A majority of us ultrarunners and ultrarunning fans know the story of the 2010 Western States 100 (WS100): fast men Geoff Roes, Anton Krupicka, Kilian Jornet, and Hal Koerner ran like hell for 100 miles until Geoff emerged as the day’s victor. Unbreakable: The Western States 100 is a feature-length film by JB Benna that chronicles the race and folds in backstories about the runners and their lives.
I watched the film at its premier in San Francisco’s Sports Basement last Friday evening. In attendance was JB himself as well as Hal, Anton, Geoff, a passel of other runners with film cameos, and about 300 audience members. The film has solid entertainment value, as evidenced by the audience’s generally high spirits, its round of applause for each athlete’s finish during the film, and its standing O for JB.
I also got a good kick out of watching the film’s stars watch themselves. These dudes were there, a part of every mile of the race, but they seemed enthralled with the plot’s unfolding, too. They were also a little blushy-blushy, making it clear that us ultrarunners are not accustomed to seeing ourselves on the big screen.
The race’s story is told mostly through movement-based cinematography and a good dose of pre- and post-race interviews with the fab four. My favorite parts of the film are when the cameras rolled down the trail with the runners themselves. At times, the footage is raw and rough, like when Kilian’s pacer, Rickey Gates, captures the hottest part of the racing day on Cal Street with a GoPro camera and when JB catches runners slipping, sliding, and bumbling their way through the snowbound high country early on.
These parts of the film are also peephole views into some fairly intimate trail moments. The editing process saves us viewers the inevitable barfing, shi$ting, and peeing that takes place during a 100 miler, but the film does document the emotional and physical roller coaster that is a race of this distance. For example, Hal goes into the race with a bum ankle, and a limp forms in his running gait over the course of the day. It ain’t easy to see the poor guy’s body break down and force him to DNF.
JB does a wicked job in evolving deep backstories on the four stars by visiting their homes and documenting either their preparation for the 2010 WS100 or their world after the race. Viewers travel into Geoff’s Alaska life and see some of the old timers with whom he regularly shares the trails. We also meet Geoff’s girlfriend, Corle LaForce, and see her singing to her daughter, Elle. We watch an adorable moment when Elle bites into a too-hot omelet and no one but JB and the camera catches her reaction.
We venture, too, to the Rocky Mountain foothills with Anton and watch him run shirtless through brown grass in the dawn sun to see how he spends hours each day. We are window-ed into the home he shares with his girlfriend, Jocelyn Jenks, while they cook dinner. We also learn that Anton is less the Luddite than he’s often portrayed as when he chats on a cell phone.
The almost two-hour film is a journey, not only from the beginning to the end of a race, but it’s also a journey into what makes ultrarunners tick. The film’s titled “Unbreakable,” and it’s clear that Geoff remains the unbroken one when he crosses the line first at the 2010 WS100. The other film stars don’t win, but they don’t seem broken either. The film confirms that the 2010 WS100 is one race and one day of what are clearly four pretty sweet lives.
If there’s any message for this film’s audience—other than inspiring you to get out there and move it—it’s that ultrarunning doesn’t and shouldn’t break us. Rather, our sport helps build us to be good humans for each other and for this world. If you’re an ultrarunner, if you want to be an ultrarunner, or if you’re trying desperately to understand an ultrarunner, you have to see this film. No matter who you are, you’ll probably walk away from it feeling indestructible.
Call for Comments
- Who’s excited to see Unbreakable?
- If you’ve already seen it, what did you think? (Don’t go spoiling the ending. ;-) )
- The film’s website
- Screening locations
- Buy a copy from the filmmakers ($5 off retail)
- Below is the Unbreakable trailer