Eugene, Oregon. Tracktown, USA, home of the Historic Hayward Field at the University of Oregon. It’s the birthplace of Nike, a place where eyes still tear up at the mention of Steve Prefontaine, and where you can join other pilgrims at the site of his fatal car accident.
The town where Lauren Fleshman, Ian Dobson, Julia Lucas, Bridget Franek, and so many other phenoms have trained and where you can still cross paths with many of them on our urban trails or spot them on the starting line at the 4th of July 10k, the Butte to Butte and other local races. Seriously, the local Humane Society 5k where you can run with your dog was won this year, again, by Olympian Ian Dobson — how are we normal runners supposed to compete with that?!
Eugene also maintains a healthy, but aging, hippie population started in the 60s in part by local Ken Kesey (famed author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) and his Merry Pranksters and whose hallucinogenic influences remain in fashion. Birkenstocks with socks, tie dye, and patchwork will never go out of style here. You can still get a (now-recreationally-legal) second-hand high while browsing handcrafted ceramics, organic produce, and stoner oddities at the Saturday Market. Oh, and there’s that weird law that makes it legal for women to go topless if it’s over 70°.
Written and directed by elite runner and Olympian Alexi Pappas, Tracktown shows both sides of this often non-overlapping uniquely Eugene coin, following a University of Oregon runner and Olympic hopeful Plumb Marigold. Played by Alexi, Plumb meanders around Eugene on a forced day of no running after her preliminary race at the Olympic Trials, where she squeaked into seventh place to win a spot in the finals for a chance at the Olympic Team.
Living here, and having once met Alexi at a holiday runner party, I started seeing the calls for extras for her movie a couple years ago. Interesting, I thought, but I wasn’t surprised. My impression of Alexi was that she was a bit quirky, she’d hung around the post-run party in one of those Peruvian alpaca sweaters and I’ve read some of her poetry that added to my ‘uniquely funky yet cool’ summation. Writing and producing a movie about running and Eugene seemed like something she’d definitely do. When the movie was released on May 12 on Amazon Prime, I’d seen enough hype on local social media to have my curiosity piqued to pay the $5.99 and settle in with my husband to watch.
The main character played by Pappas is Plumb Marigold — yes it’s “Plumb”, as in what plumbers do and not “Plum” the fruit — who is at at once talented, naive, sharply focused on her Olympic goal, and weird as shit. She’s the female running equivalent of Napoleon Dynamite. Raised by her divorced dad, she has spent her high school and college years living in a literal altitude tent bubble in her bedroom. Dad’s an ex-elite runner himself who never fulfilled his Olympic dream, and whose biggest goal is to see his daughter get there, and also to get the Eugene Marathon Committee to approve his “improved” marathon course.
I vacillated between thinking Plumb was simply odd to perhaps disordered because of her affect and social behaviors. Her days are repetitive to the minute. She precisely controls everything she eats, from a raw egg and sloppy oatmeal with protein powder each morning, to the same post-workout cookie she orders from the guy she clearly has a crush on at a local bakery (Humble Bagel, for any native Eugenians who want to know).
She hangs out with her best friend and teammate, a girl slightly less-obsessed with getting a spot on Team USA, who is dating a hot “nobody”. You’ll of course quickly recognize him as Nick Symmonds, perfectly cast as a hot, smug dude. Plumb, who hasn’t had a period in two years — “Is that normal?” she asks the team doctor — is forced into a day of rest after her disappointing preliminary race and a potential injury. She grapples with no-running anxiety while exploring the Eugene outside her altitude tent and Hayward Field.
Her guide to a day with no running is the bakery guy, the one who hands her the daily post-workout cookie. Bakery guy is firmly from the non-running side of the Eugene coin and has no idea who she is. She wanders around on this liminal day, working through every coming-of-age issue you can imagine from first love to losing her virginity (boob-shot alert!) as well as mommy-issues when her long-absent mother shows up to support her for the big race. Her mother is played by Rachel Dratch of Saturday Night Live fame, who looks like she could be Alexi’s real mother and whose weirdness matches Plumb’s eccentricities.
Despite her long-time single-minded goal of making it to the Olympics and never wavering on that point, Plumb also begins to see that maybe, just maybe, there is a world outside of running that she is missing.
The movie certainly didn’t blow my mind, but it was entertaining, especially as a runner and a Eugenite. Countless elite runners from Shannon Rowbury and Alysia Montaño to Andrew Wheating, Brett Ely, and Gabe Grunewald make cameos and it was fun to recognize the locations too.
Next time you’re looking for a little light entertainment, get out of your altitude tent, put your protein powder on a scoop of artisanal ice cream and give Tracktown a try.
Have you watched Tracktown? What did you think?