"These people, every one of them, is setting out on a magnificent experience, that even if they've done it before, it will change their life. I know that the trail and the event has that epicness in it and so few people in our day and age are able to do something epic." --- Gordy Ainsleigh in Race for the Soul
Mother Nature has just dumped a fresh layer of snow over Michigan, once again interfering with my weekend long run. Although it has been a very mild winter here, it seems like the snow that we have gotten has always fallen when I most need to run long. This means I have spent more time this winter than I would really prefer grinding out long miles on the treadmill. "How do you do that?" people often ask.
My trick is distractions. One of my favorite distractions is running videos, and my favorite running video is a fascinating and inspirational look at the 2001 WesternStates 100 Endurance Run called Race for the Soul.
I have mentioned Western States before, but for those not familiar with ultrarunning, let me tell you a little about it. It is a 100 mile race through the Sierra Nevada mountains from Squaw Valley to Auburn, CA. During the race runners climb over 17,500 feet and descend 22,970 feet. Runners have 30 hours to complete the run, but the goal for many is to finish in under 24 hours to receive the coveted silver buckle. Western States has been called the "Boston" of ultrarunnning, partially because it is one of the more famous of the 100 mile races and also because it is has a certain aura and romance about it that makes it special in the ultra community.
I first became familiar with Western States while at a running camp when I was a newbie runner and had not even done a half marathon. It was a grainy copy of an ABC Wide World of Sports showing of the 1985 Western States. I had never even heard of ultrarunning at that point and watched the video in fascination. I hadn't even run a marathon yet, but I knew I wanted to run that race someday.
Race for the Soul perfectly captures the spirit of the race and the romance that enthralled me that very first time. It is a 2 DVD set produced by public television station KVIE. One DVD is the actual documentary while the second DVD is 55 minutes of "bonus material," which is footage from various spots on the course that did not make inclusion into the actual documentary. The run time for the main video is 56:46.
The writer, producer, and editor, Brian Harder, obviously had a passion for conveying the essence of the race and the people who run it. The video does an excellent job of focusing on two areas that are key to the ultra experience and Western States in particular: the course and the people who run it.
One of the reasons that there are not a lot of running videos is that races are difficult to film. This is especially true at WS where so much of the 100 mile trail is inaccessible except to the runners. Harder's crew does an outstanding job of filming the course itself. The WS 100 has absolutely stunning views; the course traverses some of the most beautiful country in the Sierra Nevadas. The video gives viewers not only panorama shots that show how far 100 miles really is, but also footage that lets you feel like you are actually out there at various points on the trail. You watch runners padding along single track trail, crossing bridges, stopping at aid stations, and even taking a break to wash off in a cool stream.
However, I think the real strength of the video is in the way it introduces viewers to the runners themselves. You get up close and personal views of some outstanding ultrarunners and big personalities of the sport, such as Scott Jurek (7 time winner), the phenomenal Ann Trason (14 time women's winner), and Dean Karnazes. You also get to know some of the people that are a fixture of the race itself, such as Gordy Ainsleigh (the founder of the race -- a great story you hear about in the video) and Tim Twietmeyer (5 time winner).
These people are all inspirational, but for me it is also the regular people in the race who are fascinating, such as Dawn Infurna Bean, a first-timer to the race, and John and Terry Rhodes, a couple who have done the race many times and who met and married on the course and who run the races together.
The stories behind these "regular" runners, people like me, who are testing themselves in this epic adventure are what really inspire and motivate. How can I not finish my 14 mile treadmill run when Patricia Haskins, a deaf runner, is soldiering on after a fall and with her knee all bandaged? How can I give up on this short little run when Lucinda Fisher, a runner in her late 50s, is trying for the 9th time to complete the race?
So, if you are looking for something to help pass the time on those long treadmill runs or something to inspire you to keep reaching for you own dreams, or if you have ever wondered what ultrarunning and 100 mile races were all about, I highly recommend that you watch this video. Here is a short clip to give you a feel for what you will be seeing:
To help make that process easier for you and hopefully to inspire at least one other runner, I am giving away a copy of the Race for the Soul DVD to one lucky blog follower. All you need to do to be eligible is become a "follower" of my blog during the month of February. All followers listed on the site by midnight February 29, 2012 will be eligible.