Last month, British ultra endurance siblings Scott and Rhys Jenkins attempted to run the Death Valley Double. runABC looks at how they got on…
Death Valley, California: On 14 July at 6:45am, Scott (34) and Rhys Jenkins (28) put their trainers to the tarmac at the holy grail of ultra endurance – Badwater Basin, some 282 feet below sea level. They were not participating in the Badwater Ultramarathon, but were setting out to go one further, to attempt the Death Valley Double (the double crossing of the Badwater Ultra marathon route – 270 miles) for charity.
“They set off at a solid pace, covering the 17 miles to Furnance creek in roughly 3 hours,” explains Abby Fleming, Scott’s girlfriend and support driver.
The strong pace continued towards the Townes Pass climb and 45 miles in, despite stringent heat training, Rhys suffered from an exercise-associated collapse during a rest break. As a team, they managed to bring Rhys around without any IV fluids, but insisted he rest for an hour and a half before continuing, constantly checking his temperature to ensure it was safe to do so.
The 20-mile climb up Townes Pass saw their average speed drop to 2.1mph, consistent with the pace of Kenneth Posner – the current unofficial record holder for the double. Therefore if they could claw back some time through the night, they could still be in line to complete the double in record time. The brothers pushed through the first night with only one hour of sleep to gain mileage and speed. The decline from Townes Pass was where the brothers really hoped to gain quick coverage but the steep terrain coupled with pretty significant blisters, saw Scott adapt his running stride and injure his knee three quarters of the way down. He continued with the descent but was later ground to a halt with no ability to place weight on his left knee.
Scott then had to rest his knee – keeping it elevated, compressed and iced. Determined not to stop, once he could bear weight on his left knee, he was out back on the road with Rhys – this time with walking poles to distribute the weight as he ran. Scott was accompanied by Abby on parts of the run to distract him from the agonising pain but upon ascending Mount Whitney Portal, his pace slowed and it became evident that Scott was not going to be able to cover the 270 mileage in the time available
Rhys said: “20-40% of people who participate in the Badwater Ultramarthon fail to complete it and only a small percentage of people ever register to take part so Scott’s achievement with injury really does demonstrate his mental strength and determination. He was the one that pulled me through when I passed out and if it weren’t for injury he would have finished the double with me! He really did struggle through hell and back to get that mileage. Proud of you old boy!”
This then left Rhys to run the second 135 miles on his own: “The final 30 miles, running into a stiff headwind was horrific! But these events for us are more 80% mental and 20% physical so it is about breaking each part down into small achievable goals and to dig deep and keep on moving one foot at a time. This all fueled by Pringles, pizza, burgers and Nuun obviously. Ultimately it is only 4 days running, it is not a lifetime is it?!"
And so, 107 hours and 270 miles later, Rhys completed the Death Valley Double. Badwater Ultra Marathon exclusive member and famed ultra runner, Dean Karnazes commented: “I think both of these guys are phenomenal!”