Thumbs Up for “Spirit of the Marathon”

Posted by Filed Under: Marathons, News and Opinion, Reviews

spiritmarathon.jpgYou 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 onโ€ฆ

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.
Click here to read what others in the blogosphere are saying about Spirit of the Marathon.

About Mike Antonucci

I ran 6-minute miles when I was in the military, then tapered for 20 years. Two-time marathoner (3:43 PR), my next goal is to stay healthy enough to run another. There are literally thousands of people handing out running advice and serious tips. I prefer to focus on the humorous or odd facets of our shared obsession. Let's face it, running is funny.

  1. Nora on January 25th at 6:00 am

    Sounds awesome. I eagerly await a UK release. Fingers crossed!

  2. Jon (was) in Michigan on January 25th at 7:42 am

    I see the Chicago Marathon and ING NYC were two of the sponsors. I’d bet Chicago couldn’t wait to get this out after their debacle last year. Timing is everything. Listed under “Latest News”, on their website, are this movie and the registration start date. Oh look, registration for Chicago 2008 starts just two weeks after the movie’s release. ๐Ÿ˜€

    Less cynically, I really would like to see this movie. It sounds both entertaining and inspiring.

  3. Mark Iocchelli on January 25th at 8:18 am

    Thanks for posting this so quickly, Mike! It sounds terrific. Now, I either have to convince someone to show up here in Canada, or figure out a way to see it down in your neck of the woods. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Jeanne on January 25th at 8:32 am

    Mark, I have a spare room. All yours.

  5. Blaine Moore (Run to Win) on January 25th at 9:25 am

    I enjoyed the movie quite a bit, and will lay down the money for the DVD when it is available. It was well worth the drive to Brunswick to see – not quite an hour from work, dinner with the grandparents, and then an hour to get home afterwards. The cat wasn’t happy, but the movie brought back a lot of memories from my own marathons and I’m looking forward to when I get to run Chicago at some point.

    As for Deena Kastor eating 5000 calories per day – I believe it. You’d be amazed at how much energy it takes to run 145 miles per week. I’ve never done it; the closest that I’ve come was a bit over 120 miles per week a few times and 85-100 miles for multiple weeks in a row. I think that the more telling number is that she averages 3000 calories per day outside of marathon training, fully half again what the normal person’s requirements are, and when she is in marathon training she adds on the same number of calories that a normal person uses to keep themselves alive.

  6. Melisa on January 25th at 9:26 am

    I went to see this with a fellow running friend. We were laughing going in because we were running about 5 minutes late and joking about how “crowded” it was going to be seeing that nobody in our circle of family/friends/coworkers had heard of this film. Well…it was packed!

    I loved the sign “Youโ€™re all crazy.” That cracked me up and made me think of the Bill Rogers quote “If you want to win a race you have to go a little berserk.”

  7. brent on January 25th at 10:15 am

    i might argue that you are giving up a lot of the parts that were best enjoyed on the big screen for the first time. but i’m also one who doesnt like to read reviews because i think they give too much away, heh. i thought the movie was great. in particular, for anyone who as run chicago, it’ll have an even greater impact.
    5 stars!

  8. A Million Stories : Complete Running Network on January 28th at 12:15 am

    […] can please some of the people some of the time: Mike wrote us a review for Spirit of the Marathon and then I linked it to this page where you can see the movie caused quite a stir. Most people […]

  9. The Way to Go : Complete Running Network on February 15th at 12:01 am

    […] I honestly could not believe that was possible. How could you need to pee that much and that often? It was about as likely as Deena Kastor eating 5,000 calories a day. […]

  10. Dawnett Lanson on April 4th at 8:24 pm

    kids were sick- didn’t get to the screening- How can I order the DVD??

  11. Five Running Videos You Should Watch : Complete Running Network on August 8th at 11:03 am

    […] Spirit of the Marathon has only had select showings, but you can view the 7-minute trailer over and […]