That term first came to my mind when, as a child, I’d try to say “stream of consciousness” and end up with “brainflow.” It seems to fit here.

Welcome to the ramblings of my mind. (For now, these ones revolve mostly around films.)

Spirit of the Marathon

Sunday, April 13th, 2008 8:48 pm—Film

Spirit of the Marathon (USA 2008, Documentary), Director: Jon Dunham

Ah, running. When I used to bike alongside my uncle as he trained for one of his many marathons, he would often wave and say hello to the other runners we passed. The first time it happened, I asked whether he knew the man. “No,” my uncle said. “Misery loves company.”

I haven’t run distances for several years, but when I did, I always loved how solitary it could be—running along the water, around trees in a wooded path, getting into a rhythm with only your thoughts to occupy you. But there is something unforgettable, and unmatched, about the feeling you get when you’re part of the crowd at the starting line. Several years ago, I ran the Toronto Marathon. I think there were only about 2,000 runners that year, but it was still incredible to feel the energy, nerves and excitement around me.

The 2005 LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon, which is featured in Spirit of the Marathon, had over 33,000 entrants. The documentary follows the stories of six runners as they train for and compete in the marathon. It features record-holding, Olympic medalist runners who race to win; middle-aged and senior runners who smile and wave through the streets, making their way slowly but steadily to the finish line; and everyone in between.

One of the elite runners is Deena Kastor, 2004 Athens Olympic Marathon bronze medalist. Near the beginning of the film, she describes how she felt when she realized she was going to place on the podium. As we watch her run the last of the 42.2 kilometres, her eyes begin to well with tears. I can’t say she was the only one.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Jerry Meyers, a man in his late sixties who leads the group of runners that includes, in his words, “the newest and slowest” of the marathoners. “People talk about the runner’s high,” he says. “The only runner’s high I’ve really felt is when I stopped running.” But he keeps going, determined to break his PB of six hours and change.

Spirit of the Marathonis aptly named because it truly captures the essence of the event. There’s the fierce competitiveness and awesome athleticism of the top finishers.Their dedication, determination, patience, perseverance—and willingness to suffer—is astonishing. Watching these runners haul ass throughout the entire course, pushing through what is often visible pain, is mind-blowing. It’s hard not to get up and race around the theatre when you’re watching that.

And then there’s the heart, soul and optimism of the people who enter as a tribute to someone they love, for a social activity, or to prove something to themselves. You see the triumphs that runners of all levels feel, whether it’s breaking the ribbon at the finish line or seeing their children waving from the sidelines.

There’s an incredible show of solidarity and support around the marathon. If you’ve ever run one, or even watched from the sidelines, you know that it’s impossible not to be moved by the humanity. As a one-time (so far) entrant and many-time spectator, I can tell you that Spirit of the Marathon does a beautiful job of reflecting that. 3, 2, 1, GO see the movie!

If you’re looking for other inspiring/sport/marathon movies, rent Saint Ralph, one of my favourite Canadian films. It’s about a young Catholic schoolboy named Ralph who decides that winning the 1954 Boston Marathon will be the miracle he needs to wake his mother from a coma. The final stretch of the marathon, played out to the tune of Gord Downie’s cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, is an amazing, stirring moment that’s reason enough to watch Saint Ralph. Also, the film is pretty funny; Ralph has a predilection for “self-abuse” in many interesting, inappropriate locations (climbing the ropes in gym class, anyone?).

I dedicate this post to GR. She won the passes that got us into the advance screening of Spirit of the Marathon. But more importantly, she’s gearing up for the Ottawa Marathon this May. (And did she ever feel guilty watching a movie about training for the marathon—after rushing straight from our running workout—only to eat a hot dog and fries for dinner.) GR, I hope the movie inspired you as much as it did me. And if not, I’ll be there screaming myself hoarse from the sidelines anyway. 🙂

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