This morning, 24 March 2019, Craig Mitchell, a Los Angeles Superior Court Judge, will be running along with a long-distance runners club that he founded–members are all out of the Midnight Mission from Los Angeles’ Skid Row. The club and the judge were the subject of a documentary that screened during the now defunct Los Angeles Film Festival and the documentary, “Skid Row Marathon,” fittingly opened this weekend for general audience. While director/writer Mark Hayes will not be running , his wife, East German-board Gabriele Hayes, who produced the film, will be joining Mitchel and his Skid Row runners.
Mitchell not only inspired Hayes to run this marathon, but according to Hayes, the documentary on Hayes has inspired to start running clubs in their own communities. The documentary “Skid Row Marathon” follows the judge and several of the club members as they accept the challenge of not only running, but running a marathon. The kind of dedication marathon running requires teaches discipline, making and meeting goals.
Hayes and her husband Mark read an article about the judge and became interested in the judge. Running had been part of Hayes’ life. Hayes commented, “I grew up in a communistic society and sports were an important part of it. There was always a big pressure be very competitive. I liked it because I could be on my own and do it on my down time.”
To do the documentary, she and her husband Mark had to meet with them and “gaining their trust took six weeks of running with them.” At the time, Hayes had never run a marathon before, but she had done half-marathons. She got hooked. On the long runs, she related, “You talk. You talk about life.” She found that eventually the club members opened up and “they have no shame; they tell me what they did.”
And she became part of a club and that changed running for her. “Now it’s different. Running is part of the camaraderie and being part of something. This is very different from what I experienced in a communist country where you couldn’t trust anybody–people would tell on you. Now, you are part of a community, you can be part of a team.”
To prepare for the LA Marathon, Hayes said, “I go running with the guys every other week. We run twice–Monday and Thursday at 6 a.m.–and do five miles.” On Saturdays, the group ran 10, 12, then 15 and then 18 miles. Two weekends before the LA Marathon they ran 20 miles. Hayes expect about 23 people from the club will be running and she herself hopes to finish in a little more than four hours. She’ll eat pasta the evening before and have a breakfast bar in the morning and then run.
Hayes explained, “You’ll be in pain especially at mile 18, mile 19 or 20. You just think: ‘One more mile, one more mile,’ even if you go slow or you just crawl.”
Most Los Angelenos have problems walking any distance as alluded to in Steve Martin’s 1991 “L.A. Story,” so running 26 miles across Los Angeles is hard to comprehend. And when those miles are pounded out by people one might consider the ultimate losers–the homeless, one has to re-adjust one’s concept of the men and women on Skid Row. Hayes said, “We know our country, especially Los Angeles has a big homeless issue. It’s easy to say, ‘I’m just going to ignore this problem and stay away from them.” With this documentary, you are forced to “look at a person in a different way.”
As detailed in the documentary, the judge has certain rules and boundaries are clearly drawn in order for the club members to be entered in a marathon. In the documentary, we see international trips. Rewards like that require that the members “really have to show a commitment” and one has to be “careful not to just hand things out.”
The club is about “reaching out to a person in need” and “giving people a second chance.” Of course, in the documentary we see that not everyone succeeds in staying away from drugs or alcohol–the very things that caused their homelessness. “It breaks your heart when somebody relapses,” Hayes said, but added, “The judge is always open to taking them back.”
Instead of cursing the Sunday traffic patterns and disruptions caused by the running of the L.A. Marathon, consider the kind of dedication it takes to attempt the long-distance run and take time out to see how, for some, marathon running becomes a salvation and a life skill learning process. “Skid Row Marathon” won Best Documentary (Audience Choice and Jury) awards at the Coronado Island Film Festival, Best Documentary (Audience) and LA Muse awards at the LA Film Festival, Best Documentary (Audience) awards at the Palm Springs, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara film festivals. The documentary is currently screening at the Laemmle Pasadena Playhouse 7.