A CineMarathon at the Pavilion
With a week full of programming at three locations across the city—the TCS New York City Marathon Pavilion, the NYRR RUNCENTER featuring the New Balance Run Hub, and the TCS New York City Marathon Expo Presented by New Balance—there's a lot to take in during TCS New York City Marathon week.
Earlier this week, I wrote a story about a run based on a movie; today, I'm writing a story about movies based on running. Over the course of Marathon Week, I attended three film screenings at the TCS New York City Marathon Pavilion, and I'm here now to recap each of them, just in case you need some last-minute inspiration before the race tomorrow.
On Tuesday, the Pavilion hosted the premiere of MEB: The Home Stretch, a five-part series about to Meb Keflezighi's path to his final competitive marathon here in New York.
On Thursday, we had a double feature, beginning with Run Mama Run, a short documentary about Team New Balance's Sarah Brown, followed by BOSTON: The Documentary, a feature-length picture about the 100-plus year history of the Boston Marathon.
Below is some more information about each film, as well as some interesting observations from each picture.
MEB: The Home Stretch
What it's about: A five-episode series following Meb Keflezighi's final competitive season. The Pavilion screened four of the series' five episodes, each running about 10 minutes.
The series' first episode opens with Meb in Central Park, preparing for the 2017 United Airlines NYC Half in March. The second follows his experiences with the Boston Marathon, from spectator in 2013 to champion in 2014, as well as his final finish in Copley Square in 2017.
The third episode has Meb returning to Eritrea with his family, meeting his extended family while teaching his daughters about their lineage, and the fourth brings Meb back stateside, as he trains in San Diego and Mammoth Lakes, CA for the 2017 TCS New York City Marathon.
The fifth episode, tracking his 26th and final competitive marathon at the 2017 TCS New York City Marathon, is still to be released (because, y'know, the race hasn't happened yet).
Why you should see it: It's Meb! That's reason enough!
But if you need more reason than that, it was interesting to get a behind-the-scenes look into how he prepares for races. Seeing him in the first episode, bundled up in late winter, he could be any runner tracing around Central Park's lower loop—but it's a near-guarantee that no one else in the park that day owns an Olympic silver medal, a New York City Marathon title, and a Boston Marathon trophy.
The episodes cover the physical side of Meb's training—with scenes of deep tissue massage, dynamic stretching, and the scenery along his training runs—just as much as the mental and emotional side. It shows him filling his aid station bottles for Boston alongside his daughters in his hotel, and then dedicates an entire episode to his family trip to Eritrea, where he brings his daughters to his father's village in Adi Gombolo.
The four episodes give a comprehensive picture about how he views his running career, as well as how he's adapted to remain a world-class competitor at age 42. The fifth episode, following his run at the 2017 TCS New York City Marathon, is still in production—primarily because the race hasn't happened yet—but I can't wait to watch how it ends.
Where you can watch: Runner's World has posted the four episodes that were screened at the Pavilion.
*Update: The fifth episode of MEB: The Home Stretch is now available at the link above.
Run Mama Run
What it's about: American mid-distance runner Sarah Brown, after placing sixth in the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials 1500 meters, was readying herself for another shot at Team USA in 2016. In 2015, she ran new personal bests at 800 and 1500 meters, but cut her season short after a series of subpar performances. "I was on top of my game, feeling the best I've ever felt as an athlete, and then it literally felt like I fell off a cliff," she recalls.
As she would learn, the intrauterine device she used to prevent pregnancy, which was supposed to be 99-percent effective, had failed. As she narrates the sequence of events, she takes a pause, and then gives a look to the camera that I can only compare to this emoji: 😬. With less than a year to the Trials, she and her husband, sub-4:00 miler Darren Brown, were now preparing to become parents.
The documentary follows Brown as she continues training throughout her pregnancy—with scenes of an elliptical workout in her living room at 36 weeks, and a pool workout alongside her husband (who also serves as her coach) at 38 weeks—as well as her return to the track two weeks postpartum.
The film also follows her challenges of balancing parenting and elite training, a series of illnesses and injuries during and after her pregnancy, and a montage of mid-morning wake-ups for the new parents.
Faced with a health scare from a spinal tumor a few weeks after giving birth, she reflects, "Even if I became an Olympian, that doesn't bring long-term happiness—those are moments." Holding her daughter, Abigail, she adds, "No matter what I do in life, she's going to be one of my biggest accomplishments, and I want the joy of watching that accomplishment do great things herself."
Despite the challenges, Brown still makes the Trials, stepping to the starting line at Hayward Field only four months after becoming a mother.
Why you should see it: Following a runner who is training while expecting is a story that, to my knowledge, has not been covered often in the past. Brown herself notes the shortage of research on how exercise affects pregnant women. But with support from her doctors and by keeping her workouts moderate, she's shown how one can continue training through pregnancy and beyond.
It was inspiring to see the efforts she put forth to keep herself fit, as well as those she put forth in the interest of keeping her baby healthy. (Seriously—to be back on the track two weeks postpartum is incredible.)
Where you can watch: ESPNW has hosted the documentary in five shorter episodes, with additional feature stories.
BOSTON: The Documentary
What it's about: A history of the Boston Marathon, covering from the race's first run in 1897 to the 118th edition of the race in 2014.
Why you should see it: It's difficult to tell the story of a 120-year-old race in the span of two hours, but the filmmakers do a comprehensive job of introducing many of the notable figures from the race's history, from Clarence DeMar, to John Kelley, to John Kelley (not a typo—there are two of them), to college roommates Amby Burfoot and Bill Rodgers, who would both become champions.
The race tells a series of short stories about different eras of the race, and the figures who shaped those races. Here are a few that stood out to me:
- Tom Derderian, coach of the Greater Boston Track Club, displaying the shoes that various Boston Marathon winners have worn since the early 20th century, including 1951 winner Shigeki Tanaka's "split-toe" shoes.
- The story of seven-time winner Clarence DeMar, who also worked as a typesetter. On more than one occasion, he would win the race, then report to work to print the story about him winning the race.
- How the winners' laurel wreaths begin on shrubs in Marathon, Greece, and once formed into their circular shape, are dipped in copper, then silver, then gold before shipping up to Boston.
- The process of opening the race to women, from Bobbi Gibb becoming the first woman to run the race in 1966, to Kathrine Switzer becoming the first woman to enter the race officially in 1967, to the first women's division of the race in 1972.
- To note: Many runners have seen the photo sequence of Switzer's boyfriend shoulder-blocking race director Jock Semple as he attempted to take away her bib, but the film featured actual video footage of the moment!
- How the race responded in the immediate aftermath of the 2013 bombings, as well as how it prepared for the 2014 race. In particular, I liked the behind-the-scenes look at one of race director Dave McGillivray's security operations meetings with the fire and police departments of the eight towns along the course.
It's a nearly two-hour film, and it tells many more stories than I can fit in a reasonable amount of space here, but it will certainly get you in the marathon spirit—whether you're out running on the course, or on the sidelines supporting runners like students in Wellesley College's "Scream Tunnel."
The screening at the Pavilion also included a Q&A with four-time winner Bill Rodgers, who shared stories of his times racing on the course and running throughout his lifetime.
Where you can watch: To date, the film has held screenings in select cities, but will be released for on-demand viewing in December.