Last Saturday Robert and I went to see the documentary A Decade On, brought to Chattanooga by our local Fleet Feet store. The movie was produced by the Ginger Runner, Ethan Newberry, who is an ultra marathon runner himself. The story follows Brian Morrison’s attempt at finishing the Western States 100 mile ultra marathon race after being unable to do so in the past. In 2006 he had been in first place at the race, but collapsed as he rounded the last quarter of a mile getting a DNF, although he said he preferred to say he was disqualified since he technically completed the race by being supported over the finish line.
The documentary was about 45 minutes long and starts with footage of Morrison’s first attempt in 2006 allowing the audience to experience heartache watching him come so close to his goal, but falling just short of achieving it. The film provides interviews with people who were there with him that day including the race director, race board members, his pacer- Scott Jurek who had won Western States the previous seven years, and his wife. It was interesting to see their take not only on what happened in 2006, but their hopes for him during his next attempt. To me the most important interviews in this story were those given by his wife. After seeing him fail the first time and witnessing the effect that the race had on her husband, she had justifiably developed an extreme hatred of Western States and could not wait for the race to be over with. The lead up to race day footage was succinct and did a great job exemplifying his goals, struggles, and fears for this attempt at the race. When he got to California for race day with his family his excitement was palpable and there was just enough prerace footage to get the viewer excited not only about Morrison’s attempt, but about Western States as a whole although I do want to make the distinction that the documentary was focused on Morrison- it was not a documentary about Western States. Once the race footage starts the majority of the footage takes place as Morrison nears aid stations and spends time at them. As he struggles in the heat you see his wife have to battle with being supportive of her husband the runner and helping him achieve his goals and her husband the father of her children and life partner who she was worried about as he was throwing up from the heat and arriving at aid stations later than expected. My heart went out to her because I deal with that struggle constantly as I try to be a supportive and motivating training partner to Robert, while at the same time worrying about him getting sick when he runs in the rain, getting hurt or lost when he’s running 20 miles alone on a trail, or encouraging him him to leave me in bed at 4:30 every morning so he can get in his run before work although I just want him to stay next to me for another half hour. I also just want to give Morrison’s wife a shout out for being able to stay calm and supportive throughout that very hot race day, while also taking care of their two young children. I know the fear that sets in when your husband is late getting to you at the next aid station or when he sets off for the next part of his race when he feels like crap and you just have to trust that he will not push himself beyond a limit that he will not be able to recover from. Her struggle in the movie was documented just as well as Morrison’s along the trail.
The other interesting part of the documentary was that it did a good job focusing on the pacers Morrison had throughout the race and their role in his success. He had two of his male friends pace him from about mile 60 on doing about 20 miles with him each. As someone who is currently getting ready to pace someone for the first time, this was very insightful into what a pacer’s role is and ideas on how to be supportive to the runner. It also made me realize that if I was ever going to run a race with the need for a pacer (hey, I can have dreams too) that being selective about who I chose would be extremely important. These pacers not only knew Morrison, his capabilities, and his goals, but they also trained heavily with him to ensure that they were supporting him without bringing him down. Once they start running with Morrison on race day the documentary also started to have much more running footage- thank God for GoPros!
To prevent spoiling the movie I am going to refrain from telling you whether or not he was able to overcome the extreme heat, inability to keep any food in his stomach, and the 100 mile course to finally get his Wesern States finish and the belt buckle to prove it. However I will tell you that the Ginger Runner concludes the movie in a way that will not leave you disappointed. Just a side note on the creation of this film, during the question and answer session that occurred after the screening of the movie with Morrison and Newberry I learned that there were two documentaries shot by the Ginger Runner at Western States that day. The other documentary focused on Sage Canaday, a runner much different than Morrison who went into the race with the goal not only, like Morrison, to finish the race, but to also win it. I have not seen Racing the Darkness, yet but it is on my to watch list. All in all I think this was an excellent documentary. The story was very interesting, the race day footage was great, the interviews provided great insights from all the people involved in Morrison’s journey, and it was an actual film. Personally racing documentaries that are shorter than twenty minutes rarely have enough detail and development for me to get into, so a 45ish minute film was definitely a good length.
The screening of the film was great too. Fleet Feet Chattanooga rented out a space around the corner from their store which had multiple tv’s so there was ample space to view the film. They also provided beer, soda, and water which was included in the $10 ticket price unbeknownst to us, which was a very pleasant surprise. Like I previously mentioned, after the screening of the film there was a question and answer session with both Brian Morrison and Ethan Newberry. The two of them were awesome and entertained questions for about an hour after the film officially ended. They then just hung around for a bit to talk to people individually and stand for pictures. Both of them were extremely sociable and easy to talk to, excellent examples of the phenomenal personalities found in the running community as a whole. Fleet Feet also held a group run with the two of them the following morning on Lookout Mountain. Although we would have loved to go out with them it conflicted with the time we go to church so we did not take advantage of the opportunity to run with them.
A great screening of a great documentary made for a wonderful date night for #teamMcMILEan.