Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Movie Review: Running on the Sun (2000)

A film by Mel Stuart

"Running on the Sun" is a documentary dealing with the Badwater 135 Ultra-marathon. While an ultra-marathon is defined as any race with a distance longer than a marathon (26.2 miles), Badwater is a grueling 135 mile race beginning in Death Valley (Badwater, California, elevation 282 feet below sea level) and ascending to 8000 feet by the race's end which includes an 18 mile stretch where the elevation rises over 5000 feet. With temperatures reaching 125 degrees in the middle of the day, the Badwater 135 is perhaps the nastiest race in the world. Only forty runners were invited to run Badwater in 1999.

This documentary focuses on a cross section of some of the competitors to give an accurate portrait of what Badwater is and what Badwater does to a person. From a Marine to a man with a prosthetic leg to a 68 year old man to the current record holder of Badwater to a woman from England who put herself into debt to make it to Badwater, "Running on the Sun" has an interesting cast of characters. But then anyone actually willing to attempt Badwater probably has to be an interesting person. So many of these runners are just ordinary people with an extraordinary drive, passion, and commitment. Very few runners are actually trying to win the race, or break a record, but rather they are seeking the incredible personal accomplishment of finishing (60 hours or less) and perhaps even chase the goal of finishing in under 48 hours and thus earning the symbol of pride: The Badwater Belt Buckle. Only those few who can finish in under 48 hours can earn that belt buckle (and they do "earn" it).

"Running on the Sun" touches upon why someone would run Badwater and what it takes. We see graphic footage of the feet of some of the runners and it isn't pretty. The film shows the joy, the pain, the pride, the disappointment, and the accomplishment of running Badwater. This really is an impressive documentary about an incredible endurance race. I'm impressed all the more because I'm currently training for my first marathon and while 26.2 miles seems like a long way, Badwater is 5 marathons back to back, plus a little bit more. Not to mention the whole Death Valley thing. It's beyond my comprehension as a runner.

There is something in "Running on the Sun" to recommend the movie to anyone. Runners will get to see something that is probably beyond their dreams or even desire, but they will surely appreciate the effort. Other endurance athlete can also appreciate what the competitors of Badwater are attempting. Those who are simply curious will see a film about perseverance and accomplishment through adversity. This is an inspiring and awe inspiring film, though I imagine many people won't get why someone would do this.

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