Monday, June 8, 2009

Running on the Sun - Movie Review

I know there are few of you out there who think Phil and I are completely nuts. Getting up at 4 am to work out, giving up the simple pleasures of red wine and a leisurely evening meal . . . all in pursuit of a really ugly belt buckle and a fleeting sense of personal accomplishment.

Well . . . I have news for you.

We're not nuts. But these guys . . . yeah. A couple sandwiches shy of a picnic. Absolutely.

Running on the Sun (2000) [98 minutes]:

Forty competitive runners present themselves with the ultimate challenge -- a 135-mile voyage through Death Valley to the peaks of Mount Whitney. Director Mel Stuart and his crew follow these men (two of whom are handicapped runners who've lost limbs to land mines) as they confront blistering heat, violent windstorms, and one of the most grueling courses imaginable in a competition that is more about each runner testing his own physical and psychological limits than the prospect of winning (there is no prize) or physical conditioning (a doctor who helps coordinate the race informs them, "I don't think there's a thing about this that's good for the body").

The "Badwater 135," equivalent to five back-to-back marathons, eschews the trappings of traditional races.

There are no cheering crowds. There is no monetary reward. There is little media attention or applause. Often, there is no end in sight. Instead, the runners rely on themselves for motivation, comfort and determination.

The only tangible prize, awarded for completing the race in under 48 hours, is a belt buckle, a coveted symbol of achievement among ultrarunners.

The body weathers extreme environmental conditions throughout the race. Runners are constantly challenged with temperatures ranging from 38 ºF to 125 ºF, 50 mph heated head winds, two 5,000-foot climbs, and a finish line located 8,400 feet up Mt. Whitney in California's Sierra Nevada mountain range.

Most competitors will run, walk and crawl for two continuous days and nights to reach the finish line.

With every passing mile, runners face increasingly greater risks of dehydration, muscle strain, vomiting, sun stroke and kidney failure.

One of the most insidious ailments, though, are the hallucinations. Racers have been plagued by visions of UFO's crashing into the road, giant chasms opening up in the highway, and phantom detour signs.

One third of the competitors will fail.

But for the most persevering runners, a great personal victory awaits them at the finish line. After 135 miles, the runners have completed a mythic journey, overcoming the obstacles of nature, fellow competitors and, most of all, themselves.

If you have ever wondered what it would be like to push yourself to the limits, this film is a must for you to see.

Workout June 4, 2009: We had an interval workout today – but it didn’t even feel like work watching what these runners were going through. I truly can’t imagine participating in this event – the cut-off is 60 hours!! It makes the Leadville MTB Race seem like kid-stuff! Training for a 135-mile run through 120 degree heat takes a tougher constitution than I have.

One of the quotes that resonated with me came from a 68-year-old man competing in the event. He said that each time before he does a big race he sets lofty goals. But as the event progresses, his goals get more realistic.

At the time of the interview, his only goal was not to throw up on his own shoes.

Brother – I hear ya. At some point during each Leadville 100 I’ve had the same goal.

The film also shows the pressure on the competitors to continue long past the point where a rational person would call it quits.
This article explores the same theme in relation to marathon runners.

Phil’s "I can't quit now" strategy is to tell as many people as he can that he is going to compete in the Leadville 100 – that way he thinks he’ll be too embarrassed to “DNS” (do not start).

For me, having crew members out on the course is a powerful motivator – they are giving up their time and energy to support me – I don’t want to let them down by quitting.

Anyway, this was a very motivating - and somewhat troubling - movie.


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