There is a gentleman, his name is Arthur Webb. Webb is a local runner who likes to run 135 miles during the summer. Did I mention he runs 135 miles in 48 hours? In Death Valley? This is a man that likes to push his body to the limit by competing in the annual Badwater Ultramarathon that starts 280 feet below sea level and ends 8,300 feet closer to outer space on Mount Whitney. On Monday he will race for the 14th consecutive time.
How the heck do you train for a race that has been dubbed “The Worlds Toughest Footrace”? Webb runs and runs. He wears shoes that are abnormally tight, then pulls his toe nails off when they turn black and blue. When he runs Death Valley, distractions, like toe nails, could be a problem.
This is why it’s so fascinating to be a journalist. A photojournalist.
Meeting people like Arthur Webb gives us a window, for a couple of hours, in to the life of those who are extremely dedicated to whatever they do.
Like I said, Arthur runs and runs. He also likes to sit in a sauna for hours. “Get’s me acclimated”, (to Death Valley) he says. A sauna can do that?
“Yes” he responds, ” Especially if it’s cranked up to 160 degrees.”
Okay, I remember while with my mom on vacation in 1977 lounging in a sauna for about 10 minutes. There were lava rocks and you would pour water over them to generate steam. It got hot really quick. I jumped in to a pool afterwards.
Webb told me to meet him at Fusion Fitness on Sebastopol Road in Roseland, where he would spend 30 or 40 minutes “acclimating”. Okay good, I thought. This will be an interesting picture.
The extreme runner dialed up the temperature of the sauna. It stopped at 151 degrees. I realized that the windows were too small to shoot through, so I had to get in there with him. T-shirt, jeans and boots. I like heat, so no problem.
The heat was instant. I sat down across from him, waiting for him to start sweating. I was. It took several minutes and finally sweat started pouring off him. To get storytelling images, photographers must endure. We literally need to be at the scene. I felt like a cluck cluck in the broiler. I pushed on. “Gotta be tough, extremely dedicated.” he said, “To do this kind of running. Sometimes the glue on my shoes melts while running the Badwater.”
I checked. Glue that holds running shoes together will liquify at around 200 degrees. That’s close to boiling.
So we stayed in the broiler. Five minutes. Ten minutes. My cameras were nearly too hot to hold on to. Sweat, running off me, stung my eyes.
It felt like we’d done a few laps in a geothermal steam field.
After 15 minutes, we were soaked. Comically, I felt like Jake and Elwood during the sauna scene in Blue Brothers. Fully clothed, photographing a guy with shorts on. Nothing crazier than a photographer.
At 20 minutes, the electrical system in both my Canon cameras shut down. That effectively ended the shoot. When I left, Arthur was still basking in the sauna. Did I mention that Mr. Webb is 69 years old?