Zach Gingerich of Aurora, IL, has lost his sanity. He doesn’t even really know what drives him to run 135 miles in the Badwater Ultramarathon, and he’s often come within inches/seconds of quitting. But, his team of supporters wouldn’t let him.
I just finished reading the cover story in the Chicago Tribune’s Sunday Magazine about Zach, and his Death Valley experience. This race, which completing it within 24 hours is a task no human should consider unless you are part scorpion, but 46 miles of this 135 mile trek is uphill. Yes folks, you heard me correctly. This race starts at 282 feet below sea level in Death Valley’s Badwater Basin (hence the name of the event), and your footrace is completed at 8,360 feet above sea level, which pretty much puts you halfway up a California mountain.
So, I read the article, and Zach’s negativity and uncertainty of his own ability to complete the race had me nodding my head saying, “Yeah, I agree, buddy….let’s get in a place with some cool A/C and crack open a beer – whaddya say?”
But, his teammates, those who are allowed to help Zach keep him cool by using squirt guns, putting ice packs on his head, and feeding him energy supplements along the way, kept telling him to press on. He saw people run in front of him, especially last year’s winner, and just really wanted to throw down his sneakers and call it a day.
After the uphill portion of the race and a bit of good news that he was at that point in second place, he felt more confident in his ability to finish. This race for which Zach trained for, for more than a year, spent hours of his time running in place in a Lifetime Fitness sauna in order to acclimate his body to the unbearable heat he would find himself running.
How does it end? He won. If you asked him right now if he’d do it again, he would probably not give you a definitive answer since he’s still looking at the golfball size blisters on the balls of his feet.
Would YOU endure a race like this? What drives people to become marathoners? Some people claim it’s the adrenalin rush that keeps them coming back. Others find a “zone” in which they will not remove themselves from their cadence nor their pace. But, Zach had none of those things. He honestly didn’t know why he ran this race, except for maybe the pure and simple reason to say he ran it. His body was able to conquer the blistering heat and exhaustion. His mind was able to see past the pain and show the ability of limitless focus and endurance one’s mind has over its own body.
For me, I used to love to run…..5 miles. That was it. That was all the time I had to spare, and that was all my back was willing to forgive. After the first ten minutes, I gained a good stride and the oxygen flow in my lungs felt good. But, the other parts of my body said, “Listen Bitch – we are NOT going to sit here and endure this aching pain anymore. YOU may not feel it now, but you just wait until you wake up tomorrow, sister. You’re gonna be sooooorrrry.”
I have friends who run 1/2 marathons and full marathons. It takes alot of dedication and getting your body used to running for long periods of time. Let’s face it: We are no longer neanderthals running from T-Rex’s. We are evolved, lazy, couch potato’ing, carb eating human beings who have to train our bodies to do things that maybe our body parts don’t necessarily want to cooperate. But, we make them cooperate. We make our body parts engage in what we feel at one point, is impossible to achieve – just like Zach Gingerich of Aurora.
Zach had a little meeting with his body parts and said if they didn’t all cooperate and play nice with one another on race day, someone was gonna get handed a pink slip. Looks like he’s still in one piece, and a winner.
As for me, the closest thing I get to running is on the ellipitcal machines at the gym. My back didn’t want to play nice with me and she let me have it good one day, so now I’m apologizing for what will be an eternity by not ever running again and making amends with my poor, aching back.