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★★★★✩

Spirit of the Marathon

DVD, Released January 24, 2008

Directed by Jon Dunham

Rated PG

Spirit of the Marathon is a rare documentary movie that tries to capture the drama and essence of the 26.2 mile running event. Director Jon Dunham and his crew filmed on four continents to chronicle the experiences of six very different marathon runners throughout their training and closing with their performances in the 2005 Chicago Marathon. The film focuses on two elite runners who focus on winning the race: American Champion and 2004 Olympic bronze medalist Deena Kastor and the Kenyan professional runner Daniel Njenga. The film also displays the struggles and successes of the five amateur runners Ryan Bradley, Leah Calle, Gerald Myers and Lori O’Connor. “The reason that most people run the marathon is that it is a challenge for them. And whether it’s physical, mental or both – it’s something that helps them in their everyday life” explains Marathon champion Alberto Salazar.

Spirit starts by illuminating the history of the race with archived footage and photos from several Olympic marathons, it shows how this long-distance run became dominated by African runners and the importance this has for their home countries. Dunham also focuses on the curious role of women and how they fought back their right to compete in marathon races after the 1928 Olympics officials decided that any races further than 200 meters were too hard for them and therefore banned all women from distances beyond this range.

After setting the frame, Spirit leaves the usual track of a documentary and delves into a more personal and emotional exploration of the six individuals and their lives, hopes, and experiences. Daniel Njenga, one of the top 10-runners in the world, was followed to Kenya when visiting his family and siblings. While watching those scenes the audience is given an inside glimpse of what marathon running means to him, his siblings and his entire country. Njenga speaks intimately about his Kenyan house and how the money with which he supports his big family attracted thugs.

Spirit also explains the five amateur runners’ diverse motivations to finish the 2005 Chicago Marathon how the event impacts their lives. Jon Dunham uses their stories to pull the attention away from a sports event to demonstrate that marathon race is a strong metaphor for life. At the entrance statement of the film Deena Kastor explains: “Sometimes the moments that challenge us, define us the most.” This is even – if not more – true for those amateur runners.

When director Jon Dunham was asked how he choose the six runners he selected, he found the marathon to be an “incredible mixing of elite runners with the amateur runners from all across the globe and all ranges of human experience”. Dunham said that he wanted the film “to offer inspiration for anyone who sets out to achieve a goal that takes the determination, effort and attitude of running a marathon”. His movie demonstrates the incredible human ability to bring the impossible to reality and thus becomes more and more a film about the temper of man itself. Boston Marathon champion Dick Beardsley gets to the heart of the complex fascination of the marathon: “When you cross that finish line - no matter how slow, no matter how fast - it will change your life forever.”

Spirit is an exciting documentary about both running and life. The incredible soundtrack of Emmy Award winner Jeff Beal generates a very intense and emotional atmosphere and makes it an inspiring demonstration of the human ability to overcome any struggle. If you enjoy running, no matter how fast or slow you are, you will definitely enjoy this documentary.