Ultrarunner Linda Sanders traded race participation for race observation to tackle some of her most rewarding creative projects to date.
From mastering a new language and culture when she came to the U.S. from Mexico as a teen to transforming into an ultrarunner, philanthropist and filmmaker as an adult, Linda Sanders isn’t afraid to take on new challenges.
“Reinventing yourself from time to time is absolutely necessary,” says Sanders, who competed in bodybuilding before shifting to endurance events (and learning to ride a bicycle) later in life. “You have to find joy. That’s how I live my life—to always be re-inventing myself.”
Several years ago, Sanders founded IRun4Ultra.org, a site that has grown into a vibrant digital community for ultrarunners and which features documentaries, athlete interviews and race videos created by Sanders and her team. The site evolved as a result of Sanders’ passion for ultrarunning, which she embraced four years ago as a way to cope with her divorce.
“If you desire to overcome your demons, you can transform yourself with running. You can be reborn with running,” says Sanders, who lives in Manhattan Beach, Calif., and has competed in a dozen ultras thus far.
Her first ultramarathon was RunIceland, a multi-day trail race that covers 110 kilometers (68 miles) across spectacular landscapes. While participating in the race, Sanders fell in love with the scenery and the ultraunning community. In 2015, she attempted the Marathon des Sables, a brutal 155-mile footrace through the Sahara desert in Morocco, but was forced to drop out when she became severely ill.
In addition to competing in ultras, Sanders founded Hope So Bright, a nonprofit that focused on advocacy for children with learning disabilities, including attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. But training and traveling for ultras, heading a nonprofit and taking care of her two boys began to take a toll. Two years ago, Sanders realized she needed a break. “I decided to take time to focus on my children and reinvent myself,” she recalls. Even though she was taking a step back from ultrarunning, she wanted to keep ties to its people. She decided to become an observer rather than a participant, discovering in the process a new passion for creating documentaries about ultrarunners and their races.
With the help of Italian filmmaker Alessandro Beltrame, Sanders produced her first documentary, Desert Around Me: The ADHD Epidemic a Challenge of Global Proportions, a project that blended her love for ultraunning with her desire to educate people about attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. The film connects the Marathon des Sables, considered one of the world’s most grueling footraces, to the daily struggles of children with ADHD and their families.
Since then, Sanders has produced nine documentaries and scores of shorter YouTube videos, traveling around the globe and enduring harsh climates in order to film. Sanders says that Running Steps: Beyond Limits, a 2017 documentary about the Marathon des Sables and the Badwater 135 in Death Valley, Calif., is one of her favorite projects because she felt at ease while writing the script and putting it together. Running Steps is also one of three films by Sanders that have received film festival awards.
Although Sanders has established herself as a serious filmmaker, some directors and videographers still give her the cold shoulder at events. “Among runners I am very accepted,” she says. “The creative side of filming, not yet.” But Michael Carson, owner of Carson Videography in Phoenix, Ariz., says he has enjoyed working on projects with her. “Linda is very passionate about filmmaking and it shows in her tireless dedication,” Carson says. “She is driven and is thirsty for recognition in the community.”
Sanders’ traditional documentary style—a narrated story with slow-moving footage—is not common in today’s rapid YouTube culture, but “it is what she likes to create, and she does it well,” Carson adds.
Sanders sometimes brings her two sons, ages 11 and 12, on her trips to film so they can see her at work and become aware of the challenges of others. “All these people I film go through adversity,” she says. “I want to make sure my kids see what I’m doing so they can learn the world is full of adversity, and it is not just you who struggles sometimes.”
Not that long ago, Sanders looked to the ultrarunning community for support and inspiration. Now it looks to her. “I get an incredible amount of people calling me and inviting me to cover races around the world,” she says. “People have ideas for films. People are reaching out to us.”