I’m a huge fan of documentaries and basically wet my pants over documentaries about running, so when I came across the trailer for “Miles & Trials: Running Towards 2012”, a story about super-fast women, I couldn’t wait to track it down. But the film isn’t finished yet. For good reason: some of the women have qualified for the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials, which are happening in Houston next weekend, so there’s no ending yet; and Wendy Shulik, the one- woman editor/producer/storyteller, has a few more miles to go before the movie is done. (To qualify for the Trials, you have to run a blazing sub-2 hour, 46-minute marathon. Yep.)
I spoke to Wendy this week as she prepares for her final race shoot next weekend.
How did this project begin?
I’ve been a recreational runner since I was 15, and became passionate about following women’s running when Joan Benoit Samuelson won Olympic gold in the first women’s marathon in 1984. I eventually moved from Los Angeles to Chicago, where I live two miles from the starting line of the Chicago Marathon. I signed up for the 2008 Banco Popular Chicago Half-Marathon, and ran with my camera. I had just bought a little Canon PowerShot and was obsessed with it; I would interview everyone I knew, even the mailman.
Anyway, it was raining before the start and I had given a trash bag to this lean, young woman to stay dry. Her name was Alona Banai; I had no idea who she was but she looked fast, so I conducted a short interview with her before the race. At the turn around, she was in second place and I stopped running to film her and cheer her on. I realized then that there were a ton of fast women in Chicago—and the idea for my film took root.
After being laid off from my job as an executive assistant in 2010 and without many job prospects, I realized it would be a good time to see what I could do. I took my severance, bought a MacBook Pro and Final Cut Pro editing software and posted a message on Facebook asking if there were any Chicago women who were trying to qualify for the Olympic Trials, and was overwhelmed with responses.
Are you still following the same women?
A couple I started with dropped out; now, I’ve got six women that I’ve covered basically over two years. Unfortunately, only one of the six—Christina Overbeck —made the 2:46 qualifying standard, but that’s not really the story. The theme is the power of running, of loving something so much you can’t not do it, of women from all over the country having the same dream and giving everything they have simply to get to the Trials. Only three women will make the Olympic team, and more than 200 are running it, so the underlying story is also about setting a goal and having a dream.
One of your runners, Suzanne Ryan, is a mom of four. How did her story shake out?
She had an amazing summer: She set PRs in every distance she raced, including a 1:19:50 in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago Half Marathon, which put her on pace to easily come in under the 2:46 standard in the full marathon. But during a 5K, she felt something pop in her calf and she never fully recovered. Her last shot to qualify for the Trials was at the California International Marathon (CIM) in early December. She was running with a pack of women who were on pace to qualify, but dropped off pace at around Mile 20. She still finished in an incredibly impressive 2:50:06.
The race was amazing, though. 25 women qualified, and they stood at the finish line cheering each other on and laughing and crying: It was a great scene. So glad I caught it.
You’ve shot at CIM, Grandma’s Marathon, Houston for the USA Half- Marathon Championships, the Cleveland Marathon, and Chicago Marathon. How are you funding this all?
On a shoestring budget. I haven’t done the math, but I think I’ve raised between $10,000 and $15,000, and I’m immensely grateful. Some people have donated their frequent flier miles so I could travel to races, others have donated regularly. One man donated $26.20 from each of his paychecks.
Once I get all the footage in the can, I’m going to need another $25,000 to get it completed. I have knowledge and tenacity, but I need to hire somebody to help me.
How has being around the women’s racing scene for over two years impacted your own running?
Well, producing the film, shooting freelance videos for local running companies, plus searching for a job has taken over my life. I don’t have kids—and bow down to the women who do: It seems like the more they have to do, the more they manage to get done. They can run 90 miles a week, and I can barely find the time to get my laundry done.
I started having back problems after the half-marathon in Chicago—turns out I have a herniated disc—and have just started running again. So I’m back to square one, which means doing a run/walk combo. It’s hard to stomach, but it’s worth it. As I’ve learned again and again through this experience and following these women, running isn’t just a physical thing. It’s emotionally, mentally, and spiritually fulfilling, as is my passion for telling these athletes’ stories.
If I knew what I was getting into back in 2009, I’m not sure I would’ve done it. But I’m immensely honored and privileged to tell these stories, and hopefully inspire a few people along the way.
If you would like to help Wendy get her film completed, please consider donating to her Film Fund; click on the red donate button in the lower left hand corner on this page.