Ultrarunner Scott Jenkins completes 2021 Badwater 135 and is poised to make history after crossing the finish line at this year’s race across Death Valley in California (The Worlds Toughest Race) for Operation Smile
Welsh-born, ultra-endurance athlete and charity Operation Smile ambassador, Scott Jenkins was set to run the 2020 Badwater race in Death Valley that starts at Badwater Basin (-282ft below sea level), the lowest point in the continental US and finishes at Mount Whitney (8,000ft above sea level) known as the worlds toughest footrace due to it recording the hottest temperature on earth. In fact, only this July, Death Valley recorded a new highest temperature on earth reaching 130 degrees Fahrenheit. With us all experiencing the extreme heat in the UK right now, it gives us all a rare glimpse into what it’s like to run in Death Valley which during the race typically averages temperatures between 49 degrees and 52 degrees Celsius.
However, due to the global pandemic, Scott’s 10-year dream was put on hold and he only found out he was able to attend the 2021 race 2 weeks prior to the race. This meant Scott had to train without knowing if he would ever get to the race and due to the short timescales of approval to fly, it meant he only had a 2 person crew versus the other competitors where the majority had a 4 person crew.
Training for a race like Badwater is grueling enough on its own without the administration of all travel restrictions logistics due to COVID-19, which meant Scott still wasn’t 100% sure he would be able to fly until he had a negative PCR test on the Wednesday, before he flew out on the Friday. The tight timelines also meant he didn’t have the optimal pre-race time in the US to overcome jet lag as the race started on Monday 19th July and Scott landed the Friday night (16th July).
“It was mentally taxing, training and not knowing if I was going or not but I guess that’s good mental training for the race. I feel very lucky to have been able to toe the start line as I was the only Brit to be able to make the trip over”.
Badwater is the 1st of Scott’s 2021 running campaign and by completing it, he is on track with his attempt to complete Badwater, Bigfoot 200, Tahoe 200 and Moab 240 in the same calendar year. The 4 races have 3 weeks between them and London based Scott will work his corporate job in between and fly back and forth to the US in order to complete them.
To put it into perspective, less than 900 people have ever completed the Badwater race and more people have climbed Everest – we guess that’s why it’s described as “The Worlds Toughest Foot Race” and no other Brit has completed the four races back to back. He will hopefully be the first Brit to do it and possibly the second person ever to complete the four grueling races back to back behind US ultrarunner Catra Corbett.
Badwater is invite only and many athletes apply year after year with extremely strong running resumes and still get rejected as a result of the high calibre of athletes applying and with limited spaces – 100 in total, race director Chris Kostman has a tough job on his hands. This was Scott’s first year applying to the race, although he has ran the route twice unofficially and spent 2019 ensuring his application was the strongest it could be.
“I have done a lot of my own challenges and UK races over the last 10 years, yet given the calibre of the athletes applying, this was unlikely to ensure success in being invited. As such, 2019 for me was all about enhancing my Badwater application in the hope of finally making my 10 year dream a reality” said Scott.
As a result, Scott had a busy year in 2019. He ran a FKT, now termed the Royal FKT (43miles from Windsor Castle to Buckingham Palace), completed the prestigious UK Canal Slam which includes running 3 races in quick succession along the UK canal system (2 x 145 mile routes and 1 x 130 mile route) seeing him finish 6th overall.
“For me, I still felt I had more running left in 2019 despite these plans and signed up to the Moab 240, a 244 mile race around the Moab desert in Utah that really tests you physically and mentally. I lost my mind completely in the last 10miles and it cost me 15 places in that race so i was itching to go back and redeem myself”.
You wouldn’t be mistaken thinking he had finished the Moab 240 in the later half of the runners pack, but despite this major set back due to sleep deprivation, Scott finished 35th out of over 200 starters and in doing so became the first Welshman to complete Destination Trail’s Moab 240. Scott also crewed and paced his friends Rhyd Morgan and Jake Cooper in their own 100 mile races as well as crewing and pacing his brother Rhys.
“Running to me is about pushing my body and mind to see how far I can go whilst always doing so with the aim of inspiring and helping others. Every challenge I do is to raise awareness and money for charities close to my heart and I feel honoured to be an ambassador for the awesome charity Operation Smile. Running is about creating a life resume and hopefully I can inspire just one person to start creating theirs”.
Scott started the Badwater race with his wife Abby and his best friend Chris Ferrier as his two person crew. It is unusual to start this race with only a two person crew due to the extreme heat, need to pace the runner, take care of food, fluid and electrolyte management whilst driving the race course all with minimal sleep. What this meant is Scott’s two man crew would need to survive on minimal sleep whilst ensuring Scott didn’t fall foul to heat exhaustion.
“We were calling ourselves the silent assassins and took on an underdog crew mindset. Because we are both competitive and have been part of Scott’s journey to get to Badwater, we were willing to do anything to get him to that finish line. What was nice is this time, Scott was dialled in and paced himself in various sections so we could try get some sleep along the course. This made our job easier. He even ran negative splits from mile 115-120 at 9 min mile pace” added Abby
Both Abby and Chris crewed Scott on his solo crossing back in 2016 where Scott fell foul to rhabdo at mile 122 and had to be taken to Bishop by ambulance to receive 12 litres of IV saline.
“We were determined to be more on it this time and learn from past mistakes” added Chris who also paced Scott for 60 of the 135 miles. At mile 80 where the sleep deprivation was starting to take its toll on the crew, Jules Cornelius and Darin Dobler pulled up half way up the Father Crowley climb and jumped in to help support after their runner and 14 time finisher, John Radich withdrew from the race due to injury.
“To have such support from two strangers in the way they did, was unbelievable. They are no longer strangers but friends and for me that’s why I love ultra running. You get to create memories and lasting friendships with people you wouldn’t meet otherwise” Scott added
The race temperature was around 49-51 degrees and on the Panamint Springs crossing the tarmac measured 170 degrees Fahrenheit. The first night, the race experienced a very unique wind storm that made running feel like you were running headfirst into the hot air stream of a hairdryer. It took 7 victims that pulled out as a result and overall slowed the pace of the whole race with 16 DNFs as a result. The average winner time is between 21-23 hours yet this year it was over 25 hours as a result of this unique wind phenomena meaning a large percentage of the race pack were left chasing the 50 mile cut off time. Scott made it with two seconds to spare and finished 53rd with a time of 42hours 42 minutes. A highly emotional finish where Scott and his crew all broke down in tears. Scott was also greeted at the finish line by his friend Jacob Cooper who drove 5 hours to see Scott finish.
Scott is raising money and awareness for Operation Smile who repair children’s cleft lips and palettes so they can smile for the first time. To donate visit https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-display/showROFundraiserPage?pageId=1235851
Scott will next tow the start line on 13th August for the Big Foot 200 and you can follow his progress on Instagram @scottjjenkins and on Facebook. Good luck Scott and well done to the team.