Every once in awhile I need a little jolt to remind me why it is that I put myself through the physical and emotional punishment involved in training for and running marathons. A good movie is one thing that can accomplish this for me. When compared to other sports, the selection of running movies is far fewer, but there still are a number of good ones out there. Here’s my list of favorites:
Spirit of the Marathon
If you have run or are planning to run a marathon, you absolutely have to watch this documentary. It features the stories of six different runners who are training for the Chicago Marathon, and finishes with their running of the race. The runners profiled range from first-timers to some of the best in the world (e.g., Deena Kastor). Marathons are inherently emotional events to watch and run in, and this documentary captures the emotion fantastically. Check out a clip below:
This is a NOVA documentary that follows 13 formerly sedentary runners who train for and run the Boston Marathon. As a scientist, I liked the focus on the physical and emotional changes that each runner underwent, and the finish-line scenes are about as emotional as you can get. If this documentary doesn’t prove to you that anyone can and should run a marathon, I don’t know what will.
Without Limits and Prefontaine
Both of these movies are essentially biographical sketches of the life of Steve Prefontaine (known to his fans as Pre). Prefontaine was a phenomenally tough and gifted American distance runner in the early 1970’s, but he died a tragic death before succeeding in winning an Olympic medal. I’ve watched both versions of Pre’s story, and they are equally good. Without Limits stars Billy Crudup, whereas Prefontaine stars Jared Leto.
If you don’t know Steve Prefontaine, here’s a great Nike commercial that features him:
Clips of Without Limits and Prefontaine are below:
Chariots of Fire
This is a classic and is so well-known that it needs little further comment. In a nutshell, it tells the story of two runners from Great Britain, Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams, and chronicles the events leading up to and including their participation in the 1924 Olympic Games. The underlying story is about faith, and the signature event is Liddell’s internal conflict regarding competing in an Olympic race on the sabbath. This is a classic, and won the Best Picture Oscar in 1981. Here’s a clip:
Running on the Sun
I’ve saved the best for last. If you run long distance on a regular basis, you’ve probably earned some snide comments from friends, co-workers, etc. about how you’re going to ruin your knees, or how running marathons is just so bad for your body. I recommend that you force these people to watch Running on the Sun. This documentary recounts the running of the 1999 Badwater 135 Ultramarathon. If you don’t know about the Badwater, it’s arguably the most grueling race in the world. The course winds through Death Valley in July, when 120 degree temperatures are the norm, and ends on Mt. Whitney after approximately 13,000 feet of vertical ascent. This race is the ultimate in self-punishment, and seeing what these runners go through is intense. The documentary is graphic at times (there are some nasty looking feet, as well as various other health problems), and it gives a great insight into the mind of someone crazy enough to challenge a race like this. I watched it with my wife and mother, and they both could not believe what they saw – it makes my little 15 mile long runs look like a walk in the park. The DVD seems to be hard to come by, but it is available for rental through Netflix (click on the icon below to check it out at Netflix.com).
I highly recommend this one – it’s a must see for any runner. Couldn’t find a clip of the movie, but here’s a clip showing some of the medical knowledge gained from studying these runners.
Below are links to each of these movies available for rent at Netflix.
Below are links to each of these movies available at Itunes:
Marathon Challenge – currently unavailable on Itunes
Running on the Sun – currently unavailable on Itunes
Finally, here are links to each of these movies available for DVD purchase at Amazon.com.