Lost Dogs and EnglishmenFrom The Field
Written by Jenny Tough // Photography: James Vincent
‘For me, an adventure without risk is no adventure at all, but when you overcome that risk and uncertainty you have to enjoy it. Smile and shed the odd tear. There was just a lot to be grateful for along the way. We’re optimistic people, willing to take chances and play games with fate in the hope that things will turn our way, which they often do, although not always.’ – Robbie Britton
British and Commonwealth ultrarunners Robbie Britton and Dan Lawson take on the 650km Jordan Trail and attempt to set an FKT (fastest known time). Lost Dogs and Englishmen documents their adventure, along with film-maker Dave MacFarlane and photographer James Vincent.
‘We did expect some troubles… Although I didn’t expect to punch a cactus and lose the trail in the first few minutes,’ says Robbie. Unnavigable terrain, awe-inspiring wadis, and adopting a lost dog along the way, the two athletes take themselves far outside their comfort zones to set a gruelling record, while Dave and James both document and support the pair.
Dave, in the film you’re the support crew for the runners, helping with navigation as well as feeding and watering them. How did you balance being a documentary filmmaker whilst supporting such a huge challenge?
Dave: I would normally not include those shots (of James and me), but it was an integral part of the story, we were a small team. It was a balance to always be there for the guys when they arrived at the truck, while also needing to get those shots. The tricky thing is, when I’m filming something like this, I can’t get too emotionally involved or I can’t do my job right, which was harder in this one when I was also the support group. It was emotional to see them finish, but I needed to be in film mode, not clapping and cheering. I have to concentrate.
Robbie, throughout the film you refer to your FKT attempt primarily as an adventure, although you are both world-class athletes attempting a pretty gruelling pace. Was that the motivation?
Robbie: It was always about the adventure. The FKT is a nice bonus, adds a bit of outside interest and keeps us on our toes, but for me, it was a way to see a new country, experience a wonderful culture and spend time with Dan. We both do a lot of pushing our limits, such as the 24hr World Champs, so it’s nice for the focus to be a bit away from ‘the edge’. It wasn’t easy, but the space between triumph and disaster was a little more generous than usual.
Navigation seems to be the main adversary in the film. Was it harder than expected?
Robbie: We certainly spent a little bit of time running in circles or just wandering aimlessly. It wasn’t that we were lost, more than we didn’t know the best path forward. It wasn’t a trail in the traditional sense for a large part, but a GPS track across a country linking some trails.
It was something we were a little under-prepared for. There weren’t many times that we could just focus on the running or the beautiful landscapes, which meant I neglected my eating and drinking a little too, which made the hot days a little harder.
Every now and again, whilst we walked in circles in piles of rocks or knocked out 40 minute miles in overgrown wadi beds, we did wonder how on earth the chaps before us set good pace on those sections, but at the very least it just gave us something else to talk about and have a laugh.
What was it like filming in Jordan?
Dave: We met some of the kindest people I’ve ever come across, with locals frequently inviting us in for tea or bringing hot bread out to us. They never understood what we were doing – we got a lot of blank stares when we tried to describe it. The only letdown for me was not having enough time to film the culture of Jordan… We saw so much so quickly.
Robbie: There were just a lot of moments that really were breathtaking, such as the Dana Biosphere, Wadi Rum and the simply ridiculous City of Petra. Some of the places you could only get to on foot and it often felt like a reward for our hard work.
Lost Dogs and Englishmen premiers at the Nordic Adventure Film Festival in Copenhagen on the weekend of November 22nd.