500 miles in just over seven and a half days - 7 days, 13 hours, 16 minutes and 15 seconds to be exact. That’s what ultrarunner Mike McKnight was able to do on September 20, 2020, on the Colorado Trail. His efforts were good enough to earn him a fastest known time (FKT) on the trail, which is what he was after. With the pandemic derailing his racing goals for the year, setting and reaching a goal like this, was exactly what McKnight needed. But his story is not just about completing a distance in a time that is unattainable for most in the human species. His story is by all means, a story.
Like each and every one of us, there is a story behind the story. It is a story of why we do what we do, and how we get where we are. For some, it is glamorous, and for others, there is tragedy involved. There is learning and growing amidst the moments when everything feels irreparable.
Michael McKnight has a story. It is a story of feeling broken and irreparable, and eventually getting to a point where he was no longer broken, but breaking through it all - and breaking records. His story was recently immortalized in a feature length film that is fittingly titled, “From Broken to Breaking.” The film was created single handedly by McKnight’s friend, fellow ultrarunner, and filmmaker Matthew Van Horn. According to McKnight, it was important to have his time out on the Colorado Trail documented, and not for the usual reasons some might think. According to McKnight, filming it wasn’t in an attempt to be the face of another accomplished athlete, to inspire others to be like him, or even to have the world see him and know his name. Documenting his story was for his family. “I wanted my FKT documented mainly for my children and future grandchildren,” he said. “I'm not a big journal keeper, and I felt there would be no better way for them to learn about me than an emotional film of me on a 7 day FKT attempt.”
The original plan was to have Van Horn come along, take some footage, and compile it into a 20-30 minute video. According to Van Horn, (who has only recently discovered a talent and love of filmmaking) when he reviewed all the footage, the story began coming to life. But it wasn’t just any story; it was a story that needed to be shared.“This film was really a labor of love,” Van Horn said. “As I started going through all of the footage, I knew I couldn’t do just a 20-30 minute film. The thing about running this far, is that there are so many characters involved. You have crew and family, and then you have the runner and his story. I felt like in order to do Mike’s story justice, I needed to involve the other characters. I found myself not only being a filmmaker and editor, but a journalist and writer. I’m really pleased with how the film turned out.”
If you do a Google search of Mike McKnight, you will learn his story. You will find out that he spent a lot of his life physically unhealthy. You may come across articles that talk about his ski accident that broke his back, and how he worked hard to rehabilitate his body through running. You will most likely see his name tied to great ultra running feats, namely winning and breaking the record for the prestigious Triple Crown of 200’s. What you won’t likely see is the journey and the behind the scenes characters. What you won’t find in a Google or even Instagram follow, is the emotion that goes into completing 500 consecutive miles. What you won’t see or experience is what it’s like to grow up with such little self confidence, that you feel like you’re broken. Try as you may, there will be no article or post that will allow you to understand what it was like to overcome those insecurities, and to find love and acceptance in a community, and most importantly, family.
The film, “From Broken to Breaking” gives the viewers an insider perspective like no other ultrarunning film. And according to Van Horn, that was his goal from the beginning.
Making “From Broken to Breaking”
“When Mike asked me to make this film, I said yes immediately, but I didn’t know what I was getting myself into,” Van Horn said. Van Horn isn’t a classically trained filmmaker. In fact he spent 13 years as an insurance salesman. An insurance salesman! During those years of calculating rates for homeowners day in and day out, Van Horn turned to trail running to bring a little bit of joy into the monotony. He found success in 100-mile distances — even finishing second at the Wasatch 100, and outright winning the Pony Express and Buffalo 100-mile races.
When he wasn’t at work or running, he devoted his time to his family. Van Horn is the youngest of nine children, and he has a wife and two teenage sons. But work got to be too much, and he took a chance at developing his creative side that he had long suppressed. So he picked up a camera. First it was pictures, and then video. He began taking on small jobs for local races. In fact, one of his first jobs filming was creating a promotional film for Matt Gunn of Ultra Adventures, who recently lost his life to suicide. “Matt Gunn was the first who really believed in me,” Van Horn said. “He let me learn and be creative. The film, 'From Broken to Breaking' is about Mike, but it is through my eyes.”
And if you watch the film, you will be able to see what Van Horn saw. You will see what it takes to prepare for a 500-mile journey, and you will see that things don’t always go as planned. You will see highs and lows, and the journey on the Colorado Trail. Through the eyes of Matt Van Horn, (who himself ran 70 miles of the journey with camera in tow) you will not only experience the journey on to the FKT, but you will understand why a person would subject himself to such an arduous task, and the support system behind him. Through his eyes, you will see Mike McKnight “From Broken to Breaking.”
Article author Arianne Brown is a mom of nine and a lifelong runner competing in anything from 5K to 50-mile races. She loves the written word, and using it to share stories the world needs to hear. For more of he writings, follow A Mother's Write on Facebook, and @ariannebrown on Instagram.