TITLE: Spirit of the Marathon
AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford
DATE: January 26, 2008 10:01 PM
day of my cold run
ended with a viewing of the new film
Spirit of the Marathon.
Jon Dunham's film follows six people as they prepare for
the 2005 Chicago Marathon. Two, Kenya's Daniel Njenga
and the US's Deena Kastor, are among the best marathoners
in the world. One was a guy is a 30-something with a PR
of 3:11 hoping to qualify for Boston. Two are 20-something
women training for their first marathons. The last is a
60-something guy with several 12:00/mile-pace marathons
under his belt. Interspersed throughout coverage of the
six runners are interviews with some of the sports greats,
including Frank Shorter and Bill Rodgers, who comment on
the history of the marathon as event and on the human
desire to challenge oneself and persevere.
I enjoyed the film very much. Every few minutes, someone
in the film said or did something that put a smile on the
face, or a tear in the eye, of every marathoner in the room.
We knew just what the person was doing, thinking, feeling;
we had done the same. The chill of a dark morning just
before a 20-miler. The deep disappointment of an injury
that means the end of a goal. The vacillation between
doubt and confidence as goals are met and new challenges
Some of the lines were memorable. A lot of folks chuckled
out loud when the 60-something guy said, "The only runner's
high I've ever felt is when I stop running." People talk
about a runner's high, but it's not all that common.
Each mile is work, and most days we merely manage to reach
the end. I've certainly had great runs, and written about
some of them here, but those days are rare and less euphoria
than steady. Unfortunately, new runners expect that they
should feel a runner's high at some point, and when they
don't they think something is wrong with them. There's
nothing wrong with you. Just keep running.
My personal favorite line was spoken, I think, by Deena
Kastor, 2004 Olympic marathon bronze medalist. She said
that one of the great allures of running a marathon is the
unknown. You work hard, you prepare, you are ready for the
race of your life. Yet despite all of the preparation, all
the hard work, you never know how your body or mind will
react on The Day. That is the moment of challenge.
Indeed, this is the ultimate challenge of a marathon. The
distance leaves your body with no margin of error, so the
marathoner is always teetering at the end of his or her
physical capabilities -- and mental energy. We middle-
and back-of-the-packers may think that the champion runners
are different from us, but they aren't. When Daniel Njenga
made the final turn of the Chicago Marathon and faced the
last grueling meters of the race, desperately hoping to
find a kick that would carry him across the finish line --
he came up empty. Spent, sore, tired. His dream was
beyond his reach. But he kept running, pushing his mind
and legs to take the last steps.
I've made that last turn in Chicago and felt that same
disappointment. I've struggled to push my legs through
those last grueling meters of the course. My dream wasn't
Njenga's, but it meant the same to me as his did to him.
In other sports, we can share the dreams of the world's
best, but we compete in different arenas. In the marathon,
we run the same courses, on the same crisp mornings, only
minutes (and hours...) apart.
I don't know if non-runners will enjoy Spirit of the
Marathon as much as the runners in the audience
Thursday night did. If you think running is boring or
hard, this film may not change your mind. If you think
marathoners are crazy to attempt the distance even as they
know it will push them beyond their limits, then you may
see this film as supporting evidence, not inspiration.
As a runner, I know the exhilaration of the challenge,
and watching six runners challenge themselves and show
us what they felt along the way was pretty inspiring.
Oh, and the marathon doesn't push me beyond my limits.
It helps me to find my limits, and push them outward.