Boston: An American Running Story

Last week I went to see “Boston” the first feature length documentary film on the history of the race — and it is a beauty.

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The film takes off as an old-fashioned anchorman’s voice pipes up from a dark screen and we are hurtled back in time with newsreel footage of a race in black and white — when the marathoners ran all 26 miles through eight cities and towns wearing something like bedroom slippers (can you imagine running in something like this?!).

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This movie fleshes out those familiar stories that have become vestigial to many runners and Boston residence. You’ll learn about two-time marathon winner and son of a mailman Johnny Kelley, the endurance of the ultra-focused champion Amby Burfoot and his loose-limbed pal Bill Rodgers who dominated the sport, but also about an orphan named Clarence DeMar who first won the race in 1911 and was considered the best runner of his generation! A typesetter at a newspaper, DeMar won the marathon then headed to the office and set the type for the front page story of his own victory!

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They revisit the footage of legendary female pioneers like Kathrine Switzer fighting off a race official who attempted to physically yank her off the course (she just ran it again at age 69). And before her Bobbi Gibb the first woman to finish the Boston Marathon in 1966 but who was told by male racing authorities when she applied to run that women were “not physiologically able to run marathon distances.”

The film is jam-packed with highlights and information from the Rosie Ruiz hoax and the controversies around prize money and sponsorships to the charity runs, to the Wellesley scream tunnelers, the crown of olive leaves dipped in copper, silver and gold, and one Japanese winner who threw his away! And then there was the terror — the bombs that maimed and killed.

The question faced by race director Dave McGillivray propels the rest of the film: “Would people want to come back? … Is this a dangerous event?” The film documents the triumphant answer as “Team Martin Richard” gathers in the rain at the memorial and President Obama declares that Boston will rise. With a series of images of a city embracing its wounded self, and we feel the resonance of the deeper meaning of this marathon: It is the heroic significance of the runners and the inviolable and indispensable relationship of the spectators to those runners which carry all of us across the finish line. 

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This film left me breathless and 100% motivated to make the Boston the next stop on my Marathon list.