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Glenn Sutton Qualifies For World's Toughest Footrace

Ultra-endurance runner Glenn Sutton, of Dunedin, qualifies for the "world's toughest foot race", the Badwater 135 to be held in July.

Carving a tortuous 135 miles (217km) across the floor of Death Valley to a high point at Mt Whitney, Sutton will be the first Kiwi to compete in three Badwater 135 events.

"I'm heading back to Death Valley for my third time this July and I can't wait," smiles an ecstatic Glenn Sutton as his name is read out on the accepted list during a live broadcast from California in the early hours of Saturday morning.

"I'm looking forward to the challenge and getting myself ready for it," he adds. "My goals this year at Badwater are, firstly, to finish the course and then to do better than the previous two times I ran it. I'd like to finish in the top 30, but in saying that it is a very select field that makes the cut each year – it is the toughest foot race in the world."

It's called "the world's toughest foot race" for good reason: temperatures in Death Valley soar to 50°C with ground temperatures as high as 80°C. To top it all off Sutton has to climb almost 4500m of vertical ascent during the race. His best time, in 2014 took him 36 hours to complete. He may be a joiner by trade, but he has some steely ambition.

To add to the difficulty, Sutton must prepare as the southern winter takes hold of his local city of Dunedin.

"It is no easy feat coming from our winter and going into the peak of their summer," Sutton offers with a shake of his head. "It's a real eye-opener. Last year the temperatures reached up to 57-58°C, which was the hottest it has ever been during the race. That alone is a formidable challenge."

To prepare for the extreme conditions Sutton is in the process of making himself a heat box to train in ... complete with a treadmill and heaters. He also joins in on Bikram yoga classes to strengthen and lengthen his body.

"Anything I can get my hands on really to prepare for the heat," he smiles.

Sutton said he was surprised he made the cut after his application last year failed.

"I wasn't too confident as they only take 100 runners each year," he adds.

"Being the first Kiwi to attempt it a third time does add a little bit more pressure, but I'm just going there to give it a good crack and to do my best."

Joining him in California in 2019 will be crew boss Bruce Adams leading a support team of four. They will perform a crucial role of keeping him fed, watered and below his heat exhaustion threshold during the race.

"They're there for all my needs: hydration, food and and medical issues I may have," Sutton explains. "They're just as important as the runner. If they encounter any medical issues or the vehicle breaks down then we're out of the race – you need that support in this race."

While Sutton has miles in his legs – he did win the Naseby Water Race 200km event the past two years and the Northburn 100 Miler in 2018 – he still feels like the July 15th race day is not that far away.

"I'm having to ramp up my training," he smiles. "Which means general life will be out to one side for now. It will be all about training and mentally preparing myself for the race. I have to sacrifice a few things so that when I go over there I can give it 100 percent and my best shot."

"I might have to knock off the beer," he laughs. "Not that I am a big drinker, but just things like that. I'll have to be more disciplined, getting up early in the morning and doing my routine stretches and routine runs and staying positive. It's the wee things that count.”

Sutton said his family was very supportive of him doing these running events and he'd always tried to involve them anywhere he could.

"So they can experience these good buggers that do these runs and all the support crews," he explains. "I'm very lucky in that respect."

He said there were many challenges with Badwater 135.

"The heat is the biggest one," Sutton reveals. "It's all about moving forward – even when you don't want to move forward. If you're not running you're walking. As soon as you stop you're wasting your time. Your forward momentum is the key."

"I'm not too sure about crawling," he laughs. "I've had a couple of bad patches the previous two races, but I am hoping that with better nutrition and hydration we will get that sussed and my body speed will be quicker."

One of the key objectives for Sutton come July will be keeping his body's core temperature in a manageable range.

"Keeping cool can be tough," he admits. "When you can get ice you put ice under your hat, or down your top and on your pulse points to cool down. You can't drink too much water because you can flush your system – you need to have electrolytes and real food rather than gels and chocolates: fruit cake, honey sandwiches and muesli bars. Sugar will give you a hit initially, but it will wear off – we're given 48 hours to complete this race so real food is the key."

Sutton pauses and thinks for a second and then adds to his goals.

"In 2014 I ran it in 36 hours and in 2015 I was in at 39 hours," admits Sutton. "It would be fantastic to go under the 30 hours, but you never know, six hours is a lot of time to take off. But, I am up for that challenge."


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