I love watching documentaries and stories of transformation. I first heard about “Brittany Runs A Marathon” from a friend who was working on her own personal transformation. When she told me about the movie, I wasn’t sure it would something I’d really enjoy. The movie seemed geared towards women in their late 20’s, no kids, and knee deep in the party phase of life. As a woman who is barreling towards, and through, midlife, what would I have in common with the film? Would I be able to connect with the story? Surprisingly, yes.
****** SPOILER ALERT ****** If you haven’t watched the movie and want to - STOP READING - SPOILERS AHEAD!
The movie, “Brittany Runs a Marathon”, is based on a true life story. In the movie, Brittany Forgler is a 27 year old New Yorker who enjoys her life, but is working at a dead-end job. She is starting to feel like her peers are moving on without her by getting into serious relationships, having kids, and establishing careers. In an attempt to score some Adderall from a Yelp-recommended doctor, Brittany is brought face to face with her lifestyle and how its affecting her entire life.
Once Brittany reflects on her current lifestyle, we see her take small steps to change her life, and THIS is the part I love the most. I believe this movie highlights that change isn’t instant, and that if you’re shut down initially, you should keep trying. When Brittany decides to make a change she seeks out a gym. As the owner/personal trainer gives her a tour of the gym, he tells her that memberships start at $129 a month. Brittany balks at this and asks if there is a sliding scale for people ”in debt up to their tits”. She also points out to the owner/trainer that its free to run outside. From that scene we see Brittany at home, putting on workout clothing to go outside and run. Brittany makes it out the door, but that’s as far as she makes it.
Brittany eventually makes it outside to run a block, and she keeps taking baby steps to increase her running distance. As she makes a push towards her running goals we are also shown how her current relationships are based on being comfortable and insecurity rather than growth and encouragement. How many of us start to have trouble in our own relationships with friends or family once we start to make changes in our own lives? The film seems to capture Brittany’s struggle to maintain her current friendship with her best friend and simultaneously foster a healthier relationship with herself, and it slowly becomes obvious that she can’t have both. Eventually, we see Brittany needing to take a break from her best friend in order to continue on her own evolving path of health.
As the film progresses, Brittany makes new friends, finds a part-time job to help with her financial situation, focuses on a goal to run a marathon, and possibly finds a love interest. The film starts to feel very Pollyanna-ish, but then there is a slight detour. Brittany starts to obsess with the number on the scale, and old insecurities and toxic behaviors of needing to be completely independent of all emotional support flare up. We see Brittany sabotage her new friendships and her goal of running in the New York City Marathon by over training in the name of weight loss. Brittany puts in extra time running and ignores a running injury which ends up sidelining her from the marathon (her original goal).
This is where “Brittany Runs a Marathon” gets personal transformation right. For instance, when I started making my own personal changes in my life, a lot of emotional baggage and road blocks kicked up. I initially started exercising more with the focus solely on increasing my fitness level and lowering my blood pressure; however, as time went on I noticed I was placing much more emphasis on the number on the scale. This also became true for my food journal. Originally, I wanted to eat more whole, plant-based foods. I started a food journal which quickly became more about me counting my calories than listening to my hunger signals and the type of food I was eating.
When it comes to change, and personal transformation, it's easy to get off track if we aren’t revisiting our original goals from time to time and examining our mindset. This isn’t to say we shouldn’t revisit those goals and modify them. However, if my original goal was to have a consistent exercise and plant-based whole food focused nutrition plan, and I’m focusing on burning a certain amount of calories and consuming a certain amount of calories, then I need to figure out if I’m focusing on consistency or calories. Am I making my transformation about long term wellness or fitting into a certain pant-size? This is where it gets tricky because neither one goal is inherently wrong. If your heart's desire is to have a consistent exercise and nutrition plan, great. If you really just want to fit into a certain pant-size because you have a class reunion coming up, great. Your goals are your goals and it's really no one’s business, or job, to validate YOUR goals.
Part of personal transformation is about meeting ourselves where we are currently, and this can be really really hard. If you are at a place where you want something other than what you have, it can be difficult to acknowledge where you are because closing that gap to where you want to be can feel daunting and unattainable. I have felt this every time I’ve started an exercise plan. I was a person who used to run half-marathons and crank out 400 swings with a 53lb kettlebell. I was incredibly athletic, and then I let allllllllllll that go. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t look back and not want to throttle myself for letting all that hard work go, but this is part of the rebirth and transformation. Failure.
Acknowledging our failures and not letting them be our legacy ends up fueling our growth. That failure, the one we cringe at, no longer owns us, it isn’t who we are, yes its part of our story but it ISN‘T our story. We see this very concept in the movie as Brittany’s injury prevents her from running the marathon. Initially, Brittany temporarily moves into her sister's home to heal, but later on we see Brittany move into her sister's basement, and take up a more permanent space. We watch as she scrolls through her social media and see her new friends complete the marathon she was once so focused. Her new friends reach out to her, but she refuses to answer the phone. She is ashamed of how she is living.
Once again, Brittany sees herself as a failure, and ohhhhhh how I can relate. How many of us put ourselves out there, tell people we are changing and we start living those changes to be thrown a curve ball by life or our self-sabotaging behavior? When a curve ball is thrown our way, when we are knee deep in change, many of us don't get back up (including yours truly). Shame bogs us down. We have to face the people we made declarations and promises too. It's tough, but we have to ask ourselves, do we want to be comfortable or face our own shame and try again?
Brittany decides to try again. She apologizes and reconnects with her new friends. She sets boundaries with her love interest, and she signs up for the marathon again. This time she runs the marathon, with her friends supporting her, and the film doesn't end there. Her personal transformation isn't considered "done", which brings up a point that when it comes to transformation we believe there is a beginning and an ending when in reality there is neither. Personal transformation isn't just about change, its about sustainable change, and as the film ends we see Brittany living her best life. She hasn't stopped running, she has her own apartment, and she has healthier relationships in her life. It made me wonder what was next on her list? I didn't feel a sense that Brittany was done, transformed, complete.
I love how the writer and director of "Brittany Runs a Marathon, Paul Downs Colaizzo, explained the heart of the story in an interview with Variety: “It’s all about going one block at a time,” says Downs Colaizzo. “Change doesn’t happen quickly. You have to change your mindset. You have to unlearn toxic behavior and replace it with victorious behavior. I had a period in my life where I decided that I didn’t want to be the funny sidekick anymore. I wanted to be the lead in my own story.” And that what this film is ultimately about, taking responsibility for your life.