Man Braves Death Valley Heat to Run a Mile Dressed as Darth Vader

Record-breaking temperatures continue to scorch the southeast, but that isn't stopping one devoted runner from participating in what has become an annual tradition in Death Valley.

The Darth Valley Challenge was pioneered by runner and Star Wars fan Jon Rice. The concept is simple: go to Death Valley on the hottest day of the year wearing your best Star Wars costume and run a mile as fast as you can. When the temperature reached 126 degrees Fahrenheit in Death Valley last week, Rice donned his signature Darth Vader costume and laced up his running shoes.

“I don’t agree with anybody else doing this,” he acknowledged when speaking to The Washington Post about the potentially dangerous endeavor. "I don’t even really agree with me doing this, particularly."

His 2023 Darth Valley run isn't even the hottest one Rice has experienced. In 2013, he was there in all black when temperatures soared to 129 degrees, which coincidentally ended up producing the best results: a 6:13 mile. He has yet to top that personal record.

However, Rice doesn't go into these events without proper preparation. He trains in a sauna three to four times a week to prepare for the extreme temperatures of Death Valley. And over the years, he's been joined by other Star Wars characters like Princess Leia, Yoda, and Chewbacca.

"Even a mile in that heat is exhausting, more so when you're recovering from an injury, so I was feeling pretty heavy in the legs and wished I hadn't had to turn back to face the sun at the halfway point from the car," Rice told ABC7, adding, "The mask just kept getting hotter." It gets as hot as 180 degrees under that iconic black mask.

But for Rice, getting to entertain passersby with his crazy annual event is part of the fun. "I just thought, 'What a fantastic thing, to bring a tiny little bit of wonder back into someone’s life,'" he admitted. "I loved the idea that people had stories to tell when they got home."

For anyone considering attempting something as potentially dangerous as the Darth Valley Challenge, be sure to follow guidelines from the Road Runners Club of America. Make sure to drink fluids before, during, and after runs. And if you feel symptoms of heat-related illness, stop moving and find shade immediately.