Review – “Spirit of the Marathon”

“I think we are made to run.  We have these long legs for a reason.” Joe Henderson, Runner’s World

“At some point in the marathon, the distance is greater than the human ability to transcend it.”  Amby Burfoot, Boston Marathon Champion


I watched Spirit of the Marathon last night.  The movie follows six runners training for the Chicago marathon.

Ryan Bradley is a repeat marathoner who missed Boston by 22 seconds and is going for it again in Chicago.

Leah Caille and Lori O’Connor are both first timers, just set on finishing.

Seventy-year old Jerry Meyers has run Chicago four times, and this year is training with his daughter.

Daniel Njenga is a world class marathoner, who has missed winning Chicago three years in a row.

Deena Kastor is of course currently America’s greatest female marathoner, but at the time of the documentary she had yet to win a major event. 

While this movie failed to draw me in emotionally in the way that others have done, I appreciated the approach director Jon Dunham took.  His focus was the challenge of the 26.2, regardless of whether you are Deena Kastor or Jerry Meyers, who respectively finished four hours apart.  

Most of the 90-minute movie builds up to the race, from Leah and Lori completing their first 20-mile training run, to Deena running injured in a pool for six weeks.  

And it is not just about the training, but the support system required.  After a divorce, Leah’s mom watches her seven-year old so she can run. Lori’s husband jokes something like, “I don’t get it.  Isn’t anything past 5 miles why we have taxis and buses?”  Ryan and his wife have been running together since they met.  I was so touched noticing all the race bibs they had, only a couple numbers apart.  He would be number 1100 and she would be 1101.  He was number 3 and she was number 5. The average man’s Adam and Kara.

History makes an appearance, which is very fun.  There is a fantastic clip of an early 1900’s marathoner winner collapsing a few hundred yards from the finish, forever securing the reputation of marathoners as crazy.  My favorite moment in history was watching Katherine Switzer defy convention as the first female to run Boston.  Without her, where would women like me be today? I can’t imagine being stuck on the sidelines.  Thank you Katherine!

The best part of the film is the actual marathon.  The cinematography, especially of the thousands of feet and the air shot of the 40,000 people at the start, captures the experience. You see the pleasure and the pain.  For a while, I wasn’t sure Leah was going to make it, and when she did I felt the victory right along with her.  The most poignant image of the movie is Daniel’s face after the finish line.  Watching Ryan watch his wife melts your heart.  The race between Deena and this year’s Olympic marathon champ, Constantina Tomescu, makes your heart almost explode.  

It isn’t the best running movie I have seen,  but it was a good way to relax for a while and be reminded why the marathon is an amazing feat we attempt over and over and over.  There is just something about it.  I suppose you call it the spirit of the marathon.


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