It isn't often this RunJunkEe sponsored athlete gets to review something that is likely way outside of my league. This movie has been to 12 film festivals and is probably the most decorated movie about ultra running to date. At the Somewhat North of Boston festival the film was awarded both Best of Festival and Best Documentary. At the Kingston festival this film won the Directors Award. To say I'm honored to write up a review is an understatement.
The opening scene reminds me of the operating room in old Mash episodes. There's a lot going on. Some medical stuff is happening. There are bodies everywhere. Someone is making a few jokes. There are words of encouragement. No one is crying or screaming, but from the faces you can tell that isn't too far below the surface. Through it all is the sense of urgency of outcome more than expertise. All that's missing is the chopper and the theme song.
But it's not a medical OR in a war zone. It's an aid station something like 15 miles from the finish of a 100 mile ultra. And I was hooked for the duration of the movie.
Most of us have seen running movies. They are usually loosely based on something that probably happened. Some of the story is made better. There's top notch music (Chariots of Fire). The people are pretty. The feet don't bleed. This is not that movie. This is the honest truth about pushing yourself to the limit. In fact, this is a documentary, and one of the few that I can really get into outside of some sort of class assignment. There are a couple other ultra documentaries out there, but the ones I've seen have either been the quality of an average middle school project, or something highly polished with a big budget. 100:Head/Heart/Feet found that sweet spot that this RunJunkEe loves to see - excellent quality yet down to earth enough to let you know this is 100% real life.
It's hard to tell who the intended audience might be for this movie. I think it's safe to say everyone interested in running, especially running long can find something in common with the people on the screen. The ultra veteran is going to watch it and nod with appreciation and knowing. An aspiring ultra runner (like myself) will likely find some inspiration, and perhaps some fair warning. Runners just learning to push the distance will even find an example of what the really big races take. And when it comes down to it, everyone enjoys stories about people facing incredible odds and the trials and tribulations associated with trying to beat those odds.
That being said, there are some people who may want to think twice about watching. First, if you are squeamish about gross feet or some of the icky things that come with running, there are parts of this movie that will not appeal to you. Second, if you are the spouse or significant other of a runner who is looking at the ultra distances some of the frank discussion with the race medical staff and chatter around the aid stations may cause some concern for the well-being of your runner.
Please don't get the wrong impression. The movie isn't filled with gross feet and discussion about the various reasons a runner may become medically unable to complete the race. I think most of these scenes are brief enough to be mindfully avoided if needed. (Though the medical discussion should probably be had with your significant other...)
It occurs to me after the fact that there isn't as much running footage as I might have expected. And one of the most intense running scenes is on a treadmill in a lab. The competitor and data geek in me wants to jump on Satans Sidewalk and see what my own lab results might look like. And I thank everyone involved with the film for limiting the use of the blair-witch-hand-held video recorders. There are a couple scenes, but not enough to make you dive for the Dramamine, and just enough to get you an accented look into what is going on.
So a documentary about running, that doesn't have as much running as a RunJunkEe would expect? What is in the movie? Well I'm glad you asked. The film is promoted as "A look at the Vermont 100, one runners mission to finish after two failed attempts." Sure. They nail all that. But there are a lot of people in the movie. And these people are sharing. They are sharing their travels over their lives and what they have learned by and about running really, really long distances. Not all of these people are runners. Some are the family of the distance runners. There are several very majestic scenes showing the mountains of the northeast United States. There are aid stations, medics, weigh ins, and oh so much more.
As a runner, and someone who tends to be a natural coach and helper, some of my favorite parts were the discussions with the pacers and crew. I liked these interviews because I found them very educational. At the end of the day, the running is... just running. Talking with the pacers and crew, you learn what it takes on race day to enable someone to "just run." And it's a whole lot more than a fresh water bottle, clean socks, and more gu.
And all of this combines to create a story. I will make no more effort to re-tell it. I think I have provided enough foreshadowing. The cinematography is real. The film has a very NatGeo/PBS feel to it, but I don't think NatGeo would go this in-depth to the part of life that involve iodine and ointment.
Clearly, I can't just sit here and love up on the film. There is one aspect that I just didn't like. But I didn't even know what it was until I watched it a second time. I'm afraid to tell it because it may ruin something for someone. But I have to. The background music. Most of it I just didn't like. There were a few moments where it was distracting. And there was one part that had me pausing the movie so I could look around the house and see what that was. There. I said it. Please don't hate me as you watch the movie.
In summary, my RunkEe friends, when this movie makes it's tour, round up your friends and go see it. It's a great story. When it comes out on DVD, or (paid!) digital download, throw some money at it. This is a perfect movie for Epsom salt baths, stretching, and foam rolling. And who knows, it might even inspire you to try and push your limits a little bit more. Maybe you'll push that 5k to 5 miles or even 10k. Maybe you'll push that 10k to a half. Maybe you'll push that half into something... truly spectacular.
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