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Running America

I am not sure what has come over me. Ok, maybe it is fear. Nerves. Anxiety. A combination of all three? But I have turned to trying to soak in as much as I can about running, ultra-running, Comrades, everything. So when I was at Runners Roost the other day, I picked up an invite to a book launching/documentary screening on, you guessed it, ultra-running. The book is written by Marshall Ulrich and the documentary follows his and Charlie Engles journeys as they attempt to run from San Francisco to New York City-- very appropriately titled...

While what I was expecting in watching the documentary was another feel good story about running, how it is good for you and "look at what I can do"...this was not that movie. And I am glad it was not.

Set in Sept-November of 2008 (think Wall Street bailout, presidential debates, etc), the men were running across the country at a time when change (or the lack of) was affecting everyone. When movement forward was on the forefront of everyone's minds. While the runners themselves did not touch on these subjects, the film did in both dialogue and editing style.

Over the two hours that the saga played out, we watched beautifully composed running shot after beautifully composed running shot, juxtaposed against the hardships the runners faced along their route. Now here's the twist, the director threw in some very real and gritty commentary from fellow Americans. The interviews were not only skillfully art directed, but the subjects were carefully picked and the content of the conversation touched on elements that made you question things like what direction you want your life to take, what it you believe being an American means, is change always good and so much more.

At first I found a very large disconnect in the two storylines playing out, however the more I thought about it, the more I appreciated it. Too many running films talk about just that; running. That is it. Sometimes they will be focused on getting people more active, fighting childhood obesity, etc. but not often about some deeper seeded meanings.The movie itself asked you to ask more of yourself.  

I found the way the film was shot even lent itself to this theme in its cinematography. When you watch the film, you will see that the runner and/or interviewee is rarely the center of the screen. Rather, the subject will be slightly to severely off-center letting the surroundings take up the majority of the space. We are not in control of our environment, rather a product of it. How we move through it can and will make all the difference in the experience we take out of life. 

As Charlie and Marshall make their way across the U.S. you see them face their inner demons and battle through what they are going through. At the same time, you gain the perspective of a group of Americans (very different from Charlie and Marshall) and how they are choosing to navigate through life in tough economic and political times.

So as not to spoil anything, I won't give away the ending, but I will say that it tied the two storylines together. It completed the story, but at the same time, left me and Ross with plenty to talk and think about. I guess that is what I like in a movie.

For me, I think this documentary was a winner. I found it to be artfully directed with more than one meaning to the story. I like when you take something like a story about running and make it bigger than "a story about running". I think I like this because that is often what running is to people... to me. Yes, running is a form of exercise. But often enough it is so much more. A stress reliever. A release. A way to test your limits. A way to fight your inner demons. A means to achieve a goal. It can be a lot of things to a lot of people.
Ross and I with Marshall after he signed our books
Like the movie, I am hoping his book has a bigger meaning, too.