In recent years there has been a surge of interest in ultrarunning—defined, generically, as running or racing distances exceeding the standard 26.2 mile marathon. In turn, there has also been an increase in coverage of these events, no less so than with cinema. In thinking about the theme "virtual subjects" I can’t help but be drawn to this cinema and its attempt to image endurance as an embodied virtuality. Whether feature length, such as Running on the Sun (1999), Running the Sahara (2007), and Wandering Fever (forthcoming), or short, as embedded to your left documenting the 2011 Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, these films actively engage a form, concept, and idea of virtuality in terms of an enduring body.
Periods of intense physical activity are always interesting for cinema because the images themselves tend to lead its viewers to question: What is endurance? The virtual offers an interesting point of direction for this question through its careful negotiation between the temporal coordinates of past, present, future, and the body. George Sheehan, the great philosopher of running, writes in Running and Being of traversing a series of particularly arduous hills: "Once past, the hills are still in my body. Because the past is always incorporated into your body. Each cell contains the past." For Sheehan, runners are virtual subjects to the extent that past acts—running as a means of becoming—do not pass, but instead live with and inform the present through their capacity to become actual. It seems fitting, then, to think of the virtual, a philosophy of movement, action, and change, with a cinema so carefully concerned with the transformative nature of the subject through the transformational action of running.
Ultimately, the images these films testify to think a mode of becoming Giorgio Agamben renders as an ethical pursuit, in The Coming Community, where "the being proper to humankind is being one’s own possibility or potentiality." Agamben’s argument authorizes an ethical stance, being proper, to a subject that is willing to be one’s own potential. In this sense, the cinema of endurance confronts viewers in a way that returns the affect and force of running to us in this form of thoughtfulness. In viewing the images of ultrarunning as a form of becoming one’s own potential we gain a greater insight into an idea of endurance harnessing the ethical power that the virtual exerts.