For Madera's Oswaldo Lopez the original route of the AdventureCORPS Badwater 135 Ultramarathon was never a problem.
Pitched as the "world's toughest foot race," the course started at the lowest point in the contiguous United States and ended at the base of the highest.
Lopez, a 42-year-old Mexican-born marathoner, has run it five times, finishing in the top three every year — including a first-place finish in 2011.
But this year, Lopez and the other 97 runners (78 men and 19 women) in the field are in for a much different challenge come Monday's race day.
In December, the Death Valley National Park's new superintendent suspended all athletic events inside the park while the National Park Service conducts a "safety assessment" of the run and other athletic events.
So, Badwater officials rerouted the 135-mile course entirely outside of park boundaries.
The Badwater didn't get any less tough, even if it left its namesake starting line at Badwater Basin. If anything, the race got even tougher with front-heavy climbs and steep descents. July temperatures along the course will still reach into the high 90s and low 100s.
Runners will start in Lone Pine and begin with a monstrous climb to the 9,900-foot summit of Horseshoe Meadows, before descending back down to Lone Pine and across Owens Valley to a 5,500-foot dirt-road ascent to the ghost town of Cerro Gordo.
From there, runners will head to Darwin — 2 miles from Panamint Valley in Death Valley National Park — before completing Badwater's original final 44-mile stretch that culminates with the 9,000-foot ascent to the Mount Whitney Portal.
That's over 17,000 feet of cumulative vertical ascent and 12,700 feet of cumulative descent, compared with the traditional route that had cumulatives of 13,000 and 4,700 feet, respectively.
But that doesn't scare Lopez.
"Sure, it's a completely different course," Lopez said. "But I'm prepared for any type of challenge. Badwater is still 135 miles — that's what I've trained for."
You may think it's crazy, but Lopez turns on the heater in his van, even in these scorching summer months, so he gets used to breathing hot air.
He runs every day.
Lopez gets in his training along Kaiser Pass, trails and roads in Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks and around Huntington and Shaver lakes. Every weekend since Jan. 1, Lopez said he's run long distances at elevations from 4,000 feet to as high as 11,500.
You name it, he's run it.
"This race has altitude," Lopez said. "I've spent much of my life in the mountains so I'm used to it, but I still dedicated a significant amount of my training to acclimatizing."
For his support team, Lopez enlisted close friends and marathoners Armando Figueroa, Michael Jimenez, Matthew Morales and Conrado Ramirez.
They leave for the Badwater early Saturday, in time to rest and get used to the weather before their 8 a.m. start time Monday.
"We're confident. We're set and ready to go," Lopez said. "Every year is something special. Even after five years I'm going in with the same emotion as if it were my first: with enthusiasm and motivation."
Inside the Badwater 135
Details: The course is 135 miles from Lone Pine to the Whitney Portal at 8,360 feet, covering three mountain passes for a total of more than 17,000 feet in cumulative ascent and 12,700 feet in cumulative descent.
Field: 98 runners (79 men, 19 women) from 19 countries representing 24 nationalities (U.S. runners will represent 24 states). There are 43 runners race veterans and 55 newcomers.
Average age: 46.
Youngest: Nicole Matera, 24, of Fullerton
Oldest: Bob Becker, 69, of Florida
Projected top finishers: Carlos Sá, 40, of Portugal; Oswaldo Lopez, 43, of Madera; Harvey Lewis III, 38, of Cincinnati
Start: Waves at 6 a.m., 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. Monday
TOP 10 TIMES AT BADWATER
1. Valmir Nunes Santos, 43, of Brazil, 22 hours, 51 minutes, 29 seconds, 2007
2. Mike Morton, 40, of Florida, 22:52:55, 2012
3. Jorge Pacheco, 40, of Los Angeles, 23:20:16, 2008
4. Oswaldo Lopez, 40, of Madera, 23:32:28, 2012
5. Marco Farinazzo, 40, of Brazil, 23:39:18, 2009
6. Oswaldo Lopez, 39, of Madera, 23:41:40, 2011
7. Akos Konya, 32, of Oceanside, 23:47:47, 2007
8. Akos Konya, 33, of Oceanside, 23:49:44, 2008
9. Oswaldo Lopez, 37, of Madera, 24:36:07, 2009
10. Scott Jurek, 31, of Washington, 24:36:08, 2005
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