Burning Desire

Burning Desire

By Brian Benesch

Runners in the Beat the Heat race will battle extreme temperatures

Elite runner Jim Walmsley likes it hot. Really hot. Unlike many Arizonans, who flee the triple-digit summer temperatures of the Valley for the cool pines of the northern part of the state, Walmsley leaves his home in Flagstaff to pound the melting asphalt in metro Phoenix every summer.

So when Walmsley heard about the scorching-hot Beat the Heat Race taking place on June 16, the extreme runner was extremely intrigued. “I’m originally from the north Scottsdale area, so it’s a local race for me,” Walmsley says. “I come down here during this time of the year to specifically train in the heat. This really works well with my training plan.”

The 10K Beat the Heat run is just as daunting as it sounds. In honor of the hottest day ever recorded in the Phoenix metro area (122 degrees on June 26, 1990), thousands of brave souls will endure the heat at WestWorld of Scottsdale.

If that’s not crazy enough, the race will actually start at 2:47 p.m., the hottest time of the day. It’s such a crazy idea that Jason Rose, President of Rose+Moser+Allyn Public & Online Relations, thinks it just might work.

Beat the Heat was Rose’s brainchild back in 2013. He came up with the event during a conversation with city officials about boosting tourism in the slow summer months. Rose figured embracing Arizona’s reputation as one of the hottest states would create a truly unique platform.

“What could be something that would be extreme and demonstrate you can come here and have a good time? That’s where the idea came from,” Rose says. “If you could get people to run at the hottest time of the day, you could prove that you could go outside.”

And just like that, the Beat the Heat race was born. More than 1,300 runners participated in the inaugural event five years ago. And despite the treacherous conditions, there were no major incidents.

The enormous response and lack of heat-related issues confirmed the unusual race was a success. It was an outcome that surprised many in the community who questioned the idea in the first place.

“We launched it as the ‘hottest race on Earth.’ There was hesitancy on our part, too, from an event safety standpoint,” Rose admits. “Even in the racing community, there was a lot of apprehension. Some people said it was great and others said there isn’t a chance they’d do that.”

But even with the positive outcome, the event was put on the backburner in the following years. Rose says the five-year hiatus is easily explainable. His company puts on many events in this area, year-round, and the Beat the Heat race just wasn’t a priority for the public relations firm. But that all changed when Rose began to hear from the surrounding racing community. Runners wanted another crack at the hottest race on Earth.

In March, Scottsdale City Council agreed, and approved $75,000 in bed-tax dollars to fund the race.

Rose decided to turn the event into something even bigger than the race, so the resurrected run is now part of the new Scottsdale Fahrenheit Festival. The event also includes a hot pepper-eating contest, arm wrestling competition and “the world’s largest inflatable water slide,”

“The race was cool and interesting, but why not broaden it to all things heat? If it’s successful, there is no end of hot elements we could add. Hot technology, hot bands, hot models – there is no end to hot things,” Rose says.

Walmsley, named Runner of the Year in 2017 by Ultrarunning Magazine, has made his objective clear. He’s coming to Scottsdale to win this race, and hopefully take home a chunk of the most prize money ever awarded in an Arizona road race.

The prize money will stay with the theme of this heat-infused marathon. The top prize of $1,990 represents the year of the area’s hottest day, with each prize-money tier symbolizing some significant temperature in the Valley. The fifth-place finisher will receive $122, the exact temperature that ignited the idea behind this race.

“I’m rooting for it to break 122 on the Fahrenheit scale,” Walmsley says with a chuckle. “The hotter it will be, the more it will play to my advantage.”

Franceska Drozdz was simply fascinated by the nature of this event. The 74-year-old is the race’s oldest participant. She has run a marathon in every single state and says the idea of braving the elements was really appealing.

“I’m a real risk-taker. I like to do things that nobody else likes to do,” Drozdz says. “I like running in the heat and when it’s dry. So, this event I really like.”

With stars like Walmsley and Drozdz in the field and a plethora of new attractions added, the Scottsdale Fahrenheit Festival will be hotter than ever this year.

“We need to see how the marketplace responds. We’re hopeful,” Rose says. “If we can crack the code on a summer event, that would be a great achievement for the community.”

The Scottsdale Fahrenheit Festival takes place from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. (with the Beat the Heat Race starting at 2:47 p.m.) on Saturday, June 16 at WestWorld of Scottsdale, 16601 N. Pima Road, Scottsdale. Tickets cost $5-$56.25. Call 480-423-1414 or visit scottsdalefahrenheitfestival.com for more information. 