Running on the Sun: A Symbolic Finish for Four Badwater Athletes
by Adeline Goss
It almost seemed staged. Around 3 p.m., the folks at the finish line received word that Scott Weber was just up the road, followed closely by David Jensen and Jack Denness. Unless something terrible happened, it was clear that all three would make it to the finish line with time to sparewithin minutes of one another.
These were three of Badwater’s fabled runners. Weber was fighting through his eleventh Badwater, having been unable to finish last year and therefore unable to receive his ‘Ten Time Winner’ award. Jensen, a Vietnam vet, ran stoically on his one leg and his prostheticresolved to finish the race despite his disability, after having dropped out on his first attempt six years ago. And Denness, thirteen-time Badwater veteran, would become the race’s oldest finisher at age 70.
And so it was that the three stars came up to the finish line within two minutes of one another. Weber was first, winded but upbeat and visibly moved by what he knew would soon come. Jensen’s good leg was in tremendous pain after having overcompensated for his prosthetic for 135 miles, but he ran the last stretch with his arms over the shoulders of his crew. Then Denness ran up with a British flag in his hand, accompanied by smiling family members and the rest of his team. The sight of all three of them together, and the emotion on each of their faces, was almost overwhelming.
And as if that weren’t enough: before the three veterans could receive their medals and settle into chairs, another finisher ran upAndy Elder, a rookie, who took a seat next to the three Badwater legends. There was symbolism in that juxtaposition, and the veteran and rookie Badwater athletes were pleased to celebrate together. Receiving Murphy’s from Denness’ wife Mags, they raised their cans and chugged.
Race director Chris Kostman who, incidently, hadn’t slept for more than 60 hours, stepped in as the master of ceremonies. “As a race director,” he said, “I’ve never been more pleased in my whole life. Cheers. And now another ceremonial, but for real, drink.” And the five menweary, dehydrated and contenteach took a sip.
When the assembly dispersed, Elder stayed in his seat, relieved not to have to move. He sat there while most of the crowd took off down the mountain.
Meanwhile, Jensen stood with his crew. “There was a point back there when I really didn’t think I’d make it,” he told me. When I asked what pulled him through, he pointed to his crew member“Bob Lang, right there. That, and I really wanted to get here.”
Over in the shade, Denness sat with a reporter, jolly as ever. Asked why he came back to Badwater every year since 1991, he replied, “I don’t know. I really don’t know. If I did know, I’d be a rich man.”
For this quartet, there could not have been a more heartfelt or symbolic end to this year’s race, nor to some of the veteran runners’ careers at Badwater. Among these older runners, there was an air of completion and, finally, resignation. “Cross my heart,” Denness promised his crew, “this is the last time.”