Unbreakable Is “The Perfect Storm” Of Ultrarunning

JB Benna's film captures all the drama of the 2010 Western States 100.

JB Benna’s film captures all the drama of the 2010 Western States 100. 

“It was the perfect storm.”

Filmmaker JB Benna often says this line when referring to his film, “Unbreakable: The Western States 100.” Benna isn’t talking about bad weather threatening George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg’s boat in the North Atlantic, however, but rather about four ultrarunners converging in the mountains of California to battle against one another in a 100-mile foot race. For the first time in the race’s history, four of the top ultrarunners in the world were entered in the Western States Endurance Run with the same goal: to win. Benna’s film follows these runners as they prepare for and battle it out at the toughest, longest running, and most prestigious 100-mile race in the world.

Shadowing 36-year-olds Geoff Roes and Hal Koerner, along with young guns Anton Krupicka, 28, and Killian Jornet, 24, the film explores the lives of these runners for the weeks leading up to the 2010 Western States race and follows them on the trail on the day of race. After trying to make similar documentaries of the race for several years prior, Benna knew this would be the year to finally make it happen. “I knew [the 2010 Western States] would be too good to miss,” Benna said. “[Making the film] was really spurred on by the level of competition like I’d never seen before.”

With a 10-pound camera strapped to his back, Benna ran more than 30 miles the day of the race, capturing the raw emotions of these runners. “It was a unique perspective,” Benna said. “We got to film parts of the course that you don’t often see.” And Benna was not just referring to the scenery. Benna was a fly on the wall, showing Roes as he camped out alone in Squaw Valley, Calif., the week before the race, the awkward initial introduction between Krupika and Roes, Koerner’s worry for his girlfriend who was also running the race, and Jornet as he slid down near-vertical snow banks.

Even though most viewers of the film already know the outcome, watching the drama unfold as the top runners trade leads makes it easy to forget how the race actually ends. Benna profiles each contestant as if he won the race. And, considering each of their impressive backgrounds, it really was any man’s race. Roes had won every 100-mile he had ever entered to that point in his career, Jornet had won the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc the previous two years, Krupicka was logging insane amounts of mileage and winning many races to boot, and Koerner had won Western States the year before in 2009.

But only one could claim victory.  “Not everyone can win,” Benna said. And despite a finish, win or DNF, the film attests that all of “their spirits are unbreakable.”

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