DEATH VALLEY, Calif. — The AdventureCorps Badwater Ultra-marathon race is the hardest race on Earth when a runner has two legs. Chris Moon does it on one. He started running the race after he suffered a tragic accident where he lost his right arm and his right leg in Mozambique in 1995.
While in the military he learned to clear mines working with an anti-terrorist unit. In 1995 he was working for a charity founded by Princess Diana which cleared mine fields left behind after the war.
Moon has run Badwater five times. The first three times, from 1999 to 2001, he ran to the finish and back. He then took 10 years off to raise his children and came back in 2012.
This year he returned with new technology to test in the 120-degree heat and the 135-mile distance.
“When I came here originally, I came here to test new technology, too,” Moon explained. “We are back here to do the same because this is the world’s toughest foot race to test this stuff.”
Over the years he has been testing various prosthetics at the Badwater race. The hope is to improve the technology not only for himself, but so others can enjoy sports.
“Technology has changed a lot for me since I have done my first out and back,” Moon said. “I had such bad blisters on the stump that it got swollen and changed size the first time. It was not all bad, by the time I was coming back again, some of the old blisters were healing and I had a whole set of new ones.”
Moon said some of the changes for this time out include a gel liner for better shock absorption, better springs and joints that can adjust to the incline of the hill.
His high-tech leg is of the blade type. Blade legs were made famous by Olympic runner Oscar Pistorious from South Africa, and was the first double-legged amputee to medal in an able-bodied Olympics in 2012. He ran the 400-meter.
One of the hardest things blade runners do is running up hills.
“Running without an adjustable leg was unbelievably hard work,” Moon said.
The English blade runner says the new evolution of blades means runners will run up and down hills with less effort. He says runners can expect a drastic change in blades if they test out here in Badwater. His prosthetic device is made by Endolite.
Moon says his blades have an ankle function.
“Research shows 89-90 percent going uphill requires ankle function,” Moon said.
As he approaches a hill, he presses a button and the angle of the blade will be able to conform to the incline.
The new technology, he hopes, will mean less time and effort going up and down hills. The leg he used at Death Valley is a prototype.
“We hope to be several hours quicker,” exclaimed Moon. “We are here to test the switch and the heel spring as well. I hope this will enable normal function like climbing a ladder. You can run with your children and play football. This should be on the market in a few months if we can get the testing done.”
Moon attributes his military training for giving him the discipline to train. Running this race has given him some clarity on life.
“If we can find reasons for doing what we do, we can always get through it,” he said. “When you come to this place it is an incredible challenge in an astonishing place. I think for me this is a moment of not wanting to be beat by the badness of life.
“There is a point where you learn something about yourself and we learn something about the environment. Perhaps we learn that we are more than our bodies.”
For Moon, the hardest part of the race is finding time to train for it.
“With one side of the body out everything takes longer,” he said. “I have overcome it with a number of years but still, the time is an issue because everything does take longer. I have children and a lot of non-profit commitments, and I have my business to run. It’s balancing all of those things. I get up early and try to do what is only important. I think we do a lot of things in our life that is not important, like watch television and sit about.”
Although Moon did not finish quicker than last year, many runners said the heat took a toll on the racers this year. Moon finished 68th out of 96 runners with a time of 45:04:40.