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July 24, 2017

Does David Blaine have the skills of an elite ultra marathon runner?

David Blaine’s dark eyes stare unblinkingly into yours, reaching out stoically from the confines of your computer screen and intoning the type of quiet, serious concentration you’d expect from a man whose profession is listed as magician.

Wait.

No.

That’s not David Blaine. That is Mitch Stilpa, an actor/comedian from an improv troupe in LA (what a terrible combination of words) whose parody videos of David Blaine’s street magic made a big splash on Funny or Die for a while. Stilpa does a hyperbolic of course, but pretty good impression of Blaine’s trademark destruction of the fourth wall, as he gazes directly into the camera after completing a trick.

The four parody videos have amassed over 78,000,000 views on YouTube, and as HuffPost put it back in 2011, Blaine’s “aesthetic and demeanor make him a pretty solid target for parody.” Magicians in general are rarely respected for their craft, and usually the butt of some jokes or at least emphatic eyerolls. And Blaine’s “Street Magic” concept, where he interacted with apparent strangers on the street for his breakthrough documentary in 1996, was especially ripe for riffing off of.

But while the world was chuckling to itself at David Blaine’s expense, Blaine was reinventing himself as more than just some sort of street vendor illusionist. He was becoming an endurance artist, a career path that involved him existing suspended in a block of ice for 62 hours straight, and spending 44 days sealed inside a glass box 30 feet above the ground in London. The accomplishment of these feats is the crux of my argument. Anyone who can put their body through such physical pain and suffering, who willingly endures extreme discomfort for long stretches of time for no real reason other than to prove that they can was practically born to be an ultra-marathoner. There is a very fine, pretty much nonexistent line between endurance artist and endurance athlete and I for one would love to see how Blaine’s talent as the former translates into his promise for the latter.

Blaine has transcended the realm of magic with most of his acts recently. There’s no real trick or deception going on in the feats he’s managed to pull off. The “magic” is just that he is able to force his body to do completely unnatural things. For example, Blaine’s trick where he eats glass–is actually him eating glass. The man is truly, physically consuming glass. He takes a bite out of a champagne flute and then chews. He bites down again and again, cutting his mouth all over, desecrating his poor chompers, and reducing the glass to little specks until he can swallow it. This type of mind-blowing pain tolerance lends itself easily to the kind of mentality a person covering almost four times the distance of a marathon without really stopping to sleep, and barely eating.

Not only is Blaine capable of withstanding pain over a long portion of time, but he also has a certain level of insanity that seems to be a prerequisite for becoming an ultra runner. He has done tricks that are downright stupidly dangerous. He’s caught a bullet in his mouth on stage, an actual bullet, from a real gun that he caught in a metal cup that he held in his mouth. The amount of confidence Blaine must have in himself in order to believe he can catch a bullet with a cup in his mouth without killing himself makes me think he would have the kind of self-belief important for running up and down steep, rocky trails by yourself for hours on end.

Blaine’s resume does also hint toward an innate aerobic ability. After training and working on techniques to do so, he successfully held his breath for 17 minutes underwater. Which makes me confident in his lung capacity to say the least.

As Ira Glass recently said of Blaine in a This American Life episode, “He works on these things for years, trains his body to do this stuff.” Sounds a lot like the life of an ultra runner to me.

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