Arthur Webb is unbelievable. Some might say a bit crazy (in a good way). In a piece from August 31, 2009, Chris Ballard of Sports Illustrated writes about Arthur and his running of the Badwater Ultramarathon – could it sound more ominous – every year. This ultimate of gut checks is done to challenge himself and to serve as an example to others about self-reliance and the need to overcome obstacles.
The full article can be found at http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1159491/index.htm, with an excerpt provided here.
And with the New York City Marathon taking place this weekend, I want to wish the best of luck to everyone participating, especially 3 of my friends who have been training hard for this momentous event.
Defying Death Valley
by Chris Ballard, SI
It’s been a month now, and the top of Arthur Webb’s right big toe remains a sunken rectangle of pale, wrinkled skin. Not that he’s upset, considering that Webb is the one who yanked the toenail off with a pair of pliers in the first place. It’s something he does to both big toes every year, just after he squeezes his feet into a pair of too-small shoes and runs 15 miles to loosen the nails. Otherwise, they tend to crack and bleed as the toes swell like tiny, overinflated balloons during the Badwater Ultramarathon, the grueling 135-mile race through Death Valley that Webb has run for the past 12 summers.
Think of Badwater as five consecutive marathons, only they’re uphill (from 280 feet below sea level to 8,360 feet above), held inside a blast furnace (the temperature hovers at 115º—and that’s at night) and capable of frying runners’ brains like a fistful of peyote (intense hallucinations from sleep deprivation are part of the event’s charm). During the day it’s 130º of shadeless hell, the heat mirage so thick that runners appear to be churning through a wall of water. Shoes actually melt, the soles disengaging like skin shed by small synthetic animals. The race is invitation-only and famously humbling, which makes Webb something of a legend. He has run the second-most Badwaters ever, finishing as high as fourth (in just under 34 hours), and he consistently “buckles,” earning a coveted Badwater belt buckle by breaking 48 hours. And, oh, yeah, Webb is 67 years old.
Sixty-seven. That’s a year older than Joe Biden. Webb has two grown children, has been married 41 years and recently retired after 30 years as a postal service electrician in Santa Rosa, Calif. Yet he still runs 15 to 20 miles every day for 10 months of the year. To acclimatize for Badwater, he sits in a 170º sauna for an hour at a time—that is, when he’s not running in it. And come race time he endures stress fractures and vomiting; once, he briefly lost both consciousness and an active pulse. Some golden years, huh?