600 feet (4,450 meters) of cumulative vertical ascent and 6,100 feet (1,859 meters) of cumulative descent. Course conditions figured to be especially severe this year, as heat waves continue to rake the American West. As I write this sentence, the heat index in Death Valley is 117 degrees Fahrenheit; at Whitney Portal, it’s 100 degrees.
2021 Badwater 135 Men’s Race
In a field stacked with previous race winners, 45-year-old Harvey Lewis pulled off his second Badwater 135 victory. The Ohioan spent most of the race in a three-man weave with Ukrainian Igor Gotsuliak and Russian Sergey Ionov, who took second and third respectively. Lewis checked in almost an hour behind Gotsuliak for the lead at mile 90 but blistered past the Ukrainian to take a one-hour lead by mile 122. He’d previously won the event in 2014, and this was his 10th finish and fifth podium.
The lead pack distanced itself from a loaded field. In addition to Lewis, three other Badwater winners returned in 2021 with four total gold medals between them. Michele Graglia won in 2018, Pete Kostelnick won in 2015 and 2016, and Oswaldo Lopez won in 2011. Kostelnick was especially hot in 2016 when he set the men’s 20-29 age-group record with a 21:56:32. However, he didn’t finish in 2021, dropping out between miles 90 and 122. Graglia was also a DNF. And Lopez finished this year’s event in 10th place with a time of 31:46:04.
Watch video of Lewis’s finish:
2021 Badwater 135 Men’s Results
- 1. Harvey Lewis – 25:50:23
- 2. Igor Gotsuliak (Ukraine) – 26:35:08
- 3. Sergey Ionov (Russia) – 26:49:06
- 4. Kenneth Ringled – 28:56:37
- 5. Mark Wooten – 29:39:02
76-Year-Old Attempts to Break Age Record
Notably, Bob Becker aimed to become the oldest competitor ever to finish, at 76. Jack Denness set the current record with a 59-hour push at age 75 in 2010. Becker’s bid fell short — word from the course was that he retired from the race around mile 50 with physical issues; the results mark him as a DNF.
2021 Badwater 135 Women’s Race
In her first return to the Badwater 135 since a seventh-place finish in 2018, Sally McRae took the women’s field in 30:48:47. After McRae overtook and distanced herself from then-leader Suzi Swinehart midway, she left little reason to doubt she would win, finishing two hours and 49 minutes ahead of Norma Roberts in second place. Swinehart ultimately took third, improving on her sixth-place finish in the 2019 race. Caryn Lubetsky finished in fourth place, just a half hour behind third-place Roberts. And Jessica Hardy was 2021’s fifth-place woman.
Other notables included 2019’s third-place finisher Lisa DeVona, who was laboring at the middle/back of the pack at the time of publication.
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2021 Badwater 135 Women’s Results
- 1. Sally McRae – 30:48:47
- 2. Norma Roberts (Canada) – 33:37:49
- 3. Suzi Swinehart – 34:24:33
- 4. Caryn Lubetsky – 34:56:11
- 5. Jessica Hardy – 35:56:47
Full competitor information and final times are available here.