I’m a HUGE fan of the documentary Spirit of the Marathon, which follows 6 (you could say 7, really) people throughout their training toward the Chicago Marathon. I remember a couple of years ago seeing a “casting call” for their second Spirit… movie, which would be centered around the Rome Marathon. As much as I wanted to apply, I knew that the timing wouldn’t work out with my teaching, so I didn’t apply though Rome is definitely on my dream race list. Looking back, I do remember that it seemed to be more a query for “what’s your compelling story for doing it” than that only being a part of it.
That should have been a clue.
Nevertheless, I was super pumped when it was announced that there would be a one-night-only nationwide showing of Spirit of the Marathon II on June 12, and I immediately bought my ticket. And so yesterday afternoon when PT was over (that’s another post all together), I eagerly went to the Loews AMC theatre at Kipps Bay to see the movie.
After getting my popcorn and soda (I know…but hey, it’s my one real vice my soda), I went and got a seat in the theatre. Talked for a little with my friend Elyse who was there with some women from her running club, and then watched the slides of various marathon-related trivia (think the usual pre-show trivia slides, only this was all marathon all the time) that were flashing on the screen. I was happy to see that they had decided to donate a portion (only a portion? I can only hope that the other portion was going to Team World Vision which was heavily promoted in the slides and in a documentary shown after for those of us who chose to stay for a few minutes after the movie) of the proceeds were being donated to The One Fund Boston to assist victims of the Boston Marathon bombing. I do wish they’d publicized that fact earlier as I think possibly more people might have known about and chosen to attend – though our theatre was supposedly sold out, there were more than a few empty seats…and it was one of the smallest theatres in the multiplex to begin with. Another friend has reported “maybe 10” people in his screening.
The familiar (though altered slightly for this one) music started as the camera panned over the Eternal City, and I settled in to watch what I’d been looking forward to for so long. Soon though, it became apparent this Spirit was going to have at least one significant difference. In this one, we saw the cast all starting the marathon even before the title rolled. For me, this changed everything about the movie.
Gone for me was the emotional investment in watching people train and struggle in the process – things that made the cast of the first one (Leah, Lori, Jerry, Daniel Njenga, Deena Kastor, and Ryan (aka “BQ Guy”)…and to a lesser degree his wife Colleen) so…relatable. I could empathize with them. I saw them struggle with difficulties encountered in training – injuries, doubts, etc. I knew what they were going through because I was going through those too!!
Yes, we got a little backstory on the cast of this movie (Cliff, Domenico, Mimmo, Epiphanie, Julie, Vasyl, and Ylenia) and a bit about why they were running, but we didn’t see their entire training journey. We didn’t see the doubts as they hit 20 miles for the first time (ok, granted only 2 of them did that). There was reference to Mimmo having an ankle injury, but it wasn’t dwelt on. Other than Epiphanie (who is a pro from Rwanda and watching HER personal story I did get teary) and Ylenia, I honestly couldn’t remember any of this cast’s names and had to look them up. (By contrast, I knew the first cast’s names after seeing it only once – probably because we got to know them a bit more. I did have to look up Ryan’s name for this only because I pretty much only refer to him as “BQ Guy”, but the others I STILL can recall.)
When they were doing the bit of Vasyl’s story (he’s pro from the Ukraine and was trying to OQ – Olympic Qualify), there was a lot of focus on his first…NYC. Between that and a truly lovely part focusing on Grete Waitz (indeed the movie was dedicated to her memory), it almost felt like they should have been doing this one about runners training for and running the New York Marathon.
But ultimately we got back to Rome and that marathon, which was nice. Since this is on my list of races I want to run, it was nice to see some of the course. And obviously the city itself is gorgeous.
However, in spite of seeing all but one of the cast finish (Mimmo had a DNF as his ankle injury forced him to drop out…and kudos to them for showing him stopping as that is reality), those finishes felt anti-climactic. I think that for me, a large part of that is because other than Epiphanie and Ylenia, I really didn’t feel any connection to the runners (and the connection with them was nowhere near as strong as my connection to the cast of the first). They either came off as annoying (Julie, I’m looking specifically at you – and yes, I actually cheered out loud when the guy on the course told you to be quiet) or just so bland I couldn’t be bothered to invest in them. I don’t blame the runners for this completely though as I do think that part of relating to the first cast (even sexist, speedist, annoying Ryan) was that we’d followed them throughout their training and that in and of itself made me more invested in them. I WANTED to see how they did. This cast? I’m sad to say I really didn’t care all that much.
I stayed after for the bits with the various running experts (past pros, coaches like Higdon), which I wish had found their way into the film itself. I did miss the voice of the experts interspersed throughout to the degree they were in the first movie. (And also after was a documentary short about the work of Team World Vision…that could better be called an ad for Team World Vision…but as I do find their work compelling and worthy it didn’t bother me as much as it should have since it was billed more as a focus on water and Rwanda.)
So overall thoughts…? The first one I think better fits the title and truly shows the SPIRIT of the Marathon. The second felt more like some type of reality show…or perhaps the way they’ve taken to broadcasting the Olympics where there’s so much focus on personal stories you lose bits of the athleticism. For me, the journey to get to the starting line is compelling and ultimately for me displays more of a sense of “spirit” than “Oh poor me because…” backstories.
Am I sorry I spent the time and money to see the movie? No. I did enjoy bits of it, and seeing the city and parts of the course only makes me want to run Rome more. And I did find Epiphanie’s story especially moving.
Will I buy this one when it comes out on DVD? At this point, I’m going with probably not. Now, if they decide to have the proceeds go to One Fund Boston and Team World Vision, I would consider it. But even then I doubt it will get even half the play the first one has.
Ultimately, I’m sorry to say that this Spirit… left me feeling slightly flat rather than inspired.