After the pandemic forced a last-minute cancellation in 2020, the legendary Badwater 135 returned this year for the 44th running of the 135-mile world championship. The race saw 84 of the world’s toughest athletes battle it out through California’s Death Valley and climb 2,530m to the finish line at Whitney Portal, and it was Ohio’s Harvey Lewis and California’s Sally McRae who emerged victorious. Calgary’s Norma Roberts was the only Canadian in the field, and she did our country proud, finishing as the second woman and 17th overall, in 33:37:49.
Due to ongoing COVID-19 international travel restrictions, several foreign runners were unable to return to “the world’s toughest race” this year, including 2019 winners Yoshihiko Ishikawa of Japan, who set the men’s course record in 21:33.01 and Patrycja Bereznowska of Poland, who set the women’s course record in 24:13:24. Still, 17 countries were represented at this year’s event, including the U.S., Canada, Germany, El Salvador, Russia, The Philippines, among others. The field was made up of 24 women and 60 men, 38 of whom were Badwater veterans and 46 were rookies.
Lewis was the winner of the 2021 Badwater 135 in 25:50:23, about 45 minutes ahead of the second-place finisher, Igor Gotsuliak of Ukraine, who finished in 26:35:08. (He also won Ohio’s Backyard Ultra in March.) Russia’s Sergey Ionov rounded out the men’s podium in 26:49.06. On the women’s side, McRae dominated the field, finishing 7th overall in 30:48:47. Behind her was Roberts of Calgary, Alta., who, at 62, was the oldest female competitor in the field. This was her first time running Badwater, finishing ahead of Indiana’s Suzi Swinehart, who crossed the line in 34:24:33.
Of the 84 starters, 68 completed the race under the cutoff of 48 hours and received the coveted Badwater 135 belt buckle, referred to as “the Holy Grail of Ultra Running.”