Impressions from ‘Unbreakable’
By Marlene Farrell
“I’m exhausted just from watching.” That’s what the gentleman sitting next to me said as the credits rolled for “Unbreakable: The Western States 100,” the movie about the 100-mile trail run of the same name.
In contrast, I felt inspired to hit a trail, no matter that it was past my bedtime. I didn’t actually get to, because I had a sleepy child to put to bed. But I wanted to!
Likely other runners in the audience felt the same way. We had spent two hours learning what it would be to run for most of a day (or more), to climb 19,000 feet and descend 23,000 feet through snow, hot canyons and everything in between. It perhaps takes a runner to really enjoy watching long minutes of runners from every angle.
I know I felt the pull, the call of the 100 miler. Oh, how awesome it would be to give in to my love of running on wild dirt trails. To prepare for and participate in a race that is so long I can’t fight it, but must give into it. One doesn’t beat the clock in an ultra, but rather, one lives in the moment, following a moving meditation, hour after hour. It would hurt, but so did that first marathon. How will I know my own limits unless I try?
Of course, that is a dream for a different phase of my life.
Even so, the movie left me thinking for days, not about running an ultra, but about ideas that are more universal, touch runners of any distance, and stir anyone seeking to live the phrase, “Carpe Diem!”
The first visual is the footage of Kilian Jornet, a young Spanish runner. The filming is from below as he descends with the rapid powerful grace of a skier turning through steep powder. He embodies pure joy as he runs and leaps and bounds off berms and hillocks and through sloughing duff. It’s the spirit of “parkour,” a European concept of playfully propelling oneself, using only one’s body and one’s surroundings.
Flexibility and balance have never been my strengths, but Kilian’s modus operandi is a reminder for me to play in my environment, engage it, and not just put my head down and plow through it.
The next image is of Anton Kupicka. Not while he’s running with quick efficient strides, of which there is much footage. Rather the image that stuck with me is of Anton, on the porch of his house in Boulder, lacing up his shoes in the dark. He narrates that the mountains are at his doorstep and he runs up them every morning, stands on a peak and retraces his steps back down to town while the rest of the world sleeps in.
Now, I’m an early morning runner, but there are days that the mountains feel ominous and too difficult at that early hour. I console myself with a second cup of coffee, some stretches and an easy run on the flat hatchery trails. Maybe I could use a dose of the courage that Anton demonstrates daily. Maybe we all could.
The final image is of Geoff Roes, when he is at the American River crossing at mile 78. It does not matter how the race will end. He is trailing the leaders and low on energy. Due to extreme high water, runners cross the river by raft. On the far bank he dunks in the icy waters. It gives the impression of renewal. Despite hours of tough effort, not allowing for even a moment to sit down, a runner can be replenished by this simple communion with nature, a baptism in pristine waters, surrounded by wilderness. Geoff is also surrounded by supporters, who, like fellow supplicants, are there to help him reach the goal of his quest.
I like the idea of how when a run, or life in general, feels unendurable, the sweetest of successes can come from remaining hopeful and finding that touchstone, whether external or internal, that allows us to push beyond what we thought possible.
So thank you, RunWenatchee, for hosting this showing. The morning following the movie I was inspired to run 10 miles in the hills around Leavenworth. Perhaps a little quicker uphill and more confident and playful coming down, with a sense of awe in the blessing that running has bestowed on me. And I’ll keep remembering to get out, skip convenient and go for beautiful.
Marlene Farrell is a Leavenworth writer and long-distance runner who has qualified twice for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. She also helps coach the Peshastin-Dryden Striders kids running club.