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How to Run 100 Miles

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In the outdoors world, Denver-based author and blogger Brendan Leonard, 39, of Denver, Colorado, has forged a unique and laugh-out-loud-funny path. His most recent book, 60 Meters to Anywhere, is Leonard’s poignant recounting of a tumultuous transition to adulthood. Recently Leonard, creator of the popular twice-weekly “Semi-Rad” blog, has been delving into film-making as well, with his cultural and outdoor-themed films, Ace and the Desert Dog, Chocolate Spokes and The Time Travelers

His new film, How to Run 100 Miles, follows Leonard and a friend as they agree to race the Run Rabbit Run 100-miler, a 102.9-mile race in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Leonard and his friend wanted a tough race for their first 100-miler, and wanted to run together. The Run Rabbit Run, a relatively young 100-miler with 20,000 feet of elevation gain throughout the course, looked challenging enough.

Leonard and his companion train hard for the race and then … well, you’ll just have to watch The film was released Tuesday, and is available to view here.

We assigned Run Amok columnist Doug Mayer to interview Brendan Leonard about the film. Here’s what went down.

Why this idea for a film?

My friend Jayson (Simes, 38, also of Denver) and I worked our way into ultrarunning over the past two and a half years. We signed up for our first 100-mile race in January, a year ago. I’ve always wanted to tell Jayson’s story because he’s fought through so much adversity in life (dyslexia, broken home, poverty, homelessness, bullying) with relentless positivity. I thought a 100-mile race would be the perfect narrative thread since it’s such a great illustration of his life philosophy, which is basically: persist until you succeed.

Let’s get psychoanalytical. Why do you like challenges?

I don’t know any other way to stay fit besides signing up for something I’m terrified of, so I have to train for it. Or, maybe I feel like if you’re not consistently challenging yourself, you’re not growing and evolving.

Jayson’s high-school guidance counselor told him that, “College isn’t really for people like you.” After Run Rabbit Run, is ultra-racing for people like you?

I’m not fast at these things, but after the Run Rabbit Run, my friend Brody Leven pointed out that I had zero injuries aside from one blister on my pinky toe, and that might be a sign that I’m “made for these things” (his words, not mine). I’m not competitive at all, but I would like to improve on this tendency to get exhausted after about 80 percent of any race and then basically phone it in from there. I’d like to push myself more during those final sections.

You said you don’t even like running. Is that really true?

I prefer sitting down and eating pizza, but running is more fulfilling and better for you. I definitely don’t like it, but I like having done it. I think if I were to be honest, I like running about 10 percent of the time I’m doing it. And I’m happier on the days I do run, but not usually while running.

You must really hate running now.

It’s complicated. But, yes, in the past two years, I have hated running more frequently than any other time in my life, because I have run more miles than any other time in my life.

You logged 1,200 miles training for Run Rabbit Run. What surprised you in that process?

I guess that nothing broke down. I had so much pain and inflammation during training that I thought for sure I’d injure myself before the race started, but nothing serious happened.

What about the filmmaking? That’s a huge project, too—its own ultra, in a way. What surprises did you have in the making of How to Run 100 Miles?

Making the film ended up being more emotionally exhausting than the race. I started shooting footage of us training, and interviews with Jayson, in February 2017, and didn’t finish until January 2018. We had something like 40 hours of footage total, and chopping that down and organizing it into a 28-minute film is a maddening process, especially when it’s your friend’s story and you want to get it absolutely right. Also, I’m on screen a lot, and watching yourself on film is like that thing where you hear your voice recorded and you hate the sound of it, but it’s way worse when it’s your face.

What would you like to say to Fred Abramowitz, the race director Run Rabbit Run? Remember, Trail Runner is a family web site.

The race organizers were awesome. I don’t know if I’ll ever fully understand the work that goes into putting on an event that a third of the entrants don’t finish. There’s a scene at the finish line in the film where Jayson completely breaks down after gritting it out with a painful injury for 29+ miles that I’ve watched at least 30 times by now, and every time, I watch Fred Abramowitz’s face because it really captures the soul of the event in so many ways.

You interview Meghan Hicks, one of the really thoughtful voices in trail running these days. She says, “Commit to seeing those grievances through.” You saw them through. And there were some serious ones along the way. But which grievance would you most like to punch in the face?

I’m just going to say that I need to figure out a way to prevent chafing of one male body part next time, and you can probably guess what it is. It’s just, you know, at Mile 90, I’m going, “Really? That too?” It seemed a bit much.

Spoiler alert: During the race, you develop the concept of a potato-chip-flavored electrolyte drink. I assume you’ve come to your senses.

I absolutely still love the idea. If anyone from Kettle Chips is reading this, I’d love to chat about a sponsorship. I eat the shit out of those things during long runs.

You point out that Jayson’s whole life has been based on not quitting. Neither of you guys quit. And it looked ugly out there at times. Congratulations.

Thanks. If there’s one thing we’re good at, it’s making things ugly.

Doug Mayer lives in Chamonix, France, and manages Run the Alps. He hopes one day to do the French voiceover for Brendan Leonard in How to Run 100 Miles.