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Documentaries every runner should watch

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If you’re tired of wasting time scrolling through Netflix searching for the right movie or show to watch, we’ve got you covered. There are plenty of movies out there on running, but we’ve selected five of the best documentaries for you to watch. Before you get started on these films, though, be warned: sudden bursts of inspiration are highly likely while watching these flicks, so be ready to feel the need to go for a run after viewing.

The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young

This film was released in 2014, and it tells the story of the Barkley Marathons, race founder Laz Lake and the runners who dream of finishing the event. Producers followed the 2012 event, before which only 10 people had completed the Barkley Marathons, but that number is up to 15 today. The documentary brought this race into the mainstream, and although viewership was likely primarily runners, it captivated non-running audiences as well. 

Barkley Marathons Netflix
Photo: The Barkley Marathons.

Boston: The Documentary

This 2017 documentary covers the history of the Boston Marathon, from its humble beginnings in 1897 right up to modern times. The film, which is narrated by Boston native Matt Damon, follows legends of the race (like the event’s first official female participant, Kathrine Switzer), 2014 winner Meb Keflezighi and four-time winner Bill Rodgers, as well as other past champions. In addition to the race’s history, the documentary looks to the future as organizers worked past the tragic events of 2013 and towards the Boston Marathons yet to come. 

The Runner

In Oct. 2022, The New Yorker released a short, 17-minute documentary called The Runner that follows an Indigenous Canadian ultrarunner named Darius Sam. The film documents a 100-mile run in 2020 that Sam set out to complete to raise money and awareness for mental health. Since then, Sam has continued with ultrarunning, and in 2021 he became the youngest male to run the Moab 240, a behemoth of a race through Utah. Sam’s efforts have also led to a whopping $150,000 raised for mental health charities. 

Breaking2

This documentary was produced by National Geographic and Nike, and it followed the build-up to the first-ever sub-two-hour marathon attempt, Nike’s Breaking2 project, in Italy in 2017. The film dives into the lives of the three Breaking2 athletes (Eliud Kipchoge, Zersenay Tadese and Lelisa Desisa), the months of planning that went into the attempt and the run itself. Although it ended up being unsuccessful (Kipchoge ran 2:00:25), it was still thrilling to watch, and the documentary is just as exciting. 

Nike Breaking2
Eliud Kipchoge crosses the Breaking2 finish line. Photo: Nike.

Icarus

Although this Oscar-winning documentary is not a running-specific film, it should still be at the top of every runner’s must-watch list. The Netflix film intended to focus on doping and how difficult (or easy) it is to get away with cheating in elite sports, but it quickly turned into a story about doping in Russia, which ultimately led to the downfall of a years-long program that involved countless Russian athletes and sports officials.

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