The Mountain Runners: The story of the Mount Baker Marathon

by Sarah Luna

Between 1911 and 1913, Whatcom County was home to the first ultra marathon – the Mount Baker Marathon. Originating at sea level, the marathon ended up on the icy summit of Mount Baker. Contestants had the option of taking either a train or automobile to the trails and from there they went by foot. All for a grand prize totaling $100. It was dangerous, it was intense and it was here.
Producers and directors Todd Wagner and Brian Young took an in-depth look at this event in their new docu-drama The Mountain Runniers, showing May 24 at the Pickford Film Center. “I really think that this is America’s first adventure race, first of its kind that we know of, even today we don’t have ultramarathons going over glaciers. Still unique in that nature,” Wagner said about his interest in the project. Half documentary, half reenactment this movie features a high caliber cast of modern extreme athletes, actors, and scholars to offer their perspective on these people back in 1911 – who were by no means professional athletes. The cast includes William B. Davis, of the X-Files; Scott Jurek, World Champion Ultramarathon Champion; Krissy Moehl, Endurance Runner; Chad Kellogg, Alpine Speed Climber; and many others. As well as the voice of Kevin Tighe, of LOST, as the narrator.
Audiences can expect to be captivated by authenticity to the story thanks to a multitude of sources the filmmakers used in developing their screenplay including vocal recordings of some of the actual participants, interviews with descendants of the racers, and lots of research. “Materials kept snowballing,” claimed Wagner. A story that in the past was looked at on a surface level will now have a fresh new approach diving deeper into what was going on and why it matters. There is more to the story than just the dangerous marathon. Reporters claimed to have witnessed human horseraces, “Not the image that the elite wanted this country to have the image of,” Wagner explained. Special to this project was the music. Pretty Little Feet, a local band, provided period music for the film and used instruments from the time. When The Mountain Runners had a pre-screening in Concrete, Wagner said, “All the questionnaires came back with fabulous music, don’t change it.” Anyone who watches this film will not be disappointed, and any local should feel proud of their county’s heritage.
Beyond the story itself one of the things that’s beautiful about the movie is how people whether they be screenwriters, own a helicopter, or play music, passionately wanted to be involved. “Some it’s a local pride, some know the story and are excited to be a part of it, some think it’s cool, some ask for their name in the credits,” Wagner explained when talking about how our community helped to make this film not only possible but authentic as could be. A story like this really brings a community together and that was made evident in not only the film but in the production behind it.