Drivers in Death Valley were surprised on Sunday when, amid a 129-degree heatwave, a man dressed as Darth Vader from “Star Wars” was spotted running alongside a highway as fast as he possibly could.
That man was Jonathan Rice, an experienced runner whose particularly a fan of running in extreme heat. Seeing the temperatures soar in Death Valley this week approaching a world record for hottest temperature ever recorded on the planet, Rice gathered up some friends, put on his cape and mask, and set out to break another world record, for running.
“Yes, it’s utterly, insanely tough to sprint for a mile in that heat, but funnily enough it’s the breathing that’s hardest – even with new air holes it’s still almost impossible to get any air inside the mask. Especially with the balaclava on underneath,” Rice wrote on his website, which is full of warnings that call his annual Darth Valley Challenge “ludicrously dangerous.”
“As for the heat itself, I estimate that inside the mask it’s probably 180 degrees… and you’re mostly breathing your own CO2 for the last half-mile,” he explained. “Some people collect porcelain kittens. I run in the heat. I do it partly because I love the look on people’s faces as they pass by in their air-conditioned cars — the bewilderment, the innocent, wide-eyed expression of pure disbelief. It’s great.”
Nevertheless, he urged anyone without the proper training to avoid following his example. “In all seriousness, I train all year round for this run – I spend dozens of hours in the sauna, and dozens more running in high temperatures without the costume,” Rice wrote. “I’ve crewed Badwater three times, run marathons, and run in Death Valley for seventeen years. PLEASE DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS KIND OF THING UNLESS YOU ARE SERIOUSLY WELL TRAINED.”
His full-mile time this year was six minutes and 36 seconds, in what the National Weather Service said was the hottest June day on record — 129 degrees.
This video is from YouTube, published July 3, 2013.
[Photos: Courtesy, Laura Greenfield.]