Vet filmmaker Mel Stuart delivers a well-paced trip through one of the most grueling marathons on Earth, following 13 indefatigable participants on their 135-mile trek across Death Valley and up Mount Whitney. With its absorbing mix of personalities, spectacular landscapes and vivid depiction of the agony and the ecstasy, “Running on the Sun” should go the distance on video and in small-screen slots.
Providing little background on the Badwater 135 race itself, Stuart focuses on his subjects, among whom are two men who lost limbs to land mines. For something few of them can adequately describe (there is no cash prize for the winner), these road warriors press on through pain, nausea, hallucinations and gruesome blisters, not to mention the July heat (115 degrees at 10 a.m.) and occasional windstorms. “I don’t think there’s a thing about this that’s good for the body,” notes Dr. Ben Jones, race coordinator and docu narrator, who takes viewers through the paces with quiet equanimity. While the Badwater bunch are driven, it’s a cooperative rather than competitive spirit that impresses. Stuart and intrepid crew have captured a searing portrait of endurance against all odds.