Last month, Boston College alumnus Joe McConaughy ’13 released a film, The Run for Colin, for free viewing on the Internet. The short film documents McConaughy’s 53-day, six-hour, and 37-minute run along the 2,660-mile-long Pacific Crest Trail in the summer of 2014.
McConaughy, who beat the previous record set by Santa Monica College Track coach Josh Garrett by six days, brought a team of friends along with him on his journey. They were in charge of filming his run, supplying him with food, water, and shelter, and turning the footage into a short film.
McConaughy completed the run in honor of his cousin Colin, who passed away in 2012 at the age of two. Just two days before his death, Colin was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma, a rare form of brain cancer.
The team wanted the film to be light-hearted, Michael Dillon, BC ’13, said, to reflect the upbeat attitudes that they had on the trail.
“Joe mentioned to me how he wanted this trip to be something that celebrated Colin’s life, which really stuck with me,” Dillon said. “So we knew that the film could be sad, but we much preferred it to have a lighter note.”
On Sept. 13, McConaughy’s film was shown at the Trail Film Festival, which was a series that included three full-length movies and several shorter films. The films were shown at a few dozen movie theaters across the country.
The team did not, however, obtain a film permit, so they are unable to receive profit from it. Because they have no money for marketing, their advertising campaign focused around social media, articles and word-of-mouth.
The team also interviewed Colin’s parents three weeks before the film came out. Colin’s mother, Andrea, provided the team with videos of Colin’s childhood for the film. Because of the run, McConaughy said, Colin’s parents were able to open up about the tragedy that they endured.
“The reason that [Andrea] is so intense about documenting things is because she has a very different perception of the brevity of life,” McConaughy said.
“Joe mentioned to me how he wanted this trip to be something that celebrated Colin’s life, which really stuck with me. So we knew that the film could be sad, but we much preferred it to have a lighter note.”
-Michael Dillon, BC ’13
McConaughy ran on BC’s track and cross country teams, so he explained that he was already running between 60 and 70 miles a week. To prepare for his PCT run, he said, he began doing longer, slower runs and going to the weight room three times a week to build muscle.
Even though McConaughy said he ate about 8,000 calories a day while running, over the course of the 53-day run, he lost 24 pounds and all of his body fat. Within a day and a half of completing the run, however, McConaughy said he gained 13 pounds back.
McConaughy said that his team was essential to the success of his run. Jordan Hamm, BC ’13, and McConaughy were in charge of figuring out the logistics of the run—mapping out the checkpoints and the trail—while Dillon and childhood friend Jack Murphy focused on the production of the film.
Getting his food, water, shelter, and clothing, McConaughy said, was difficult. Very often, the team would have to hike to reach him. At other points, he would not see them for days at a time—he once went 84 hours and 180 miles in the Sierra Nevadas without seeing the team, which forced him to carry more food in his backpack than usual.
The first 10 days were the most challenging, McConaughy said. Although the route through Southern California was the flattest stretch of his run, the temperature reached over 100 degrees. Sam Fox, who ran the PCT in 2011 and raised $300,000 for Parkinson’s research, had warned McConaughy prior to his run that this would be the most difficult portion of the trail. McConaughy was able to stay motivated because he knew that it would get easier.
McConaughy suffered from Achilles tendonitis throughout his run. He said his team helped him minimize the pain by supplying him with ibuprofen. Hamm, who also ran track at BC, gave McConaughy massages during their meetings, which helped to minimize his injuries.
One of the most challenging parts of the run, however, was not captured in the film, McConaughy said. McConaughy was running through the High Sierra Nevada Mountains, two and a half weeks after starting. It was his birthday, and his crew had missed him at the checkpoint. He recalls going to bed with only a salami stick and four power bars to eat.
“I was like ‘If this is what is going to happen in the future, I’m seriously considering getting off,’” he said. “It became a situation where I was seriously playing with my life.”
McConaughy sent his crew a text message that night, using his satellite phone, to say that if he didn’t see them at the next checkpoint he was going to stop running and reevaluate his mission. The next day, his team left only a sleeping bag and some food at the designated checkpoint. McConaughy remembers being angry, but he was eventually able to forgive his crew.
“Once I saw them again, I was ecstatic,” he said. “It was this awesome reuniting moment. It was like ‘We can still do this.’”
McConaughy did not listen to music during his run. He explained that he kept himself entertained by thinking about life and filming himself. He also had to pay attention to the trail to avoid falling, which he did at one point in the run, which is captured in the film.
He first came up with the idea to run the PCT when he was 12-years-old, McConaughy explained. He used Mapquest to calculate the route on I-5, the closest highway to the trail, from the Mexican border to the Canadian border.
McConaughy hoped to spend a few weeks outside—hiking and running—before getting a job after graduation. It was during the summer after his junior year at BC that he decided to take on the PCT.
McConaughy began to fundraise for his run and for CancerCare, a group that provides professional services to help people manage the emotional and financial challenges that come with cancer treatment.
For his fundraising efforts, McConaughy turned to social media, he said. McConaughy also hosted an event at Baseball Tavern and sold “Marathon Monday” tanks to raise money for his run.
While this run was in support of his cousin Colin, McConaughy is considering doing other long-distance runs. On Saturday, he ran his first ultra-run—a run that is 50 kilometers or more– and is looking into running the Appalachian Trail in 2017.
Featured Image Courtesy of Michael Dillon