British brothers set to take on the Death Valley Double

Running brothers Scott (34) and Rhys Jenkins (27) from Cardiff are on a mission to set a Guinness World Record for the fastest double crossing of Death Valley on foot.

On 14th July, the ultra-endurance brothers will embark on an astonishing 292-mile run (that’s 11 marathons in 4 days) through Death Valley in California to raise funds for Save the Children and Operation Smile.

Starting at 282ft below sea level and continuing to the top of a 14,000ft mountain before returning to the start, the pair will run from the lowest to the highest points in the Western Hemisphere, and back.

Death Valley, also known as Furnace Creek, has the hottest recorded air temperature on earth, hovering at around 48ºC degrees and peaking at 58ºC. With the tarmac reaching temperatures of 93ºC, the duo will need to run on the white lines of the road to minimise their rubber soles from melting. Aside from the searing heat, they will also have to contend with the indigenous wildlife including scorpions, tarantulas, bobcats and kit foxes.

To date only eight individuals have attempted the Death Valley Double and only three have managed to complete it. The brothers aim to be the first British duo to run the distance and break the current unofficial record held by Kenneth Posner of 94 hours and 39 minutes in the process.

We chat to the pair about race preparation, surviving the intense heat and what drives them to take on such a physically and mentally demanding challenge.

Have you both always been into running?

Scott: We love to exercise. We have always been active whether it be football, rugby, weights, cycling or running. Our love for running really took off when we decided in 2010 to run from Boston to Austin (God knows why) but after that we just had this desire to run and do extreme challenges - we did however give our knees a slight rest from running after the Boston to Austin run.

Rhys: I've run since I was young and always liked it. It gave me a sense of achievement but also enjoyment. It is great to be able to share such challenges with my (older, grey-er) brother.

What do you love most about running?

Scott: I like the sense of adventure, being outside and not knowing what is round the next corner. It takes you to places you wouldn't see otherwise. I love to run in new places, especially when on holiday as you often see a different side to a place. I enjoy the escape and doing things people see as impossible.

Rhys: As I mentioned before, I have really loved running since I was young. The Llanelli Half Marathon was my first big event and from there I was hooked on longer, further distances! I like to try and push the boundaries and running allows me to do that. Like Scott, I like the sense of adventure that you get from running. I've always been a sporty person...well actually that isn't true. When I was young my nickname was Burger Boy (think the name explains it). However, after that I've always been a regular gym goer and jogger.

When did you get into extreme distance running?

Scott: For me after we did the Llanelli Half, we then started planning the Boston to Austin and this for me was the moment our 5-10 mile runs changed into something bigger and more extreme. Something just clicked. I wanted to test what my body was capable of and in reality, a lot of it is mental rather than physical. After a while your body just adapts. From here, we didn't just do running for our ultra-endurance events but decided to have a go at creating and completing some cycling ultras as well. This keeps it interesting and saves my knees.

Rhys: For me, it started with Llanelli but then Boston to Austin took it to a whole new level. The sights we saw on this trip, the experiences we had and the memories we made will forever be with me. That's what really got me hooked. I realised I wasn't the fastest but had a fix on going further than others. From that point we've always tried to better ourselves and have a love for the open road. 

What made you decide to attempt the Double Death Valley?

Scott: Like Boston to Austin, we wanted to do something that hadn't been done before. We've always been fixated with the famous Badwater Ultra Endurance race from Badwater to Mount Whitney. We wanted to do something that would be a first for someone from the UK. It's an extreme location in terms of terrain, altitude and heat making it our most challenging feat to date. It's one of the toughest environments on earth, so why not give it a go?

Rhys: Last year, I ran the single crossing and Scott and I have discussed doing the double ever since Boston to Austin. Like Scott says, I've always seen the Badwater Ultra as the ultimate and after doing it last year I couldn't think of anything tougher than doing it there and back again. Our run follows the exact route with only a handful of towns, suffocating heat, close to 100 miles of uphill, star-studded night skies and scorpions and tarantulas... we hate spiders. Hopefully they will make us run faster! Having a call with Marshall Ulrich really resonated the sense of achievement that can be gained from such a feat and just how gruelling an undertaking it will be - from there it was a no brainer - we had to give it a go. Being able to do this with my best friend, my brother Scott, is going to be epic! 

How have you prepared for the event?

Scott: Saunas – I hate the saunas! And miles - lots of miles and weight training. It is really important that we have a strong core for the run given the challenging terrain.

Rhys: Same as Scott, jogging in the sauna, long runs at the weekend, shorter ones in the week and weight training. I have found a new love for trail running in preparation for this challenge! 

What sort of training have you been doing? And what’s your average weekly mileage?

Scott: 90 miles running a week. I like to take our dog Austin on a few to keep me going. He's a small dog but he sure can run. He’s done a few half marathons with Rhys and I.

Rhys: 101 miles a week of running plus the weight and sauna training. I have being doing a lot of trail running in Wales as well as multiple laps of Cosmeston Lakes in Penarth. 16 laps to be precise. 

How have you prepared for the intense temperatures?

The sauna. It's not the most exciting of training regimes we've ever undertaken but it will hopefully be the most effective. Think of yourself in a prison cell, solitary confinement and the heater has broken. You are getting close to what it feels like in there but it is a necessary evil and one we hope will pay dividends when we go to Death Valley. 

Have you been training in the US or back home?

Scott: I did some training in Barbados, Key West and Miami when I was away for a friend’s wedding and I found adapting to the heat there was easier than in the sauna so I am hoping that the sauna training will stand us in good stead. 

Rhys: I went to Boston earlier in the year to do some heat training and was met with snow (not ideal you would say) so most of my training has been less glamorous than Scott's as it was all UK based. 

Where’s your favourite place to train?

Scott: I really like going home and training in the Brecon Beacons with Rhys but London is pretty awesome for training - it almost feels like a movie as you can run past all the landmarks. It certainly makes the time pass quicker with so much to look at. Richmond Park is my favourite place to run to currently, as there are so many deer and it is slightly more hilly and windy than the flatter parts of London.

Rhys: The Brecons and Wales in general! Unlike Scott, I have access to a lot of mountains and steep inclines which really pushes your training. On the negative, Scott gets the better weather - it usually rains in Wales.

Scott: My pasty Welsh skin might even have a pink tinge to it ahead of the run with the awesome weather we've been having in London just now! Don't be jealous, Rhys. 

What aspect of the challenge are you looking forward to the most?

Scott: Mount Whitney because it is meant to be a beautiful area, and at that point we know we have done one crossing and are onto the homeward stretch.

Rhys: Townes Pass because it is one of the toughest parts of the course and one of the most impressive landscapes we will come across.

And what are you most nervous about?

The heat! Our Welsh skin is not made for or used to extreme temperatures. Hopefully though, we may get a tan for once.

How will you cope mentally with such an epic challenge, do you spur each other on and support one another?

Scott: Mentally, we've put ourselves through tough situations before and draw on them to get us through, and take each mile as it comes. Thankfully, my brother is alright and we get on so it makes the run more enjoyable. When we really struggle, I think about the reasons why we're doing it. This time we're running for Save the Children and Operation Smile, so what better reason to dig deep than to help a child smile or to give a child a childhood.

Rhys: We have a similar pace, which makes it easier always having someone by your side. I personally draw on past experiences and I know our training has put us in a good position; We have a laugh at the same time and don't take it too seriously or over think it - that's really important. I also know there is an end to the pain and there is no greater reason to run these things than the charities you support and fundraise for.

How do you plan to fuel the run?

Scott: Prior to the run I eat a lot of carbs and protein! For the run, 72 gallons of water and whatever foods we want. Not just sports gel but things that put us in a positive frame of mind. When doing Boston to Austin, I found pizza really helped me and if it is good enough for Dean Karnazes, then it's good enough for Team Jenko. Nuun Hydration have kindly sponsored us so we will be using their electrolyte tablets in our water to keep us hydrated as well. 

Rhys: Eating whatever the body craves that we can access, but mostly dry foods and nothing too heavy or meaty. My pre-challenge nutrition is pretty good, a lot of carbs and protein. I love protein! But when I go into a challenge I eat all the food I know that works with me, normally a lot of light food, nothing too stodgy. I'm pretty good at running on empty (for a small while). One of my favourite snacks is beef jerky and raisin bread. My hydration is the complete opposite though, I drink gallons and gallons of water, electrolyte drinks such as Nuun, Mountain Dew (yes I know it's the devil, but it's my go to when I am dying on my feet and need a sugar buzz). Protein and carb drinks help me with the extra calorie intake, plus chocolate milk for acid reflux.

What kit will you be wearing? And what trainers? 

Scott: PUMA kindly donated training kit for the run. We will be wearing PUMA FAAS trainers. We have the lightweight FAAS 300s and the FAAS 500s. We have seven pairs each and we're going to buy two extra pairs each a size bigger for when our feet swell with the heat. That's going to be attractive.

Rhys: Last year, the soles of my trainers melted and I had to run on the white lines of the road, so we thought we should have a lot of shoes to prepare for the worst as I don't fancy running barefoot!

How do you plan to celebrate your achievement?

Rhys: Vegas, Utah and Cali road trip!

Scott: Calvin Harris in Vegas on the night we finish. What could be better followed by an epic road trip for a week in the states! I can't wait. 

What's next on your running agenda?

Scott: Atacama crossing in Chile. Anything really. 

Rhys: I'd love to circumnavigate the earth. We are open to suggestions.

Scott/Rhys: Our dream would be to do something similar to Ultimate Survivor Alaska but as a series of extreme running and cycling challenges around the world - now that would be immense! 

To wish the brothers good luck or make a donation, head over to thejenkinsbros.com.