Top 19 Running Documentaries For Inspiration And Motivation

Now is a great opportunity to escape to the TV and watch the most impressive running-themed docs created by renowned filmmakers. While we cannot go to road racing and the summer movie season has been interrupted, documentaries are a great way to get connected to running.

Are you trying to find the determination to initiate your exercise routine, companionship to help you manage the running machine, or a remarkable basis to rest on your couch? If so, this range of films spotlights significant occasions, moments and individuals from the speciality of running in addition to honouring the unyielding energy of the human soul.

Get your snack ready, sit down comfortably, and get ready to be motivated!

Documentary Films Every Runner Should See For Inspiration And Motivation

1. The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young

You can never really know what your capabilities are until you strive to do something of greater magnitude. Whether you regard Gary Cantrell, also known as Lazarus Lake, as a dreamer or a tyrant, there is no denying his ingenuity in developing obstacles to test the endurance of anyone who dares to take them on.

Laz’s spellbinding story is accompanied by footage of the astonishing 2012 edition of The Barkley Marathons, a Tennessee trail race which has had only 15 successful participants out of 34 years.

Witnessing the intense emotion of the Barkley occasion can be uncomfortable for observers, yet we are all welcome attendees to this extreme trial of endurance. Is not misery improved by companionship?

2. Boston: The Documentary

Boston is the same as running documentaries as the Boston Marathon is to running.

This movie, with a large budget and directed by a veteran of Spirit of the Marathon, Jon Dunham, and narrated by Matt Damon, focuses on the aftermath of the devastating 2013 Boston bombing and culminates in the resilient “Boston Strong” response in 2014.

Starting off modestly as the inaugural marathon in the U.S., the Boston Marathon has seen many memorable moments, such as the infamous Rosie Ruiz scandal in 1980 and the emotional win of Meb in 2014. Through old recordings and memories of people who have witnessed the race, one can uncover the stories of the athletes, the well-known names, and the epochal events that built the legacy of this renowned running race.

An inspiring story of victory over adversity which surpasses the boundaries of sports, Boston is the absolute best.

3. Breaking2

The movie Breaking2 follows the journey of three extraordinary athletes–Eliud Kipchoge from Kenya, Lelisa Desisa from Ethiopia, and Zersenay Tadese from Eritrea–as they strive to break the world record for running a marathon in two hours or less, with Nike’s support.

The movie investigates what humans are capable of doing while also providing an understanding of each of the sportsmen both on a personal and professional basis.

Kipchoge’s mantra of “No human is limited” may seem impossible to many of us, but the powerful and meaningful effect of this remarkable feat is palpable even when accounting for our knowledge of the final result.

4. Desert Runners

If you’re attempting to get your non-runner friends to put on shoes and accompany you, Desert Runners wouldn’t be a good beginning point. This movie follows an international group of weekend runners as they battle to complete four ultramarathons which are all 155 miles long, over six days, in some of the harshest environments known.

It is both captivating and annoying to see ordinary individuals attempt remarkable feats (and suffer awful blisters), especially in such intense circumstances where even clear judgment or carelessness can lead to life-or-death consequences.

As the ultrarunning mantra goes, miserable is memorable.

5. 15 Hours with Amelia Boone

Billy Yang, a filmmaker, has made two emotionally moving films that display the determination of the true champions.

Introducing Dave Mackey – a top-ranked ultrarunner – Leadman recounts Mackey’s difficult experience in 2015 when an injury caused the amputation of his lower left leg. Now in 2018, Mackey is making a remarkable return to running the Leadville Trail 100 Race.

Equally, while making scarcely any direct references to all her traumas, 15 Hours with Amelia Boone mounts the four-time obstacle racing champion’s own personal statement onto documentary footage from her successful arrival to ultrarunning in the 2018 Sean O’Brien 100K.

6. Runner

The path Guor Mading Maker took to become an Olympic marathoner is celebrated in the movie Runner, showing his journey from being a refugee from Sudan to a world-class runner.

Having lost 28 family members—including eight of his nine siblings—to the Sudanese Civil War, Mading Maker spent much of his youth running for his own life in war-torn Sudan before escaping to the United States, where he would become a world-class runner and outspoken opponent of Sudanese oppression.

Animation is used to display Mading Maker’s battle growing up as one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, and the most impactful part of the movie is the moment when he reunites with his parents for the first time after two decades.

7. Skid Row Marathon

Central to this tale of encouragement is the concept of rock bottom, running, and restoration surrounding the Midnight Mission Running Club, which is based in the Skid Row area of Los Angeles.

Judge Craig Mitchell established the organization in 2012 to give members of the Skid Row homeless population the encouragement and ability to break away from drug dependency and reach their own aspirations.

The movie triumphs by exhibiting the significance of giving someone a second opportunity and underscoring how much one individual can achieve when they have a person that has confidence in them, demonstrated through the actions and remarks of the miscellaneous club members and the “Judge” himself.

8. Spirit of the Marathon

Jon Dunham’s directorial feature from 2007 is a heartfelt tribute to the most celebrated racing distance.

This movie follows six runners–including renowned athlete Deena Kastor–during their preparation for, and participation in, the Chicago Marathon in 2005. Personal interviews with several renowned figures in the world of sports are also featured.

If the idea of running 26.2 miles had never previously interested you, this film might sway your opinion; Dunham artfully depicts the enchantment that motivates so many novice runners to continue.

Dan Solera, a lifetime resident of the Windy City and a four-time completed Chicago Marathon, admits to watching the movie Spirit of the Marathon on two occasions before his first run in the city.

9. Endurance

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This full-length docudrama takes you back in time to the rise to stardom of

Haile Gebrselassie is considered one of the greatest distance runners of all time.

The film follows a unique format, which includes dramatized scenes of his youth interspersed with training and race footage. If watching someone come from humble beginnings to win gold in the Olympics doesn’t get you fired up, then what will?

10. The 41st Day
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When Ryan Hall announced his retirement from professional competition at age 33 in 2016, many in the running community were surprised. But to Hall—who owns the third-fastest American marathon time on a record-eligible course (2:06:17)—the decision made perfect sense. This new doc follows his journey from teenage prodigy to a record-setting marathoner, and more.
11. Leadman: The Dave Mackey Story

Dave Mackey, the champion of various ultras and trail races, was compelled to make the difficult resolution to cut off his leg when a loose rock became unsteady under his feet while he was on a run. An enormous rock, believed to weigh 300 pounds, plummeted 50 feet from a mountainside and landed on the left leg of the person involved, smashing the skin and breaking the bones. The focus of a documentary short released in 2019 was his progression in the sport he loves.

12. The Human Race

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Everyone has a reason for why they run, and this film shares a handful of those stories in an inspiring fashion.
The documentary spotlights six runners over the age of 50—including a father attempting his very first 5K with his autistic son by his side, running revolutionary Kathrine Switzer, and an 80-year-old running a half marathon in celebration of her birthday—as they train for a monumental race. If you need a reminder that you can accomplish any goal you set your mind to, no matter your age or experience, this is one to watch.

13. Into the Wind

Trace the course of Terry Fox, a one-legged athlete living with cancer, during his attempted coast-to-coast run across Canada in 1980. The movie was first shown in 2010 as part of the ESPN 30 for 30 show. The filmmakers, including NBA legend Steve Nash, interviewed the people who were closest to Fox as he went about doing more than a marathon length every day to spread information and contribute financially to cancer research. Fox was still a young adult at the moment, and even though the tale is factual and it’s not hard to discover what befell the young Canadian, we will not reveal how this story concludes.

14. Unbreakable: The Western States 100

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This doc is available to watch for free on YouTube right now. Following the 2010 running of the Western States 100, Unbreakable tells the story of what is arguably the greatest matchup in the race’s history.
The event included two-time defending champion Hal Koerner, undefeated 100-miler Geoff Roes, Anton Krupicka (who at the time won every ultramarathon he started), and a young Kilian Jornet.
The film follows the four, with appearances from many other trail running legends, in their lead-up and race from Squaw Valley to Auburn.
While many races share the history of the trails they run on, this documentary is great for anyone who wants to geek out on runners adding to that history.

15. Hood to Coast

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Runners who have ever wanted to participate in the Hood to Coast relay, one of the largest of its kind in the world, might want to take a peek at the 2011 documentary

about this popular race in Oregon. The relay is approximately 200 miles long and features more than a thousand 12-person teams, and the film chronicles four groups who ran in the 2008 race. Grab 12 of your closest running buddies, watch the film, and sign up. But it’s a very popular race, so don’t hesitate.

16. Run For Your Life

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Learn about the man who made the New York City Marathon what it is today.
Fred Lebow’s life and work are brought to the screen in this 2008 movie, which describes how he turned the New York Road Runners Club from a small group of men running in the Bronx to a group that oversees the biggest marathon in the world that crosses all five boroughs of New York City.

17. Gun Runners

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This is a human-interest piece following two Kenyan runners—Julius Arile and Robert Matanda—who put aside their life as countryside warriors to focus on the sport. Director and filmmaker Anjali Nayar debuted this documentary in 2015. It shows how Kenyan runners go from poverty to reaching local and national fame in the sport. But it also displays just how hard it is to make it big in a country full of talented runners.

Famed ultrarunner Karl Meltzer is followed in his journey to run the Appalachian Trail in record time. Red Bull sponsors this documentary, and they document Meltzer’s third and final attempt at breaking the course record, set by Scott Jurek in 2015. While it’s probably not a good idea to attempt the feat after watching the film, you will definitely be motivated to get your feet wet and dirty on a trail right afterwards. (Watch the whole film on Red bull’s website or watch it on Netflix.)

19. Showing Up

Follow the lives of several November Project runners and athletes as they explain the reasons why they got into the grassroots free fitness movement. The movie chronicles everyday people in cities like New York, Boston, Washington D.C., and Kansas City who hold themselves accountable by showing up at 6:30 a.m. for workouts a couple times a week. Chris Mosier, an elite duathlete who is transgender, plays a prominent role in the film as a member of the group. You can watch the full documentary on YouTube.


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