The large, white wall at the front of the Ultra Running Company is no stranger to inspirational images. The running store just outside of uptown Charlotte has become a hub of the trail and ultra-distance running community in part by projecting live feeds of important races from all over the country. But the story shown above the storefront’s window on this rainy night was a bit different.
In a sign of its growing place in the world of running and participant sports as a whole, Charlotte was chosen as the location for the East Coast premiere of This Is Your Day, and the Ultra Running Company served as host.
The feature-length debut for director Myles Smythe follows three runners leading up to and participating in one of the most prestigious ultra-distance races in the country—the Western States 100.
The subjects were chosen because they represent the different types of athletes in the sport. Rob Krar, at the top of the sport and (spoiler alert!) winner of this year’s WS 100, is the laser-focused champion. Caroline Boller is the newcomer, running her first 100-mile race and striving to balance the incredible demands of the sport with the responsibilities of caring for young children. Karl Hoagland is the veteran who, at age 50, is as concerned about sharing the experience with his family as where he finishes his seventh WS-100.
This movie isn’t just a showcase of the beauty of mountain trails—although the scenery from each runner’s home training ground is stunning. Nor is this simply an inspirational film about how difficult it is to compete in an ultra-endurance event. But it’s hard not to be moved to action watching the typically stoic Krar describe his goosebumps when his wife finished her pre-race pump-up speech with, “Rob, this is your f#@$ing day.”
At its heart, This Is Your Day is a documentary not about ultra-running—it could have easily focused on elite marathoners or Ironman triathletes. It’s a story about the people who surround those that compete in grueling endurance sports. It’s about Hoagland’s aging parents and teenage children, his race crew, worrying about him when he’s late to turn up at a checkpoint. And it’s about the intense concern Boller’s family expresses when, for just a brief moment, heat and exhaustion seem to crack her seemingly impenetrable, upbeat nature.
Attending the premiere, along with a room full of Charlotte runners who have, collectively, thousands of race miles under their 100-miler belts, director Myles Smythe offered us his insights on the movie, the message, and his love of the sport.
Can you give us an overview of the film?
We followed three athletes while they prepared for Western States 100-mile endurance run. We showed the perspective, not just of the athlete as an individual, but those that are impacted or involved—their family or friends and a stranger they may meet along the way that help them accomplish their goal. And the sacrifices they make as a family along their journey and preparation.
Why choose these three people?
We didn’t want to show it from the champion-only perspective. We wanted to make it more familiar to all viewers of all different speeds or talents and abilities. We liked the idea of getting a rookie runner battling the challenges of a new sport and being a parent and being a wife.
Karl Hoagland is the more experienced runner. He’s 50 years old. He’s run the race six times already and has had great success. He’s been doing this for a long time and has this story to share about how ultra-running has impacted his family, not just at present, but over the years.
What’s your connection to the running community?
I’ve been an ultra-marathon runner for approximately six years, and it’s definitely a lifestyle for me. That and filmmaking are equal parts in my life. I moved a few years ago right next to a trail. Pretty much all I’m thinking about is the next run or the next race. So I guess I know from a deep, passionate level what the viewers might be going through when they’re watching the film as well as the participants in the film that we follow.
How do you relate ultra-running to making a film like this?
For myself, as a filmmaker, as I watched the film as it was being created, everything the athletes say about how they should live their life—tackling big goals, taking on challenges—I just related that to everything else I’m doing in my life...So if they’re putting a lot of effort into their goals, I just think, “Wow, that’s me making this film right now.”
Every time I run a race I might be running for a PR, improving my performance from a previous time. So every time I create a new film or video I immediately look at my work and think about how I can make it better next time, make different choices. The composition, the camera angle, or even just interview questions. I would say I feel like I did this project to the best of my abilities at the time and will hopefully be a step for the next project.
What was the best part of this project for you personally?
As a runner, being able to hang out with and get to know—and really ask questions of—people I really look up to. Even as if they were my coach. I asked them questions and integrated it into the film, but I walked away with a lot of my own new knowledge and motivation for my own running.
Why do you think this movie needed to be made?
Usually it’s just about the athlete. Maybe the athlete is telling you how it impacts their family, but I don’t think we’ve ever heard from (the family and friends). By hearing it from their perspective—how the training or participating in the race impacts that person—I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film that dives into that direction of the story. Seeing it kind of from their eyes.
The final minutes of footage capture one of the most touching and inspirational events in the sport of ultra-running. An introverted champion and unlikely hero share a moment that raises its own share of goosebumps. To experience it for yourself, keep This is Your Day on your watch list. It continues its limited release around North America this year with a wider release in 2016.