TITLE: Spirit of the Marathon AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: January 26, 2008 10:01 PM DESC: ----- BODY: The 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 arise. 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. -----