Darth Valley Challenge Blog

The Hottest Days In History

The Hottest Days In History

The Guinness Book of World Records lists July 10th 1913 as the hottest day in human measured history, at 134F. Naturally, the event took place in Death Valley, at the old Greenland Ranch weather station.

A second temperature of 131F was recorded there, and the same temperature is claimed at Kibili in Tunisia in 1931.

But according to Weather Underground historian Christopher Burt, discussing the supposed hottest days in history, “I would assume most people who are meteorologically-oriented would not believe this record.”

In fact, according to Burt – whose work was instrumental in establishing the inauthenticity of a previous Libyan claim to the record – none of these temperatures are actually very likely to be accurate. For a start, Death Valley has never breached 130F again. Secondly, Death Valley was alone in reporting the roasting temperatures on that day. Nearby places like Las Vegas and Blythe were hot – but not record-breakers.

In addition, the wind conditions observed that day would suggest temperatures were actually much cooler. Greenland Ranch’s Oscar Denton, the record-keeper, may have worked hard but as an employee of the Pacific Coast Borax mining company he as no meteorologist.

Today, Burt suspects something may have been wrong with the thermometer. In other areas, questionable record-keeping may be to blame. Even the record that was tied in 2013 – with great scrutiny and care – may be wrong. The 129.2F measured at Death Valley at 4pm on June 29th 2013 (the exact start time of the Darth Valley Challenge) purportedly tied with an Israeli record from 1941, one that Burt feels is also unlikely to be accurate.

Indeed – as he puts it – “One could argue this is the hottest reliably measured temperature on Earth at this point.”

Suddenly that 6:36 in a warm, and rather smelly, Darth Vader suit doesn’t seem quite so bad… ­čÖé

I hope Mr. Burt is able to prove his theory…

June 29th 2013 wasn’t one of the hottest days on record – it was THE hottest day in history!
A DVC Sub-6

A DVC Sub-6

At forty-three years old, it’s now fifteen years since I last ran a sub-6 mile. It was a 5:38, and it was on a treadmill. I came very close during the last mile of a marathon – I believed that I was about to complete a sub-4 marathon, but my watch had gone haywire so I had no idea exactly how long I had left. I finished with a 6:12 mile that nearly killed me. Again, over ten years ago.

So is it even remotely realistic to hope that one of these years, I’ll cross the line in less than 360 seconds? After all, I’m 218lbs, it’s quite warm, and the costume makes it incredibly hard to breathe.

On the plus side, I live at altitude, so the extra oxygen provides something of a boost. And The Darth Valley Challenge always gets the adrenaline going.

Training is hard for me – as you might guess from my chosen sport, I loathe the cold. Up here in Colorado as I write this, it’s still gray and dank outside. We’ve had a couple of warm days this Spring, but we had a freezing cold winter and my only training was in the sauna. Even there, jogging on the spot gives me shin splints so it’s steps and strength or nothing.

Overall I have six weeks to get into the kind of shape that will give me a shot at the time I’d love to do. So I’m going to go and do that.

Darth Valley & The Park Service

Darth Valley & The Park Service

Death Valley National Park issued a moratorium on new permits for sporting events in December 2013.

Since then, the Park Service’s representatives have been interviewed by the Los Angeles Times. Kathy Billings, the superintendent of the Park, has been quoted as saying that she receives over 600 permit applications per year – yet in the newspaper, she made special mention of The Darth Valley Challenge: “ Billings, who has been at her post for less than a year, has told the operator of the Badwater run and others that the park is receiving an increasing number of applications for special athletic events. One man who has completed a mile run in a Darth Vader costume during the peak heat of summer has said he wants to obtain a permit for a more organized event. It would include other “Star Wars”-costumed runners and be called the “Darth Valley Challenge.”

Ordinarily I might not see anything suspicious in this. Yet last year, I was harassed twice by a Park Ranger with the National Park Service. On completing the run, this gentleman approached me in an aggressive fashion and asked if I wanted my ticket “now or later”. I asked what he meant. He told me that he wanted to give me a ticket “for stupidity” – the criminalization of which I had not been aware.

I attempted to file a complaint but the staff at the visitor center persuaded me not to: this Ranger had been instrumental in coordinating two airlifts in two days, and was tired and – I assume – worried about my safety.

The next day I went for a solo run on the West Side road. I intended to run a mile, then back to the car, repeating until I got tired or bored. After a short while I noticed that I was being followed at a distance of around a quarter-mile. I’m a big guy, but there’s nothing out there. It was disconcerting.

Eventually, having run a mile, I waited for the same Ranger to catch up to me. When he did, I asked if I could help in any way. He looked at me, then said “When you collapse and die, I just want to know where your body is rotting.” He went on to lecture me about the amount of water I was carrying. I remained calm and friendly, and explained my plan – he told me my plan stunk, and that I was going to die out here.

So do I expect the Darth Valley Challenge to get a fair hearing from the Park Service? Given these incidents, and Ms. Billings’ use of the run to make a point about why she has temporarily ceased issuing permits, it’s hard to imagine.

That being said, I hope that my continued emphasis on safety, advocacy for the Park, and respect when dealing with its employees will eventually win them over.

As for the moratorium itself, I understand the need for certain rules – and self-policing is also important. I hope that the Park and large events such as the Badwater Ultra are able to work this out so that many athletes in the future can continue to safely enjoy this beautiful landscape.