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Badwater 2019 breaks records, makes romance

by Larry Carroll

The Badwater is pretty much the antithesis of boring – dubbed “The World’s Toughest Footrace,” it is 135 miles of pain via punishing heat and relentless elevation – but the 2019 installment, in particular, proved to be one worth remembering. Just over 21 hours after the race began, the event had a new male record holder, a new female record holder, and a top contender for the most romantic moment in the history of the sport.

Japanese ultra-marathoner Yoshihiko Ishikawa set a new course record in California’s Death Valley on Monday night/Tuesday morning, crossing the finish line in 21 hours, 33 minutes and 1 second. It was some 23 minutes faster than Pete Kostelnick’s 21:56:32 mark from 2016. Ishikawa had spent 21 hours journey from the lowest elevation in the continental United States (Death Valley) to the highest point (Mt. Whitney), which seems only appropriate since his life was about to also reach a high point – and we’re not talking about the record-setting win.

Moments after Ishikawa crossed the finish line, having conquered three mountain ranges and 14, 600 feet of ascent, he dropped to one knee. But it wasn’t for the reasons you might expect, as the 31-year-old athlete asked his girlfriend to marry him. She replied in the affirmative, which undoubtedly renewed his spirit faster than any Gatorade or orange slice ever could.

The newly-engaged Ishikawa finished on top of a pack of most Americans, with a few international athletes also thrown into the mix:

2. Harvey Lewis (Cincinnati, Ohio) 26:11:18

3. Tetsuo Kiso (Japan) 28:02:04

4. Lee Whitaker (Fort Mill, South Carolina) 28:13:11

5. Richard Kabanuck (Clovis, New Mexico) 28:13:55

6. Grant Maughan (Australia) 28:30:33

7. Steve Slaby (Callaway, Maryland) 29:26:43

8. Joshua Holmes (Los Angeles, California) 29:35:53

9. Flavio Fernandes Vieira (Brazil) 30:29:14

10. Eric Hunziker (Cincinnati, Ohio) 31:15:46

Although the female side of the race had decidedly fewer marriage proposals, it was not lacking in equally impressive and historic athletic accomplishment. Patrycja Bereznowska of Poland finished second overall with a time of 24:13:24. Setting a new course record, Bereznowska’s time was more than 90 minutes faster than Alyson Venti’s 2016 time of 25:53:07.

Hailing from the small village of Wieliszew (population: 3,122) in east-central Poland, the veteran Bereznowska came to Badlands with a supportive social media team who posted pictures of her running through the desert and videos of them greeting her with inspirational messages as she tackled the last 18 miles of the race. The team also posted photos of baked crackers with the phrase “Go Pati” and a heart on them.

A specialist in 24-hour running, Bereznowska was originally more focused on equestrian racing – competing in such events as the world championship of horse-drawn long-distance rallies. In 2007 she began running professionally, and she has since spent much of the last decade winning medals in her native Poland and setting records throughout the world. Bereznowska is a two-time unofficial world record holder in 24 hours running (no official records are kept), a bronze medal winner in the 24-hour World Cup, and holds a Ph.D. in agricultural sciences in the field of zootechnics from the University of Life Sciences in Lublin, Poland.

The 43-year-old Bereznowska is a former Spartathlon winner –– as is Ishikawa. The race is considered similar to Badwater in terms of extreme temperatures and elevation, so it should be no surprise that Bereznowska set a course record there as well.

The women’s field was similarly dominated by Americans overall, with a few international runners in the mix:

2. Gina Slaby (Callaway, Maryland) 29:26:45

3. Lisa DeVona (Pompano Beach, Florida) 32:36:17

4. Caryn Lubetsky (Miami Shores, Florida) 33:42:39

5. Pamela Chapman-Markle (San Leon, Texas) 34:03:47

6. Suzi Swinehart (Fort Wayne, Indiana) 34:16:59

7. Annie Weiss (Milwaukee, Wisconsin) 35:25:31 

8. Silvia Amodio (Uruguay) 36:17:48

9. Kerri Kanuga (Cayman Islands) 37:58:24

10. Estela Vaz Rodrigues (Brazil) 39:18:30

Photos posted to the official Badwater Instagram account show Ishikawa down on his right knee, with the finish line behind him in the darkened evening. His girlfriend, wearing a fluorescent green vest and with a camera over her shoulder, seems overcome by emotion. Additional photos show the couple embracing, wiping away tears, and then posing for photos. On a night when new male and female course records were set, it was just another reason that Badwater 2019 will go down in history.

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