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Death Valley to detour ultraraces

| Thursday, Dec. 26, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
FILE - In this July 23, 2007 file photo, Tim Kjenstad, of Henderson, Nev., runs in Kiehl's Badwater Ultramarathon in Death Valley, Calif. The race start line was at Badwater, Death Valley, which marks the lowest elevation in the Western Hemisphere at 280 feet below sea level. The race finished after 135 miles at the Mount Whitney Portals at 8,360 feet. Death Valley National Park is putting the brakes on ultramarathons and other extreme sports events that involve running and cycling until rangers can determine how safe it is to hold those competitions in a place that records the hottest temperatures on Earth. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson, File)

LOS ANGELES — It's the hottest, hardest, most grueling foot race in the world, says Shannon Farar-Griefer, who has run the Badwater 135 ultramarathon through Death Valley five times.

That's why she keeps coming back, and why ultrarunners have it on their bucket list.

The race takes the bravest of runners 135 miles through the hottest place on Earth in the middle of the summer.

Next year, for the first time in 27 years, runners won't be able to tackle the Badwater 135. Death Valley National Park has put a moratorium on foot and cycling races through the desert hot spot 200 miles east of Los Angeles while they study ways to make the events safer.

“We're devastated,” said Farar-Griefer, the first woman to conquer the race route back to back. That entails running 135 miles from Badwater Basin in Death Valley to near the top of Mount Whitney, then turning around and running back to the starting line.

“It's like taking Wimbledon away from a tennis player,” she said on Monday as word spread among the running community that the race would have to detour through a less challenging environment next year.

The study should be done by spring, and running and cycling events could resume in October, park spokeswoman Cheryl Chipman said. But sponsors might need to comply with stricter safety rules when events resume.

Chris Kostman, whose AdventureCorps sponsors the Badwater 135 and other endurance contests in the park, questioned the need. He said his organization has held 89 events there since 1990 without a serious incident.

“There have been no deaths, no car crashes, no citations issued, and only a few evacuations by ambulance after literally millions of miles covered on foot or by bike by event participants,” he said in an email.

Chipman said park officials aren't so concerned about runners and cyclists, who they know arrive prepared to survive the area's heat and rugged terrain.

But as such events have grown in popularity, she said, participants, support crews and spectators have begun to jam the park's narrow two-lane roads, creating a dangerous traffic hazard.

“We don't want to have to wait for an accident to happen to do this safety review,” she told The Associated Press. “We want to be proactive and create the conditions that we think are the safest allowable for these kinds of events.”

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