Let me set the scene for you. It’s 9 AM. Cornbread is baking in the oven, and a big mug of coffee sits steaming by my left hand. The Currier & Ives scenery persists, right out the windows to my right and the sliding glass doors to my left.
For Christmas last year, Husband gave me the DVD of Running on the Sun, a documentary about the Badwater 135 ultramarathon, which winds through Death Valley and ultimately up Mt. Whitney, in California. Unfortunately, I never had a chance to watch the film over the last twelve months. So last night — a year to the day since I first became owner of said DVD — I pulled it out of its plastic and cajoled Husband to watch it with me. Besides, he wasn’t going anywhere: we both needed a little bit of immobility in order to digest the butternut squash soup and rack of lamb I’d cooked for us.
Some people may be fascinated with what it takes to run the Badwater Ultramarathon, what an athlete must do to prepare for such a taxing physical challenge, and who they must be, in their guts and soul, to push through the pain and cross the finish line. And I was fascinated with that–I kept constantly comparing their training and their race (more than 5 marathons long)–to my own, just as a way to get a grip on what these runners (and one speedwalker) had undertaken. But really, there is no comparison.
Personally, I couldn’t get enough of the support crews. I was impressed with how knowledgable they were about the effects ultramarathoning has on a runner’s body, and how to administer the preventative measures and countereffects. I was impressed with their good spirits, unflagging support, and the way they used every psychological trick in the book to keep their runners fed, hydtrated, as rested as possible, and mentally strong. A fair amount of runners had family members as crews. The defending champion, Gabriel Flores, had his brothers on his crew. The two brothers would go back and forth with the same conversation throughout the race in one of the sweetest expressions of sibling rivalry I’ve ever witnessed.
“He’s my brother and I’ll do whatever it takes to get him across that finish line.”
“Well, he’s my brother too, don’t forget!”
One British guy in his early 60’s, Jack Denness, had his wife Maggs on his crew. She was a spunky bird, subtly propping him up with humor and wifely nagging. Every time they were on screen together my heart beat a little faster at the romance of this middle-aged couple sharing with equal enthusiasm such an odd “hobby.” (I recommend you listen to the podcast of Jack Denness’ induction into the Badwater Hall of Fame.)
There’s also a lot of footage of blistering toes and feet, complete with dangling toenails of all different colors. This, I could not watch. For pure gross-out factor, it probably rates only a 6 or 7 on a scale of 1 to 10, but that was to much for me!
The documentary captures the 1999 race, before ultrarunners like Dean Karnazes, Scott Jurek, and Jamie Donaldson started making appearances on “The David Letterman Show.” Since this documentary was filmed, the number of competitors in the Badwater 135 has doubled — from approximately 40 to 80 or so. That’s still a teeny field, but look at the New York City marathon–it started with 127 runners, and now has nearly 40,000 crossing the finish line.
As the credits rolled, Husband turned to me and said, “Don’t get any ideas.” We had a good chuckle, but you know my mind had to respond… To race an ultra? Nah. But to crew one? Maybe!