I love telling people about the latest micro-documentary we're working on. It usually goes something like this.
"So who is this runner girl you're filming?"
"Her name is Annie Weiss. She's an ultra runner based out of the Milwaukee area. She's attempting to set the fastest known time for the Ice Age Trail in Wisconsin. She's shooting for 18/19 days which means she'll be putting in around 60 miles a day."
"...... (silence).... dang..." Usually followed by a look of disgust at the thought of running that much.
It always makes me chuckle. Just the audacious nature of Annie's challenge. Most people can't understand ultra running let alone FKT's. The idea of why someone would put themselves through that type of physical and mental challenge over such a long period of time just because they want to is completely foreign. But for runners or athletes or anyone who has that fire in their belly, that deep drive to push their own limits, it's exciting. It's inspiring and it's contagious.
I first met up with Annie a week before her FKT attempt. I visited her workplace, interviewed her and her fiancé Brian and got some footage of her on the trails near her home where she logs countless miles.
A lot of things stood out on that first encounter. One, Annie is insanely driven and has mental discipline that blows me away. Two, she was more than prepared for the run both mentally and physically. And finally, she had unwavering support from Brian. They make a really great team.
Honestly, I left feeling 100% sure she would crush this attempt.
We made plans to meet her up in St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin where she would start her attempt. At 5 a.m. on a horribly cold, windy and rainy morning we drove out to the trail head with Annie and Brian. Annie seemed calm with a tinge of excitement. They talked through their gear list, discussed the plan and got her timing chip ready.
With nothing more than the sound of the rushing falls behind her, Annie took the first few steps to begin her journey. No cheering. No crowds. No music. Just Brian clapping as she disappeared into the cold haze. The challenge was underway.
We stuck with Annie and Brian that day. Following Brian to the various rest stops where he made sure Annie had dry clothes to change into and food whenever she needed it. It was a merciless, bone chilling cold. The kind you'll only be able to shake off if you sit in front of a fire bundled in blankets. Yet Annie persevered. At each aid station stop she seemed focused and ready to keep cranking out miles. We were so impressed. No doubt about it, this girl had grit.
We left them in the early afternoon and the following week we stayed in touch with Brian to track her progress. On day 10 Brian text me and said Annie was calling it quits. I had seen her post on Instagram with this picture and I knew things were rough.
I asked if they would be up for us coming back up for some more footage. It was a tough ask because I couldn't begin to know how hard this was for both of them. Not meeting a goal you've prepared and trained for is so challenging. But they were more than willing to have us up.
We walked into their hotel room and we sat down and Annie just started filling us in on everything. Processing her decision. I was so impressed by those two. They processed with grace. Handled themselves with poise. So much disappointment but so much self control.
We filmed some more and I gave Annie a hug goodbye. We'd only seen each other a handful of times but I had quickly grown so attached to her and Brian and their story. I knew the big challenge ahead of her was not healing physically, it would be the mental healing of accepting the failure of the first attempt.
I don't like to use the word failure but I think it's a word we can all identify with. There's a fear that walks hand in hand with that word and while I certainly don't view Annie's first attempt as a failure I knew the emotions she would battle after her long drive home would be those that accompany that word, failure.
Since that time Annie has healed, blogged through her mental process and is hard at work training for the Leadville 100 in Leadville, Colorado this August. She's not done with the Ice Age Trail. She's coming back for more this Fall and I can't wait to see the show she will put on. I have no doubt she will crush it this time around. I have no doubt she will close the gap between the men and women's record for the Ice Age Trail FKT. And I have no doubt she will inspire so many people along the way. Like so many wise individuals before us have said, it truly is how we pick ourselves back up again that defines us. It's the perseverance in spite of heartbreak and disappointment. Annie is tough as nails and she'll be back for more. In fact, I think it speaks even deeper to the stellar athlete that she is to accept the outcome of her first attempt and yet come back to accomplish what she set out to do.
Annie, we don't take our documentary projects lightly. We are humbled you let us in on your journey. To get a behind the scenes look and to be able to shove a camera in your face when you least want it is an honor. We hold the task of telling your story with great responsibility and we can't wait for the world to see you meet your goal this fall.
Stay tuned everyone, this is a journey you won't want to miss.
by Carrie Highman
Owner, Dream Lens Media LLC