When Tracktown premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival a few weeks ago, it was clear to the audience and to critics that it wasn’t a typical sports flick. That’s because its star, Alexi Pappas, was not only playing an Olympic running hopeful—she is one in real life. In less than two months, Pappas, a dual citizen of the US and Greece, will be competing in the 10,000 meters for Greece’s Olympic team.
Along with her boyfriend and co-director, Jeremy Teicher, Pappas has created a semi-autobiographical film that feels as lively, unordinary and honest as she is in person. We talk with the elite runner and filmmaker about balancing her two passions, her best advice for all runners and how to treat pain like it’s an invited guest at your birthday party.
THE RED BULLETIN: You pulled triple duty as co-writer, co-director and star of Tracktown. What challenges did you face during the making of your first feature?
ALEXI PAPPAS: Honestly, it was the balance of my training with making the film. It definitely took an element of discipline to say, “Hey, right now I’m at practice, 100 percent.” But then I had to come home, take off the running shoes and really put thought into revising the script with Jeremy. Those things are possible because of my partnership with him. He’s the one biking alongside me when we need to work on the script and I need to run. I’m not just an individual pursuing running and filmmaking, but I have these amazing support networks surrounding me.
It sounds like you’re not compartmentalizing running and filmmaking—they are complementing each other directly.
They are, but it was important to me to make it to the Olympics and be a world-class runner separate from making a really amazing film. There is an element of wanting to be a runner who is elite on her own and also wanting to be a filmmaker who makes a film that’s good on its own. But the fact that they’re also positive feedback loops to one another is amazing. Now that those worlds are coming together is amazing.
Why is it important for you to also pursue a creative path?
I found my creative itch before I found my Olympic running itch. It’s always been something I enjoyed and felt strongly about. Now that I’m doing both, I’m finding that the film work is keeping me healthy as a runner. That’s because when practice is over, so many of my professional Olympic teammates are unable to hang up their running shoes and focus on anything else. Their mind is just churning over and over what their workout. Did they run fast enough? Am I doing enough mileage? I feel like I have the privilege of hanging up my shoes and coming to another project that’s just as important to me. It’s a healthy thing to end your practice because you can’t run 24 hours a day.
In the film, there are a number of insecurities and doubts that your character, Plumb, faces. What goes through your head when you’re about to run a race?
I’ve learned how to visualize before races. Two or three days before, I imagine the obstacles that I might encounter. If it’s a 10K, I know it gets really hard about 8,000 meters in. I imagine the moments that I think are going to be challenging and I visualize myself pushing through them, so that when the pain comes during the race, it’s almost like it’s an invited guest at my birthday party, and I knew it was coming. And when it arrives, I’m like, we’re moving onto the piñata. If you can approach pain and challenge like an amusement, you prepare as best you can for the things you can control, and when those things come that you can’t, you’re embracing it. You make it a positive.
Where does the pain hit you at the 8000 meters?
Oh! You feel it in your legs, but you feel it in your head, too. You have quite a bit of the race left, and there is a feeling in running where you know it’s all in your hands. You have to push through the difficult moments and no one else can do that for you. The 10,000 is so long, so you have to stay focused but also calm and meditative through most of it. It’s as mental as it is physical. That’s what’s so great about it but also crazy.
Have you been able to maintain your training while promoting the film?
I’m completing my full training. What that means is that I had to nap during the opening night red carpet. It’s a part of my practice. Instead of going to one of the events at the LA Film Festival, I needed to do five-by mile repeats in 90-degree heat at the UCLA track. You just get it done.
You have an upcoming screening in Eugene in July, but I hear you won’t be able to make it.
On the same day of the screening, I will be competing in the European Championships in Amsterdam. I’ll be gone, but I know the rest of the Tracktown team and the whole US Trials community will be there. I think the entire audience will understand every running joke, reference and cameo in the movie.
What are you most excited about competing in the Olympics?
It means a lot to me to be the first Greek woman to compete in the 10,000 meters in the Olympics, especially since it’s the place where the Olympics were born. I feel like I’m becoming a part of that tradition and contributing to it. I’m going to soak in the experience like it’s a once in a lifetime thing, but when it comes to race, I’m going to treat it like any other race that I belong in.
What advice would you give runners—whether they’re trying to compete in the Olympics or simply trying to complete a 5K?
There are two things. One, when you’re not sure you can do something you’re trying to do, writing down your goals is the bravest thing you can do—in running or in film or in anything. When you write it down or say it out loud, you’re admitting that you really want something. And when you get it, you know you were brave enough to want it. I think that’s really where it all starts—admitting that you want something that you’re not sure you can get.
Second, I had this coach in college who used to ask us, “Why do you run all the way to the locker room door?” After practice, we would stop at the locker room door, go immediately to the showers, go immediately to dinner and go on with the rest of our day. Our coach would tell us, “Why don’t you take ten seconds at the end of the run to walk and just enjoy what you’ve done and be proud if it.” Even if it was an easy day or a workout day or even a day off, just take in the everyday journey of it so the whole thing just doesn’t go by. Every day it’s important to be proud and enjoy your progress and the journey.
Tracktown plays Eugene, Oregon on July 5. For more info, visit tracktownmovie.com