Thursday, February 21, 2008

Spirit of the Marathon: Boo-Hoo I'm a Runner

The documentary that has the running world in a mild state of something, Sprit of the Marathon, is having a second screening tonight nationwide. I saw it the first time and wasn't able to post my thoughts, so I'll let you know this time around.

Here is the thing I have realized about Spirit of the Marathon: It never had a chance.

Let me explain.

The movie itself is good. It has amazing visuals, a great soundtrack, and a gripping final sequence at the Chicago marathon. Professionally done throughout, the movie legitimately kept my attention, more or less.

That is my review, thanks for asking.

Here's the rub: I've seen all of the content a million times before (more or less) and, quite frankly, I'm starting to get angry with it.

All of the joggers' stories could not have been more formulaic than if they pulled them straight from the runnersworld.com forums. It is great that a woman runs for charity and that an overweight person with knee problems is able to finish a marathon (I'm honestly not being sarcastic), but I have heard it all before.

There is a possibility that media surrounding runners can be fun and unique and even genuinely interesting, without it being all about the runner's tragic life. There is a place and an audience for that type of media, but right now it accounts for about 99% of running media. Most of which, if I can be so bold to say, is little more than a circle jerk.

I certainly cannot pinpoint the reason why running media on a large scale, like that of Spirit, deals almost exclusively with the same old sadsack b.s. every time, but I know I've seen just about enough of it.

"Running is hard." "Yeah, it is isn't it?" "Yeah, I work really hard at running." " I do too." "Running is valuable and special and we are interesting and unique just because we runandblahandblahblah." And around and around.

This is why it was so difficult for me to walk away from Spirit with a good feeling, despite it being very well done.

But they do follow some pros (I hear you saying in your little winy voice).

The time the documentary spent on Deena was good because Deena is the top American female distance runner. She also has the kind of red wine personality that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Wanted more of that.

The time spent with the other pro, Daniel Njenga, was a bit more confusing. I'm certainly not saying Njenga is not relevant to elite marathoning, which some might falsely assume is the point of my next statement: Njenga is irrelevant to this movie.

There is the obvious fact that all of the people followed in this movie are Americans living in America doing a marathon in America participating in an American film which will be viewed by mainly Americans. Elite marathon racing is certainly an international thing, though, so this point on its own does not hold water.

Also, the filmmakers probably wanted to acknowledge the dominance that Kenyans have in the event that they are chronicling. Makes sense. So, they go to find a Japan-based Kenyan and proceed to include about 3 minutes worth of footage of him in Japan buying a train ticket and inexplicably opening a laptop in what I can only assume is an office building where he works (the film doesn't make it too clear). Does not make sense.

Almost all of the drama surrounding Njenga developed through 1.) the (limited) footage of Kenya (which, incidentally, was not done nearly as well as ChasingKimbia) and 2.) the fact that he keeps getting 2nd and 3rd. The film did so little with him, his inclusion just seems forced and out of place.

The point (Finally!): I'm tired of sadsacks. It's good to hear inspiring, overcoming the odds stories every once in a while, but that is not all the running world has to offer. Some good runners might actually have a fun personality with an interesting story to tell.

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