Cycling and running events in the world’s hottest place, Death Valley in California, have been temporarily banned on safety grounds – not because of the potential effects of the searing heat on competitors, but due to traffic congestion caused by support crews and spectators.
Races including ultrarunning event the Badwater Ultramarathon, held every year since 1987 and covering 135 miles, won’t take place in the National Park next year, and the ban, which is unlikely to be lifted by October at the earliest, will also affect the Furnace Creek 508 bike race, established in 1983.
Both those events are organised by AdventureCorps, which has already said that it plans to re-route the Badwater Ultramarathon, scheduled for June, which requires competitors to run 135 miles from the lowest point in North America – Badwater Basin, 228 feet below sea level – to a height of 8,360 feet, taking them close to the peak of the highest mountain in the lower 48 states, Mount Whitney.
The Furnace Creek 508 – the number denotes the distance in miles – was scheduled to take place from 2-4 October 2014 with up to 250 participants with solo, two-person relay, and four-person relay divisions, alongside sub-categories for tandem, fixed gear, recumbent, and classic bikes.
This year’s edition of the ultracycling race was affected by the US Government shutdown and had to be held on a truncated, 308-mile route, with the route set to be used in a new event from Adventure Corps in 2014, the Trona 308.
The company has said that with it being impossible to book accommodation for October 2014 due to uncertainty over whether the ban will be lifted by then, next year’s 31st edition of the Furnace Creek 508, which it bills as “the toughest 48 hours in sport" will take place “in a dramatic new venue with a world-class route.”
Five-time Badwater Ultramarathon finisher Shannon Farar-Griefer, who has the distinction of being the first woman to complete the race back to back – running from the start to finish then back again, equivalent to the distance of more than ten marathons – said that holding the race on a different route is “like taking Wimbledon away from a tennis player,” reports the Washington Post.
Chris Kostman of AdventureCorps pointed out that his company has staged 89 events in Death Valley since 1990, none of which has involved a serious incident, saying: "There have been no deaths, no car crashes, no citations issued, and only a few evacuations by ambulance after literally millions of miles covered on foot or by bike by event participants."
Referring to the altered route for the Badwater 135 next year, he continued: “Nothing beats running the original route from the bottom of Death Valley to the end of the road on Mount Whitney."
In a blog post on the AdventureCorps website, he maintained that the ban has not come about as a result of any specific incident, is unprecedented among National Parks, expressed concerns about its open-ended nature and said that events should be allowed to continue while the safety review takes place.
In reply to comments made by Death Valley National Park Staff at a recent meeting that “other Parks are watching us" and "we might be setting a national precedent," he said: “Even a one-year ban on events is NOT a precedent that anybody who enjoys cycling or running events within National Parks would support.
“There are successful and popular cycling and running events held within National Parks across America; they could all be in jeopardy now.”
However, Death Valley National Park spokeswoman Cheryl Chipman insisted: "We don't want to have to wait for an accident to happen to do this safety review. We want to be proactive and create the conditions that we think are the safest allowable for these kinds of events."
The highest temperature ever recorded on earth of 134 degrees Fahrenheit (56.7 degrees Celsius) was registered there on 10 July 1913, although it was only officially reinstalled as the record last year following analysis of a higher reading taken in Libya in 1922, now deemed to be inaccurate.
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