Last night I was lucky enough to attend the premiere of the RunNation Film Festival here in Sydney in front of a sell-out crowd, all of whom had come to watch some of the latest and most inspiring short films about running.
Except the more the evening went on, the more I realised that actually what we were watching was not really about running at all. As organiser, Keith Hong puts it, “Running is mere the medium.”
Now, many readers of this website will know that I have a slightly tongue in cheek view of the whole ‘running inspiration’ narrative. But when you drill below the surface, the theme of many of the films, while they may focus on buzzwords such as ‘resilience’, ‘suffering’ and ‘inspiration’, they’re really about the notion of ‘equality’ and that running truly does bring this about.
When you look at all of the crap going on in the world right now, no matter what your gender, social or political persuasion, when you get onto the trails or the road in a race or with a group of mates, we’re all equal.
The centrepiece film for RunNation is the rather excellent ‘Mira’, filmed and directed by Lloyd Belcher. I like Lloyd and I get on well with him. I try to meet up whenever I’m in Hong Kong and have spent some good time with him chewing the fat and hearing more about his life. He’s done an amazing job with this film, balancing the story of Mira’s rise to international trail running star with a slightly more deeply rooted social theme of inequality in Nepal.
And really what I came to realise throughout and in retrospect was that all of the films were connected to this theme of equality.
There are many themes connected to running, but equality is a major one because what running, and in particular ultra running does is to strip a person back to their very basic existence. It doesn’t matter who you are, a CEO, unemployed or a cancer survivor, everyone out there running is on an equal standing regardless of social status, health or political persuasion. And this is what I love about running, the bullshit gets left at the start line and we all stand there as equals.
The main emphasis for ‘Mira’ is to follow her journey on the path to win the Skyrunning World Champs at her first attempt. I won’t go into too much detail to spoil the film for everyone yet to see it, but the true inspiration behind the film about Mira is the need for her to be a role model for women in Nepal.
Life in Nepal is hard for women, very hard. Mira is a shining light because of where she has come from and how she shows that women are and should be of equal standing. Not only on the trails, but in public life too. It’s a very important story and one that needs telling even more. Running and in particular trail running is full of so-called role models. Mira is a highly worthy role model who through her running can genuinely attempt to bring about social change in Nepal.
One of the films I most enjoyed about the night was a short cartoon style film that focused on a character who was ‘always last’. While slightly left of field and at times utterly ‘strange’, the story was once again underpinned by a sense of equality – that everyone out there is on an equal standing in the race. There’s a great quote I often refer to in my own life “the world is run by people who turn up”, and in no uncertain terms is this more true in running. Yes, we have varying degrees of ability in a race, but things don’t often go to plan in races and those who are ‘always last’ will at some point find themselves doing far better than they ever expected.
Here in Australia, we call this, ‘doing a Bradbury’ or someone’s ‘Bradbury moment’:
Steven Bradbury is best known for his memorable and unlikely gold medal win in the men’s short track 1000 metres event at the Salt Lake City 2002 Winter Olympic Games, owing to three improbable events.
Bradbury won his heat convincingly, however, it appeared that his run would end when the draw for the quarter-finals was made: Bradbury was allocated to the same race as Apolo Anton Ohno, the favourite from the host nation, and Marc Gagnon of Canada, the defending world champion. Only the top two finishers from each race would proceed to the semifinals. Bradbury finished third in his race and thought himself to be eliminated, but Gagnon was disqualified for obstructing another racer, allowing him to advance to the semi-finals.
Bradbury’s strategy from the semi-final onwards was to cruise behind his opponents and hope that they crashed, as he realised he was slower and could not match their raw pace. His reasoning was that risk-taking by the favourites could cause a collision due to a racing incident, and if two skaters (or more) fell, the remaining three would all get medals.
In his semi-final race, Bradbury was in last place, well off the pace of the medal favourites. However, three of the other competitors in the semi-final—defending champion Kim Dong-sung of South Korea, multiple Olympic medallist Li Jiajun of China and Mathieu Turcotte of Canada—crashed, paving the way for the Australian to take first place and advancing him through to the final.
In the final, Bradbury was again well off the pace when all four of his competitors (Ohno, Ahn Hyun-Soo, Li and Turcotte) crashed out at the final corner while jostling for the gold medal. This allowed the Australian, who was around 15 m behind with only 50 m to go, to avoid the pile-up and take the victory. A shocked Bradbury became the first person from any southern hemisphere country to win a Winter Olympic event.
It just goes to show, we all start as equals and if you turn up, you just don’t know what might happen.