Running the Triple Crown of 200s takes an incredible amount of training, logistics, planning and dedication. Add in making a documentary about the experience and you would need to ratchet up all of the above work and more.
Instead of a typical post-ultra recovery of food, rest and more food, the docuseries created countless hours of editing and other post-production work for Rob Steger and Ryan Clayton.
“Running the Triple Crown” is a six-episode documentary that follows Steger as he looks to inspire runners and others, as he does with his podcast and his book. The first episode by Training for Ultra and Ryan Clayton Productions debuts May 28 on Amazon. The plan is for one episode to be released for six consecutive Thursdays. For a preview, check out the trailer.
But this journey starts out well before the first step of the race series that includes the Bigfoot 200, Tahoe 200 and Moab 240. The three races, held between August and October, total more than 100,000 feet in elevation gain — 42,000 for Bigfoot, 40,000 for Tahoe and about 29,500 for Moab.
A ‘perfect partnership’ built on risk
At the 2019 Western States, Steger met Clayton, who was filming Camille Herron. As they talked about working together, the project grew from a feature-length YouTube video to the Amazon series.
“I was looking to creatively film my Triple Crown efforts to inspire people to run,” Steger recalls. “The project was too big to try to tackle myself so I was looking to collaborate with an ultra-running filmmaker. I knew the quality of his work and took a risk with a young filmmaker. Ryan took an even larger risk with this project, as the odds of failure and not finishing the Triple Crown were extremely high. It was the perfect partnership.”
Clayton, who transitioned from triathlons to ultra running, is also an endurance coach and podcaster. He has also completed videos about various ultras and runners.
The project immediately interested him because he “really wanted to explore this world as I was genuinely fascinated, but also knew that many other people were as interested as I was and would really like to see what it’s like.”
In a sense, it was an extension of Clayton’s ultra-running journey.
“Ultra running for most people is a personal exploration to see how far we can go without giving up or giving in to the incredible odds that are against us,” he says. “Naturally as we conquer one distance, we are fascinated by the next, wondering if we can go farther. In ultra running, the 100-miler is a bucket list item most people are working toward. After several 100-milers some start to wonder about what is next. Only a small crowd attempts 200-milers. Even fewer try to run three in a year, and that is what this docuseries is about.”
Hundreds of miles, countless logistics
The series is a continuation of sorts from Steger’s book, “Training for Ultra.” In the book, he describes his journey from out-of-shape couch potato to inspiring ultra runner.
“Having finished Moab 240 in 2018, I wanted to push myself and test myself further and try to find a deeper meaning on the trails,” he says. “The episodes share my experience trying to run the Bigfoot 200, Tahoe 200 and Moab 240 all within approximately 60 days. The viewer is able to share miles with me. Ryan and I wanted to pull back the curtain on 200-milers and make them less scary to people. Plus, we wanted to share the stunning beauty of the trails these three races take place on.”
In order to convey that beauty it would require filming over hundreds of miles of remote terrain.
“The logistics of filming a 200-mile race in the wilderness are incredible,” Clayton says. “Bigfoot 200 was especially remote and I went three days without cell phone service during that race. The racers all had GPS trackers on them, but it didn’t always work and if you didn’t have service, you couldn’t take advantage of that system.”
In preparation Clayton had downloaded all the maps on his phone since GPS would work even without cell service. He also mapped out all the aid stations and marked where gas stations were located.
“The majority of the time I was on my own,” he says. “I would have to guess based on Rob’s pace on the last section, what time he would arrive at the next. I was incredibly lucky to be able to rent a Jeep each time that had an AC power source so I could plug a power strip in and charge all my gear throughout. I became very comfortable ‘car camping’ too! Each race was a five- to six-day trip for me and that was tough, but worth it to capture this.”
And Clayton captured everything.
“I'm not used to being filmed during aid station stops,” Steger says. “It was hilarious going about my normal routine of stuffing my face, while Ryan's camera was capturing it all in high def. There were times I stopped at an aid station and ate 2,500 calories on camera within 10 minutes, during segments of Bigfoot 200 between giant climbs. I was initially concerned this show was going to turn into a highlight reel of basically competitive food eating.”
In ultra races, especially ones measured in days, not only are calories important, anti-chafe protection is vital too.
“Other times I found myself chafing and applying anti-chafe before realizing the was on camera,” Steger says. “Luckily those anti-chafe applications didn't make it into the TV show. During Tahoe 200, the anti-chafe stick I used for specific areas on my body was stolen from my drop bag by a bear. The bear also bit into my packet of Hammer Nutrition Perpetuem prior to the looting of the anti-chafe stick. Apparently the bear preferred the chocolate flavor.”
A new ‘why’
As ultra runners, we often embrace doing hard things as a way to pursue our “why.” For Steger, his “why” changed along the way.
“My ‘why’ was initially to find a deeper meaning to life and test my limits,” he explains. “This quickly changed when my co-worker's daughter, Celia, began cancer treatments. My conceptual understanding of suffering and why we suffer vastly changed the more I learned about what she was experiencing. As a father of two children, I could not stand by and watch. I had to help her.”
Steger raised $70,000 for Celia's cause with a 401K run that took place in Moab.
“Waking up early before Moab 240 to get in early morning miles while all other 240 runners were sleeping felt very unnatural,” he says. “The moment I realized that David Goggins was likely sleeping and resting while I was out running was when I had the self-realization things had gotten a little extreme. The 401K was an absolutely perfect way to end the Triple Crown.”
With the upcoming release of the first episode, Clayton hopes to inspire runners.
“This docuseries is going to strike a chord with ultra runners and people who love being out in the wilderness,” he says. “They will identify with many parts throughout and will probably see many things that have happened to them as well. I think a broad spectrum of people will find motivation through this. The struggle to overcome an obstacle is something everyone can identify with.”
“Anyone who enjoys the outdoors will enjoy the docuseries, whether it be hiking, trail running or ultra marathons. The beauty of these three courses is stunning. This is for anyone wondering if the human body can run beyond a marathon or even a 50K. Or a 50-miler, 100K or 100-miler? Can people run 200-milers or even 240 miler? Lastly, if you are wondering what it's like to run a 200-miler in August, followed by a 200-miler in September, followed by a 250-miler in October, this is for you.”
Many who have read Steger’s book, or listened to his podcasts, have been able to redefine what is possible for them. For Steger, the Triple Crown and Celia have taught him a lot about himself. Among his biggest takeaways: his empathy for the suffering of others.
“There are a lot of people out there who suffer for all sorts of reasons, and many like Celia, for no cause of their own,” he says. “Throughout the races, I reflected on my personal physical suffering from countless miles without much time for recovery and had a better appreciation for suffering during an ultra race and how that compared to innocent children suffering through chemotherapy.”