2 Running Movies Going In Different Directions

I just finished my second movie featuring ultramarathon runner going across country. This one, 2010’s Running America, features Marshall Ulrich and Charlie Engle, as they try to break the record for the time it takes to run across the US.  The other movie, 2009’s Ultramarathon Man, follows Dean Karnazes during his 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days during The North Face Endurance 50. The two movies couldn’t be more opposite in terms of the tone or how they make the viewer feel.

Karnazes, the self-styled Ultramarathon Man, really leaves you feeling inspired in Ultramarathon Man.  You feel brave and like you could tackle anything after watching his movie.  After watching Running America, it’s hard to feel anything more than upset or maybe like there’s little hope for the future (especially the future of the US economy…I know what you’re thinking – “Huh?  Did he just say ‘the economy’? Huh?  Isn’t it a running movie?” Read on.).  Reading the book about the Endurance 50 (Run!: 26.2 Stories of Blisters and Bliss by Dean Karnazes), you see all of Karnazes’s struggles as told through his eyes, but the movie takes a decidedly more positive position and leaves the bulk of this out.

Running America, by contrast, really focuses on the trials and tribulations of the two ultrarunners, their various medical elements, and the terrible state of the US economy during the running (2008 financial crises and election).  It focuses on depression, feelings of failure, and a sense of hopelessness. It might be reality and it might be a good representation of how the runners felt, but it’s very hard to walk away and feel inspired by this movie.  Karnazes’s movie leaves you feeling the opposite way.

What I really didn’t get or expect in Running America was just how much focus the movie put on the economy. The financial crisis was possibly the lead character or at least the main story. I would have preferred it play a much smaller role to leave time to properly dig into the running.

One other odd thing is the negative the movie didn’t address, namely the failure of the runners to break the record they set out to break.  The whole purpose of the run was to break a long-standing record of running across the country in 47.5 days, requiring a daily distance of 70 miles on average.  I won’t give too much away, but they didn’t hit this goal, and there wasn’t so much as a passing mention when they flashed the text about what they achieved at the end (e.g. “Although they didn’t break the record they set out to break…”). This isn’t a big deal, but it struck me as odd that a movie that focused so much on the negatives of the financial situation didnt even make passing reference to the failure of the mission the movie was supposed to capture.  For the record, two other records were set, and the finish line was reached (in something like 52 days) which is amazing into itself given the 3k+ distance involved, so it wasn’t all bad.  It was just odd to me what they did and didn’t focus on.

Now this isn’t to say that Running America is a failure or a bad documentary, it’s just to say that it’s not this uplifting inspirational movie that you might expect it to be. If that’s what you’re looking for, this isn’t the right one to watch.  Instead, watch Ultramarathon Man since it will make you want to go out and run, and think you can run forever.  If you want something grittier and more in-your-face about the mental and physical toughness of running that much for that many consecutive days, then go with Running America.  Personally, I could have skipped this one, and would have shut it off if I didn’t plan to write this blog post (and needed something to watch to pass the time anyway).

Eh, what do I know? Watch ’em both, but be warned either way.

And, actually, don’t just watch them, but read the books behind the stories.  Charlie Engle is also a prolific blogger, and has had an amazing life story overcoming adversity, a major drug problem, and a recent stint in prison for a BS mortgage fraud issue (long story, but worth reading…it’s shocking what happened to him).  And when I say, “don’t just watch them,” what I mean is, “Read the books.”  You can read and workout, but watching something and working out (or just watching something) is more zoning out and disassociating than not.  That’s not ideal.  Read instead.  That’s the best way to enlighten.your.body.

About bryan falchuk

bryan falchuk is the founder of newbodi.es, a certified personal trainer, behavior change specialist and the best-selling author of "Do a Day". bryan coaches people on their whole health - the physical, mental and emotional combination of wellness that we need to thrive and change our lives.

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