It all began when Kara Wilson asked her friend Jennifer McMahon, a running coach, if she wanted to run a 50-mile ultra marathon with her. McMahon, who hadn’t raced a marathon since having kids, hesitated initially. She had assumed her long-distance running days were over.
“But then when (Wilson) planted the seed in my head, I thought, ‘well this ultramarathon is going to happen with or without me, so I might as well go for it,’” McMahon explained. From there the two everyday American women from California set off on a challenge to prove that with passion, determination, and support, ordinary people can achieve extraordinary feats. Such as, in this case, running an ultramarathon. Now, this week, their story is heading to the red carpet premiering at the LA Femme International Film Festival on Saturday, Oct. 17.
“Road to 50 Miles,” a documentary film directed by Brandy Johnson, chronicles the journey of Wilson and McMahon as they train for and race The American River 50; a 50-mile ultramarathon that begins in Folsom and ends in Auburn, Cal. Neither of the women have ever run an ultra before, nor are they particularly competitive distance runners. My personal favorite line is Wilson’s frank description of her fueling strategy: “I’m more like a cheeseburger, pizza type of girl,” she asserts. “And beer. I don’t really care about nutrition.” (Although, she does add that she began to take hydration and consumption of electrolytes more seriously.)
But what they lack in experience and strategy they make up for in enthusiasm and determination. They may not be seasoned ultra runners, but they have each other, their running community, and, of course, the sacred text: “Running Your First Ultra: Customizable Training Plans for Your First 50K to 100-mile Race” by Krissy Moehl.
Ultimately, the film is as inspirational as it is down-to-earth, unfiltered, and relatable. These are not olympian-level athletes accomplishing superhuman feats. Wilson and McMahon are just your average American women proving that with courage, community, and tenacity, everyday people can accomplish extraordinary things.
On Becoming Your Own Hero
The film aims to inspire anyone to challenge themselves in life, with Wilson stating at one point, “I want someone to become their own hero, don’t look for someone else to do that for you.” But in particular, the film is likely to resonate with women, and especially mothers.
It’s noted early in the film that men dominate ultrarunning, finishing at a rate of 66% as compared to women’s 34%. When the camera zooms in on the training and lives of Wilson and McMahon, both of whom are moms, it’s easy to guess why this might be. The added constraints and challenges women with children face when pursuing something as time and energy consuming as an ultramarathon is well documented. They struggle to balance their training needs (getting in the miles, injury prevention, self-care, etc.) with household duties (laundry, preparing meals). And though the women both appear to have supportive husbands, it’s well known that most domestic work statistically still falls on the shoulders of women, adding an extra constraint to any independent pursuits.
Eventually, Wilson tells her family that they are going to be on their own for laundry until her race is over. The film makes the case that the deep sense of fulfillment that comes from making certain sacrifices to chase down an individual goal, however trying the feat may be, is worth it to feel alive.
How to Watch
The documentary was selected for the LA Femme International Film Festival (Oct. 15-Oct. 18), which focuses on platforming women filmmakers. Road to 50 Miles premiered on Saturday Oct. 17.