My journey towards becoming a runner began in 2012 with running in the Inaugural Neverland 5K at Disneyland. It was at this race I experienced the joy of being involved in the running community. For the rest of 2012, I would run in a few more 5K’s and two 10K’s. In 2013, I ran again in the Neverland 5K. This time, I ran with my wife. Then, I added my very first half marathon, completing the Tinker Bell Half Marathon. After finishing the 13.1 miles, I was hooked. Something changed that day that has fueled this newfound passion for running. I began reading blogs and looking for any information that would not only help me learn more about long distance running, but that would motivate and inspire me to continue down this journey. A few weeks ago, I discovered a wonderful movie entitled “Spirit of the Marathon” that was available on Netflix. So, on a day where I was feeling the onset of a cold, I sat and watched this very inspirational film, which is the subject of this post.
“Spirit of the Marathon” begins with covering a little of the history of the marathon race itself. It might be a little disconcerting that the race was inspired by a person running the marathon distance to deliver news of a victory and then died. In a way, this is the perfect way to start a film about the spirit of the marathon. Knowing that the race was inspired by an event with such a tragic ending begs the question of why anyone would even try to run such a distance. Even the ancient Olympics didn’t attempt this distance. So, why is it so popular today? This film answers that very question.
While the history lesson is cool and gives us the sense of where this long distance running event came from and how it has evolved over the years, the heart of this film is in examining why people attempt to finish 26.2 miles. Those behind “Spirit of the Marathon” focus on 6 runners to tell their story. There are 2 elite runners (Daniel Njenga and Deena Kastor), a veteran trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon (Ryan Bradley), a couple new marathoners (Lori O’Connor and Leah Caille) and an older gentleman who has run in several marathons before, but is running this one with and for one of his daughters (Jerry Meyers). So, you get the full spectrum of runners in these 6 people. Daniel, a Kenyan, has finished 2nd and 3rd in the Chicago Marathon before and is hoping to win this marathon. Deena, an Olympic Bronze medalist is hoping to win her first marathon. Ryan came within 11 seconds of qualifying for the Boston Marathon in a previous race and wants to qualify for Boston this time. Lori and Leah are in their first marathons. Lori ends up running for a charity (like a lot of other runners). Leah is running as a way to get over her divorce. Then, you have Jerry who is running in another marathon because his daughter wanted to run one with him. Only the first two of these runners has any aspirations of winning the event. The rest have some of the same goals as a majority of marathon (or other long distance) runners have…mostly to finish.
The story of these runners starts with the beginning of their training for the 2005 Chicago Marathon. As we watch these six runners prepare, you get an insight to how people at different ability levels prepare. You have the Kenyan who gives us a lot of insight into how they train and helps us see why they are so dominant in long distance races. I loved the footage from his home and listening to him explains the training program he uses.
Another thing I loved about this film is that two of the runners have setbacks in their training. How realistic is that? I loved that part. Deena has an injury that keeps her off the pavement for several weeks. As we watch, she shows us what she does to keep herself in shape while she can’t run. As a side note, I’d love to get one of those treadmills for running in water. Then there’s Ryan, who (spoiler alert), injures himself during a prep half marathon and cannot run in the Chicago Marathon. He does continue to support his wife who does run (and finish) the marathon.
One thing I learned from Ryan was just how fast those elite runners go. To qualify for the Boston Marathon, you must be able to run the 26.2 miles at 8.3 miles per hour. He demonstrated this on a treadmill at his home. Then, he kicked it up to what the elites are running at…12 miles per hour (the top speed on his treadmill). That’s a 5 minute per mile average over 26.2 miles. I don’t think I could run that fast even in my wildest dreams. Watching Ryan up the pace to that elite level gives you a great visual for just how fast these elite runners are going. WOW!
The climax to this movie really is watching 5 of the 6 run the Chicago Marathon. There are stunning views of the city. Jeff Beal, who wrote the music, captured the emotion of the struggle and the pure joy running a marathon brings perfectly. The editors also did a brilliant job of mixing in the stories of all the runners we’ve been following. Since Deena and Daniel finish well ahead of the rest, it would have been easy to just focus on them at first and then go back and talk about the others. However, part of the beauty of the marathon is that you have elite athletes and amateur weekend warriors running the same ground at the same time. This film captures that perfectly.
As a beginning runner, I identified with Leah and Jerry the most. Not that I’m divorced or a 70 year old man. However, Leah was a runner who was closer to my level of running. For her, finishing the marathon was the accomplishment. She wasn’t there for any particular time. Jerry ran closer to my pace than Leah. He also wasn’t competing for a particular time. Although, he did have goal times written in his hat. So, watching these two runners make their way to the finish was emotional for me. I’m not gonna lie. I teared up a bit when I saw them both finish. When they came to the part of the race where they saw the finish line, their reaction mirrored what I feel whenever I see the finish lines. So, it took me back to those emotions.
All in all, this is an amazing film that every runner, or people who try to understand runners, needs to see. After one viewing, it is crystal clear why someone might try this physically grueling distance and how it can change your life. As I move forward towards joining the few who call themselves marathon finishers, I’m sure I’ll be watching this film over and over again.
You can order this film on Amazon. Or, if you’re an Amazon Prime Member you can also watch the film free of charge through your membership (also available on Netflix instant streaming). This film has been so well received, that they have filmed “Spirit of the Marathon II.” Check out the trailer!