The Spirit of the Marathon is the first ever non-fiction feature film to capture the drama and essence of the famed 26.2 mile running event. It is a labor of love brought to the screen by three-time Academy Award winner Mark Jonathan Harris, Telly Award winner and marathon runner Jon Dunham, and producer/marathoner Gwendolen Twist.
Filmed on four continents over four years, the film stars two elite runners, Kenyan Daniel Njenga and American Deena Castor, running to win, and four normal runners, Lori O’Conner, Ryan Bradley, Leah Caille, and Jerry Meyers, running for their own personal reasons.
Ryan Bradley is an experienced marathoner wanting to qualify for the Boston Marathon. Lori O’Conner is a first timer wanting to finish as well as raise money for a charity. Leah Caille is a single mom who started running as her marriage crumbled. Her goal was to finish and put all that behind her. Jerry Meyers, easily the most engaging of the group, is a septuagenarian marathon veteran running with his daughter Rona for her first time.
Woven into their training sagas are archival footage, historical background on the marathon, and interviews with legends such as Dick Beardsley, Frank Shorter, Katherine Switzer, Paula Radcliffe, Bill Rodgers, Toshihiko Seko, and Grete Waitz.
The historical background and footage made the movie much more interesting than if it were just a documentary on the training involved. Hearing the stories, such as how women were banned because it was believed their uterus would fall out was amazing. Katherine Switzer filled out her application for the 1967 Boston Marathon as K Switzer. It was accepted and she started the race but part way through the race, an official tried to forcibly remove her number and remove her from the race. Only a shoulder charge from her boyfriend at the time kept her in the race.
What makes the movie sing is the day of the race. By the time it comes, you are feeling the nerves of the athletes as they stress over making sure they have all their gear for the day. Building up to the start, when the gun goes off and the crowd surges to the line, the camera angle raises up over the masses and it is then that it really hits you how huge this event really is and how powerful the emotions are that rise in you. That and the thought of how the heck are 40,000 people going to make it through there all at once?