'Oregon is the star of this film'

Documentary filmmaker Christoph Baaden was looking for a new project when he stumbled into one in Oregon — literally.

At the last minute, Baaden was asked to run the "Hood to Coast" race, the world's largest relay. The annual August race stretches 197 miles from Mount Hood to Seaside and involves 12,000 runners.

The problem was, Baaden wasn't a runner. "I barely got through it in 2007," said Baaden, of Portland. "But I met so many amazing people at the racecourse I thought, if we could only follow these people as they compete "… ."

Baaden was so inspired by "Hood to Coast" he immediately began working on a film about the race, following both experienced runners and novices such as himself.

"It's a sports-themed film, but people really enjoy it whether they like running or not," he said.

"Oregon is the star of this film. It's such a beautiful state — this could not happen anywhere else but in Oregon, not only because of these two amazing landmarks, the coast and mountain, but also because of the special style of living here."

The full-length documentary, "Hood to Coast," is screening at the Ashland Independent Film Festival at 9 p.m. Thursday and 3 p.m. Saturday at the Historic Ashland Armory, 208 Oak St. After both screenings, Baaden will talk about the making of the film and answer questions from the audience. Additionally, after the Saturday showing, one of the stars of the film, Rachel Larsen, who ran the race without any training, will discuss her experience.

The movie follows four 12-person teams. Each team member runs three legs of the race, each about 7 miles long.

Ashland resident Ralph Coppersmith co-founded one of the teams the film follows, The Dead Jocks in a Box, so named because all of the athletes are older than 50. They hail from California, Oregon, Michigan and Washington; Coppersmith is the only member from Ashland.

Coppersmith, who works as Southern Oregon University's budget director, didn't run the race the year the documentary was filmed because of an injury, but he has run it in the past — 16 times.

"It is extremely difficult for anyone, but especially if you're running hard," he said. "Most of us on the team have run marathons as well, and I think it's probably the same level of toughness because you're running some extreme terrain.

"You beat your legs up and as soon as you finish running you have to hop in the van and motor off."

The race lasts between 24 and 36 hours, depending on running speed.

Despite the grueling pace, Coppersmith said the race is the highlight of the year for many runners on his team.

"We always say it's the most fun you can have with 12 other sweaty guys in a van," he said.

More than 100 runners from Ashland typically compete in the race each year, Baaden said. More than 1,000 Ashland athletes have run in "Hood to Coast" over the past 20 years, he said.

The other teams the film follows are Thunder and Laikaning, a group of non-athletic animators; Heart N' Sole, which is helping a longtime runner finish the race after she had a heart attack running it the previous year; and R. Bowe, a family that is competing in memory of runner Ryan Bowe, who died of a rare heart condition.

"I wanted to do a character-driven documentary and strike a balance between something more serious and something lighthearted," Baaden said.

In 2010, Baaden competed in "Hood to Coast" again, on a team with characters from the film. This August, he plans to do the same.

"I'm going to do it again this year," he said. "I became a runner because of this film."

For more information on the film festival or to purchase tickets, visit ashlandfilm.org or call 541-488-3823.

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-708-1158 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.

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