3 Ultra Marathon Movies to Fuel Your Motivation

Once I discovered my love for trail running, I started watching movies, YouTube videos, and documentaries on ultra running. I absorbed what I could about training, fueling, the ever-changing terrain, as well as the ups and downs runners face on each course. The movies I listed share the stories of the elite in the sport. I will never run at the same level these expert runners; but knowing this does not change my excitement as I watch them. I learn valuable lessons from each of these movies. And, even though they are focused on the sport of ultra marathons, they provide life lessons for any situation.

Ouray 100

I chose this movie because it showcases how one runner handles a difficult situation that is out of his control. The feeling of defeat stops most of us in our tracks.

Ouray 100
Avery tackles the Ouray 100

This movie follows ultra runner Avery Collins as he takes on the Ouray 100 in 2016. Known as the “Switzerland of America” the San Juan Mountains in Southwest Colorado tests runners true grit. With over 42,000 feet of vertical gain and exposure to every form of weather thinkable, runners have 52 hours to complete a 100-miles. Ouray is not like most 100-mile ultras. It’s like going up and down Mt. Everest 3.6 times. You will experience the true test of the runner’s mind and body.

Avery
The grueling race can’t stop this moment of excitement before he starts his descend to the finish.

Avery trained hard and is considered a top contender in this race. He relies on his crew to keep him on track, especially as he gets further along in the race. He says, “It’s good to have many brains there, because you are not thinking clearly at mile 60-80; and your crew team helps remind you to change socks, prepare for the night, or upcoming weather they have been tracking…” At around mile 15, the aid station helpers send Avery on the wrong path causing him to add 10 extra miles and more vertical terrain. Runners passing him as they take the correct route. How will Avery process the disappointment of falling back in the race of no fault of his own?

Although the movie follows Avery, it highlights another runner, Rob Coslick, as he attempts his first 100-mile race. A few of my favorite quotes from Rob’s are, “I wanna see what the bottom looks like. See what it’s like when you reach the moment of, why. The, what am I doing here?” and, “Every summit has its own challenges. Every weather change has its own challenges.”

I will never experience Ouray so being able to follow Avery and Rob on their attempt at the race is exciting to not only watch the mental/physical strength of the runners, but the beautiful, changing, and challenging terrain. Watch the trailer HERE

FINDING TRACTION: THE ULTRA MARATHON DOCUMENTARY

I chose this movie because Nikki chose to tackle this goal that pushes every boundary her mind and body can face. It is true testament of pure will and determination.
Finding Traction

This documentary follows ultra-marathon runner Nikki Kimball as she takes on the 273-mile Long Trail. Located in Vermont the Long Trail runs the length of the state. Nikki is attempting the FKT (Fastest Known Time) and must complete the trail in 4 days, 12 hours, 45 minutes, and 59 seconds, roughly 4.5 days. This is not a race but a personal quest to not only squash a childhood dream but do it in record time. Watching this movie, you experience all the emotions Nikki faces. You feel her drive, joy, love for the sport, barriers, physical and mental pain, and all the feelings when she makes it to the finish line. Do you think she makes it in record time?

Finding Traction
Sleep is not an option in this FKT attempt.

Watching what a body can endure is astronomical. Taking on a feat like the FKT on the Long Trail is not an event people challenge themselves to do on the regular. Her body is put through the washing machine, so to speak. She must maintain nutrition as it is important not only for physical strength but mental strength as well. Watching her emotional rollercoaster is profound. It takes control of her during parts of the race, and it didn’t matter how much training she put in. No amount of training can prepare her for what she is about to experience. When her emotions start to take control is when her team shows why they are so important to her quest. They are constantly monitoring her weight, nutrition, health, performance, and emotions. The feelings are intense, yet extraordinary!

Finding Traction
Nikki is a true inspiration, both on and off the trail.

This journey took Nikki to low places. But, being in low places isn’t new to Nikki. She has battled depression. She found escape through activity, and then through ultra-running. She wants everyone to know that “you can look down the barrel of the gun and you will find happiness again.” She goes on to say there is a mental benefit to getting out in the woods. It’s healing. And regarding ultra running, “it gives her the high highs, and low lows, but she can handle the acute strong lows because that compared to feeling nothing is fantastic.” Strongly recommend watching Nikki as she fights through each challenge she faces. Watch the trailer HERE

THE BARKLEY MARATHONS

I chose this movie because it doesn’t matter if you are a runner or not, this movie is entertaining. I would have to write its own article if I were to touch on the many quirks within this race.  You must watch the movie to fully experience it.
Barkley Marathon

The Barkley Marathon is a race created by Gary ‘Lazarus Lake’ Cantrell which has only seen 18 finishers (by 15 runners) in 33 years. It is a comical start to a grueling race. To enter runners must write an essay on ‘Why I Should be Allowed to Run in the Barkley” and pay a $1.60 application fee. Upon acceptance runners receive a letter of condolence from Lazarus. At check in, Lazarus has entry fees that range from a plaid shirt, white socks, or other specified items. The runner who receives bib number 1 is special. You’ll have to watch to see why.

Barkley Marathon
Bib #1 It’s not what you think.

The Barkley Marathon takes runners on a 20-mile loop with no man powered aid stations and no trail markings. Runners are shown a map after checkin to which they make notes and rely solely on a compass. GPS watches are not allowed. The runners will go out on the loop 5 times. The first 2 loops are clockwise, the next 2 are counterclockwise. The fifth time out, runners alternate clockwise/counterclockwise with the first runner in deciding which way they want to go separating any runners who may have teamed up during the race. Books are placed at various points on the trail for when runners reach the book, they rip the page out that corresponds with their bib number. When runners complete a loop, they bring their ripped pages to Lazarus for confirmation and are given a new bib number for the next loop.

Barkley Marathon
Ripping a page out of the book on the course. The titles of the books are always encouraging.

This 100-mile race is highly debated within the community if the miles are not actually 100 but closer to 130, suggesting the loop is more like 26 miles. There is 54,200’ vertical gain making it one of the hardest 100-mile ultras there is. The cut-off time is 60 hours. Runners who complete 3 loops of the Barkley are awarded the “fun-run” finisher. Runners who drop out of the race are serenaded with a bugler playing taps. You experience the harsh trail conditions runners face, and the surreal feeling of them questioning their navigation skills. Either their skills bring them back to the starting line or leave them lost in the woods. It is an exciting, comical, and entertaining display of endurance.

Barkley Marathon
Runners try to stick together when they can to help navigate the course.

I truly hope you take this quarantine time to choose one of these movies (if not all of them) and go on an endurance journey you may have never know existed. There are so many more, and maybe one day I will share others I have found to be quite entertaining, informative, or mind blowing. Watch the trailer HERE

Happy trail running, or movie watching, whichever comes first!

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