Run While You Can – An Interview with Marion Mauran

On my hike of the Pacific Crest Trail in 2011, I came out of the woods at a campground not shown on my map. For the previous week of hiking, I had not seen more than a half dozen humans so it was a pleasant surprise to see the camp was occupied by two RVs and a well-stocked campground of camp chairs, a picnic table covered in food, and puffy-jacket wearing campers. “Hey, are you a thru-hiker?” I was approached by a man wearing a furry earmuff hat. “I just thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail,” he told me. “Come join us! Want some snacks?”  He didn’t need to ask me twice.

We gathered around their campfire, I was offered a big helping of spaghetti and meat sauce as we shared stories of our adventures along the PCT. They were filming a documentary about Sam Fox, a 24-year old Rhode Island runner attempting to set a new supported speed record and the overall fastest time for running the PCT southbound. More importantly, his run hoped to raise awareness for Parkinson’s disease, in honor of his mother, as well as raise $250,000 for Parkinson’s research.   The documentary crew filming his attempt was helmed by director Marion Mauran,  who invited me to stay at their camp and have dinner with them as they waited for Sam to rendezvous with them.

Sam walked into camp around 8pm. He sat down next to me and said hello. You wouldn’t know by looking at him that he just ran over forty miles that day. We chatted for a bit before he headed to bed. While I slept in my tent nearby, he woke up at 2 AM and continued his run south. (I would learn later that he covered nearly fifty miles that day.)  I would wake much later but before the crew was up and about.

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Now six years later, the efforts of Mauran have come to fruition as the new film, Run While You Can (@rwyc_doc). I had an opportunity to chat with her in preparation for the West Coast premiere at the Portland Film Festival on Saturday, November 4th at 9:45 PM.

Kolby Kirk: Thank you for taking the time to chat with me, Marion.

Marion Mauran: Meeting you, Kolby, at Ash Camp was such a gift! My crew and I so appreciated your openness and love for the trail. Thank you for allowing us to include you in Run While You Can, and for adding such a valuable perspective.

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KK: How did you get involved in Sam Fox’s resolution to run the Pacific Crest Trail to raise awareness for Parkinson’s disease?

MM: I was 23 and working as a production assistant in Los Angeles when I met Sam through a mutual friend from Rhode Island. I knew I wanted to make a film but figured it would be years before I was ready to try. But when Sam asked me if I’d be interested in making a documentary about his project I jumped at the chance. How hard could it be??

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KK: I was a bit shocked to find you and your crew along the McCloud River deep in the Shasta National Forest. I didn’t know that area was accessible by vehicle, let alone a big RV. It’s one thing to run the trail at Sam’s incredible pace, but what was the biggest logistical challenge for your team while trying to hopscotch down the trail to film him? Was it tough to rendezvous with Sam in certain areas?

MM: In a word: yes. Fortunately, there are many roads (some smoother than others) that cross the PCT, and so sometimes it was possible to drive straight up to a beautiful spot on the trail, park, wait for Sam to appear, and get a great shot. Most often, however, we would load our camera gear onto our backs, hike in to the trail and wait – sometimes for many hours – for him to come by. Initially, we thought we would be able to rely on a GPS tracking device to pinpoint Sam’s location but quickly learned that wireless technology was useless within the tall trees of the Pacific Northwest.

So, we discovered that by estimating Sam’s daily speed (factoring in things like energy level, elevation, and breaks for eating and sleeping) we could predict his arrival time at a given location. It didn’t always work. (At the Snowgrass Flats, for instance, we waited for several hours only to have a north-bound thru-hiker tell us that he had passed him hours ago, several miles south of where we were.) But we learned to adapt and be patient. And to never make the same mistake twice.

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KK: You lived out of an RV for most of the journey from Canada to Mexico (correct me if I’m wrong). Did you have a nickname for your RV? If so, what’s the story behind the name?

MM: Oh god… we had so many RVs! We were on the road filming for 46 out of Sam’s 62 days on the trail, so we rented different vehicles in different places. I think it was our second (or third?) one that broke down at the California state inspection line. The mechanic who towed us off the highway said we were lucky the engine didn’t explode…I’m sure it had nothing to do with all those bumpy fire roads we were driving on…

I think Sam’s support crew‘s RV was named Loretta. She was a Mercedes Navion, a very classy lady.

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KK: To capture the stunning aerial shots for the film, you took to flight in a Cessna the following August with photographer Jon-Michael Mooney. Did it change your impression of Sam’s journey seeing the trail from the air?

MM: Being able to fly over the Cascades in a tiny plane, with Jon-Michael leaning out the open window with his camera was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. And it almost didn’t happen!

We were in the Snoqualmie Pass area a year later shooting b-roll of the trail and by chance decided to drive back to Seattle that day. My uncle John (whom we were staying with) happened to mention that he had a climbing buddy, Barry Maas, who had his own plane and liked to fly around the Cascades for fun. Did we want him to call Barry and find out if he had any free time that evening? Hell yeah!

I knew from my experience filming on the trail how beautiful and daunting it was, but it was crucial for the audience to be able to understand that for themselves. The aerial cinematography allowed us to show the PCT in all its glory and give a sense of the scale and difficulty of the challenge.

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rwyc-05cKK: The film captures the stunning scenery of the West. What sections of WA-OR-CA did you find the most photogenic? Any favorite spots?

MM: I loved the North Cascades. Snowgrass Flats, the Kendall Katwalk, Cutthroat Pass. Those places make you feel like you are on another planet. Crater Lake is like that too.

I remember Scissors Crossing in Southern California being a cool spot and particularly photogenic.

Because of a snowstorm, we never got the chance to be in the High Sierras along the John Muir Trail. I’d love to go back and see it.

KK: Did you keep a written journal while in production?

MM: My sister, Cecily, who served as co-producer, stills photographer, and chef kept a blog about the making of the documentary, which you can read here.

KK: I hear that the screening of RWYC sold out at the Rhode Island International Film Festival in August. Can you share some of your experiences?

MM: It took me six years to finish Run While You Can. It was a frustrating and often lonely process. But when the day of the premiere finally arrived I realized that it had all been worthwhile. That’s a cliche but it’s true. I could sense that the audience was engaged – you can actually feel that when it happens. People laughed in the right places, gasped in the right places – they were enjoying it! I was so proud of our crew, and for the first time, proud of what I had accomplished.

KK: It’s exciting to hear that the west coast premiere of Run While You Can is happening at the Portland Film Festival. Can you share any thoughts about returning to the Pacific Northwest for this premiere?

MM: I am thrilled that Run While You Can was selected for the Portland Film Festival because it means I get to come back to the West Coast! Since moving to New York in 2012, it has been difficult to make time to visit. This afternoon, my mom and I are going to drive out to Cascade Locks so that she can walk on the PCT. It’s the coolest thing. The people of Portland have already been so welcoming to me. I am so grateful for their kindness, passion, and appreciation of the outdoors. And I hope they will see those things reflected in Run While You Can.

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KK: As a long distance hiker, it was great to see a familiar face in your film.

MM: When Sam’s journey was over, we were lucky enough to be able to interview Scott Williamson, who set the solo record that year, and his wife Michelle Turley. Scott and Michelle are both incredibly interesting (and also really nice people.) Though Sam is the main character of the film he is not the only character, and Scott’s presence and perspective added a richness to the story that I never could have imagined.

KK: Thanks for your time and the beautiful film, Marion. If you live in the Portland area, you can catch Run While You Can at the Portland Film Festival on Saturday, November 4th at 9:45 PM.

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