You have never seen so many fit and healthy people in a movie theater.
Spirit of the Marathon had a nationwide, one-night showing in some 460 theaters. It was an event and film worthy of its subject matter.
Many of us have been waiting a long time to see this film—long enough to remember when it was called Land of the Gods: The Legend of the Marathon and the producers were looking for marathoners Kim Alexis or Anthony Edwards to narrate—not to mention marathon-hubby Tom Cruise.
There’s no sign of Tom, but you won’t miss him because the stories of six marathoners are compelling enough on their own.
Director/cinematographer Jon Dunham headed a team of experienced, award-winning documentary film-makers who created a work of both intimacy and grandeur. Dunham is a marathoner himself, and assembled all the veterans of marathon achievement, lore and training. You’ll find such luminaries as Bill Rodgers, Frank Shorter, Grete Waitz, Dick Beardsley, Kathrine Switzer, Amby Burfoot, Hal Higdon and on and on and on…
You get history, you get philosophy, but most of all you get the personal stories of six runners: two elites (Deena Kastor and Daniel Njenga), two experienced amateurs (Ryan Bradley and Jerry Meyers) and two first-timers (Leah Caille and Lori O’Connor). Cameras followed them throughout their training for the 2005 Chicago Marathon.
It can’t be easy to make a visually unique film about running, but Dunham’s camera work carries a lot of the story-telling, particularly the early morning long runs. During the shots of the starting line in Chicago I could actually feel my heart rate increase. But the scenes that got the biggest reactions from the audience were the ones that captured the small moments:
* Lori’s husband saying that any distance over five miles “is why we have public transportation.”
* Each of the runners carbo-loading and laying out their gear the night before the race.
* Daniel Njenga grinding out the last half-mile.
* Someone in the crowd with a sign that reads, “You’re all crazy.”
* Leah struggling as she crosses the finish line, then pausing to hit her stopwatch before bursting into tears.
* The final credits that include a list of the cast and crew’s marathon PRs.
The film’s flaws don’t detract from the overall experience. It could have been edited a little tighter—with the “bonus footage” it comes in at about two hours, which might be a bit much even for running enthusiasts. And while all the runners are interesting characters, you’ll leave the theater wishing you had learned more about Daniel Njenga, his village in Kenya, his working life in Japan, and his ongoing quest to win the Chicago Marathon.
Make sure you stick around for the “DVD extras,” mainly for the weirdness factor. Watch Njenga antagonize hippos! See Kastor spill too much balsamic vinegar in her avocado enchiladas! And does that tiny woman really eat 5,000 calories a day?
The one-night event was popular enough to prompt a second, encore showing on Thursday, February 21. If you don’t get to see it in a theater, not to worry. There is no question that it will eventually be available on DVD.
“Spirit of the Marathon” is a movie for runners, their families and for anyone who has ever thought about lacing them up and laying it all on the line for 26.2 miles. Highly recommended.
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