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Running the Roof documentary: three friends run across Tajikistan

The film follows Canadian runner Gabriel Ghiglione and two friends as they run 400 kilometres across Tajikistan — one of the most remote places on Earth

One night after a few beers, Gabe Ghiglione and Jody Bragger decided to go on a running adventure. They spun a globe and pointed, landing on a place neither of them had ever heard of: Tajikistan. While others might decide to spin that globe again, Ghiglione and Bragger decided to run across the country, covering 400 kilometres in seven days (running almost 60 km per day). They chose the Bartang Valley, which stretches from the border of Afghanistan to the border of China, referred to by locals as “the roof of the world.” They invited their other friend, Jodie Gauld, to join them, and one year later, their documentary Running the Roof has been touring the world as part of the Banff Film Festival.

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Meet the runners

Originally from Toronto, Ghiglione spent his university days in Hamilton running for McMaster University. Although he holds a 5K PB of under 15 minutes, he doesn’t take running all that seriously, but uses it as a means to explore and to connect with people. This would be his first ultramarathon, but with his unrelenting positivity and hunger for adventure, Ghiglione was more excited than nervous.

“I like to just jump into things even if I don’t really know what I’m getting myself into and you always kind of figure it out,” he says. “When I have my mind set to something, I’ll chase it down, and I’ll make it happen.”

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Bragger was the lead organizer. Originally from the U.K., he has travelled to dozens of countries, but was unfamiliar with Tajikistan. A true ultrarunner, Bragger is the kind of guy who will casually go for a 50K run without a second thought. He is also the CEO of the global run crew Midnight Runners, and like Ghiglione, he sees running as an opportunity to explore and to connect with the world around him.

“Running can be an amazing way of connecting people to different cultures and to see different parts of the world, and we wanted to do something spontaneous and go somewhere wild,” he says.

The only female runner on the trip, Gauld describes herself as “no one special, with a mild obsession with running.” Hailing from the countryside of Cornwall in southwest England, she is the youngest but also the most experienced ultrarunner of the group.  

“This was a chance to explore virtually untrodden ground and see a place that not many eyes had seen. How many places like this, the Bartang Valley, are left in the world? And better yet, the plan was to run,” she says.

The documentary

With the help of Berlin-based photographer Alex Mundt and London-based film crew Sourcy Films, the three runners documented their adventure in the film Running the Roof. Set against the magnificent backdrop of the Bartang Valley, one of the most remote places on Earth, the film follows the three runners as they fight through physical, emotional and mental battles during their journey. They ran through sickness, injury and heat exhaustion, struggling with high altitude and fluctuating temperatures to make it to the end.

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At the end of their run there were no medals and no cheering crowds. Just three runners, bonded by a love of adventure and a shared accomplishment that few people will ever experience. If you’re looking to be inspired or simply to marvel at a place few people have ever set foot, Running the Roof will give you just that. 

The film is available to rent for US$15 as part of the Banff Film Festival World Tour. You can access it by clicking here.