Ultramarathon Orgy!

I’d better post something before this blog slides further into entropy…

Work has been, and continues to be, insane. And I just got a big freelance project that should keep me busy through late fall/early winter. Yay and yikes. Which explains the lack of blogging and lack of vacation pictures.

So, back to something running related…

I have been on an “ultramarathon” jag lately, which has involved reading a couple of books by endurance athletes, and renting a movie about the infamous Badwater race (more on this in a moment).

I don’t know why I’m suddenly into this stuff. Perhaps it’s the strange pleasure that comes from vicarious suffering. Another theory is that I’ve made a recent mental shift, deciding that I want to train to run in a marathon in 2007. Maybe the prospect of running 26.2 miles is made easier by reading about people who run 100+ mile races.

The two books I’ve read are:

Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner by Dean Karnazes
Badwater: A Man, Dealth Valley, and the Mystery of Endurance by Kirk Johnson

And the film:

Running on the Sun by Mel Stuart

The Karnazes book is a quick, interesting read. While he’s not the best writer in the world, his writing style is lighthearted and engaging. And his accounts of long training runs and ultramarathon events such as Badwater, the Western States 100 and the first (and perhaps last) marathon in the South Pole are fascinating. And the fact that he’s accomplished things that don’t seem physically possible is very inspiring. Right now, Karnazes is embarking on another first: The Endurance 50 — 50 successive marathons in 50 states over 50 days. Of course, this seems crazy. But so have many of the other challenges he’s embarked on and accomplished.

The book offers handy tips. For example, did you know you can fix a bad blister with Krazy Glue and duct tape? It’s all true.

The book is marred by some unflattering (unbeknownst to the author, it seems) elements of self-portrait — the author comes off as boorish and callous at times. And his constant protestations about how much his entire family loves riding around in a camper for days on end, feeding him as he runs along the road, makes me wonder how harmonious the arrangement really is.

A bookend (if you will) to the Karnazes book is Johnson’s book. Where Karnazes comes off as a confident (if foolhardy) pro, Johnson is a guy you can sort of relate to. After his brother, a serious runner, committed suicide, Johnson (who’d never run a marathon) decided to train for Badwater in an attempt to understand his brother and reunite his somewhat distant family members.

For the unitiated, The Badwater Ultramarathon is called the “world’s toughest footrace.” It’s a 135 mile race. From nearly 300 feet below sea level to the top of Mt. Whitney (at 8,300 feet). Did I mention that Mt. Whitney is in Death Valley? Oh, and the race is in the middle of summer? Jeeeezus Christ.

This book offers another — and more detailed — account of what it’s like to run Badwater. Johnson is a professional journalist and a superb writer. But I found the book self-indulgent in many spots and sometimes downright whiney. On the other hand, there was a pleasure in watching him go from nervous newbie marathoner to the finish line of Badwater. I just wish he’d spent more words describing the race and fewer describing his internal struggles. But, it’s a book about discovering one’s self and one’s familial bonds, so I can forgive him for that. It’s a page turner, and what higher compliment can you pay a book about an adventure?

Finally, there’s the movie Running on the Sun. This was a really fun movie to watch (if “fun” is the right word). If you ever had illusions about running a race like Badwater, this will destroy them soundly. The documentary is fascinating, because it not only gives you a sense of actually being at the race, but it emphasizes that the people who run it are ordinary people — ordinary people who just happen to have the desire, discipline and fortitude to try to do something extraordinary. Like the Karnazes book, the movis is both entertaining and inspiring.

And I now know I’ll never run Badwater.

And that’s okay.

One Response

  1. Did you ever see The Big Easy? There’s a scene in it where Dennis Quaid’s character’s mother runs into Ellen Barkin’s character running, and mom asks EB what she’s doing. When she hears she’s “runnin'” she’s just astonished that anyone would DO that. On purpose. It’s a funny bit.

    That’s how I feel about ultramarathons. It’s like hearing someone has made a sport out of passing kidney stones.

    Take it easy with all that work…and make sure you SPEND a little of that hard-earned cash.

    Your loving sis.

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