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Movie Review–Running on the Sun: The Badwater 135

running-on-the-sunYou should watch this movie.  A friend loaned it to me to watch over the Thanksgiving break.  I threw it on my laptop sitting in the kitchen while visiting my in-laws, trying not to be rude by just watching the beginning.  But once it started, I could not turn it off.  I sat in the kitchen and watched the whole thing.

This documentary style film is an unflinching examination of what is arguably the single most harrowing running event held annually in the United States, the Badwater 135.  The tagline captures the essence of this film — “There is a moment when the body gives up and the human spirit takes over.”  I watched with a morbid sense of curiosity, not unlike the way a child watches an insect die or a worm squirm on a hook at the end of a fishing line.  It’s just endlessly fascinating, except in this movie there are 40 human beings trying to run 135 miles by crossing Death Valley in 125 degree heat (it’s already 115 at the start line!), then climb Mount Whitney.

From a Marine built like a rock, to a man with a prosthetic leg, to a 64 year old man, to the current record holder of Badwater, to a woman from England who live in a tent and put herself in debt to make it there, I was amazed how many of these runners seem like very ordinary people.  You can’t help but wonder what drives these people to want to endure such punishment.  And some of those questions seem to remain unanswered.

You need to be prepared to watch some violent bouts of vomiting, the lancing of blisters that form over other blisters, and dazed athletes moaning in excruciating pain in dire need of medical attention.  There are many moving story lines of the various maniacs who undertake this crazy run of more than five marathons.  And there are surprises.  People you are sure won’t finish do while others who seem strong drop out with less than ten miles to go.

I ran the American River 50 last year and qualified for the Western States 100.  It took me 10 hours and 5 mins.  That’s a long day.  I still can’t wrap my head around the punishment that is Badwater.  The cut-off to be considered a finisher is 60 hours.  To even consider doing Badwater borders on the absurd.  There is no prize, just the satisfaction of conquering the course…and your own physical and pyschological limits.  Anyone who has ever pushed themselves to their limits will likely find inspiration from these courageous individuals.  The drama and emotion of their efforts is real, and that is this movie’s greatest strength.


One Response

  1. My son and I watched this with Ramesh and his family. We sat cuddled up in blankets, nice and cozy warm, watching these people push through and endure the race–INCREDIBLE!!

    Since I’m still dealing with ITBS, it was encouraging for me to see so much walking–I am very limited in how much running I can do. My run/walks are usually about 2 miles. I decided that at least once a week, I can do a 4-miler. I just joined up with a Saturday morning power walk group that does about a 4-mile walk–there are some good hills around Morgan Hill!

    This is DEFINITELY a great movie–it’s very inspiring, no matter how much of a runner you are, or aren’t!!

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