Good article in todays NYTimes about races up and down mountains. These articles always seemed so surprise how pleasant ultrarunners are:
So there was blood and sweat atop the massive peak, but no tears. In fact, many runners were inexplicably cheerful; to the uninitiated, they called to mind Eric Idle's happy-go-lucky crucifixion victim in "Monty Python's Life of Brian." The first few runners, inured to the highs and lows of such long events, had little reaction to ending the long climb and beginning 20 miles of downhill back to town. But the middle-of-the-pack runners - those focused on finishing, as opposed to winning, many of them exhibiting an endorphin-fueled giddiness - bantered and chuckled with race staffers.
Think about it, having reached the top of the mountain, these runners are almost certain to finish, an accomplishment of some merit, according to the article. Wouldn't you be giddy.
As to why ultrarunners do this kind of race, I tell people, if you have to ask, you wouldn't understand. The first time I heard about Western States, I knew someday, somehow I'd have to run that race. Unfortunately, I feel the same way about Badwater.
As a general rule, whatever one person can do, someone else will want to do something even more insane.