By the time the credits rolled at the end of the new documentary 100: Head/Heart/Feet, about an attempt by runner Zak Wieluns to complete the 2013 Vermont 100, I was exhausted and exhilarated. The feature-length film premiered at the Windcrossing Film Festival on May 3 at Colby-Sawyer College in New London, N.H.
I will admit that I may not be the most objective reviewer, given that I wanted to like the film even before I saw it. But in the end, I didn’t just like it. I was truly blown away. Despite being new to the documentary genre (or perhaps because they are new to it), filmmakers Mike Mooney and Will Peters have crafted a beautiful story of the physical and emotional pains and joys experienced by runners—and those who support them—as they push their bodies and minds to their limits. The film starts with a riveting scene of the aid station at mile 89 of the race, and from there it weaves the story of Zak’s history as a runner and history with this race (which he had twice previously tried to complete) with footage of the 2013 race, along the way capturing not only the images but the true essence of the race.
While I am reluctant to share too many details with those who haven’t yet seen the film, there are certain scenes that have been playing in my mind since the movie ended. One highlight is a scene in which Zak has his VO2 max tested by running on a treadmill while wearing a mask. The speed and incline of the treadmill are steadily increased until Zak signals that he must stop. And thank goodness he did stop, because I was getting tired just from clutching the arms of my seat. The camerawork and editing make you feel like you’re the one on the treadmill, right down to the sweating, fatigue, and nausea. Words can’t do this scene justice.
Another strength of the film is the portrayal of teamwork in what seems, at first, like a solitary sport. While Zak is the star of the film, several others play equally important roles. Zak’s wife, Lenka, shares her mixed emotions as she supports him through every step of his journey but worries that he’ll be hurt and wishes that sometimes they could just have a quiet Sunday morning at home. Zak is crewed at the race by his sister Sarah and his Trail Monster teammate Ryan Triffit. Sarah’s care for her brother is genuinely touching. And Ryan wisecracks throughout the race, but he also shows his softer side as he helps Zak stay mentally strong. The filmmakers set out to show not just the individual experience of running but also the camaraderie that is formed during an ultramarathon between runners, volunteers, crews, and other supporters. They were tremendously successful in doing so.
When answering questions after the showing, the filmmakers said that the highlight of the process was seeing Zak (who arrived at the premiere wearing his Vermont 100 buckle) finish the race. The beauty of the film is that now so many people will get to share that experience for many years to come.
For more information on where to see the film, check the 100: Head/Heart/Feet Facebook page. Watch the trailer for the film below: