The best running movies: Incredible and inspiring stories on your screen

Your essential to-do list of the most inspirational flicks out there
The 13 best running movies to watch now

With the advent of YouTube, you can now see many riveting documentaries all about running at the click of a button. And with the addition of cutting-edge action-cam footage and the use of drones, the films can compete alongside some of the best documentaries out there.

From what it’s like to attempt to break history and run a sub-two hour marathon to one runner’s mental battle over 200 hot and relentless miles, here are our picks of some of the finest and most inspirational running films to stream when you’re kicking back after a hard workout.

You’ll be entering your first 100-mile race before you know it…

The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young

Let’s start with the big one, the one many of you might have seen. This must-see doc boosted the mythology around the now-infamous Barkley Marathons, in particular involving eccentric race organiser Lazarus ‘Laz’ Lake.

It follows the 2014 edition of the race, where competitors had 60 hours to complete five laps of an unmarked course around a mountainous region of Tennessee. Runners try to find hidden books as well as avoiding getting lost – all the time trying not to be sliced to ribbons by vicious, thorn-laced briars.

Watch here: Google Play | iTunes

Where Dreams Go To Die

If the previous film whet your Barkleys appetite, follow up with this. Ultra-athlete Gary Robbins attempts to complete the course on two separate occasions, followed both times by filmmaker the Ginger Runner.

Expect more Laz, more hidden books, more waiting for the conch to be blown and more ‘will he or won’t he make it’. It not only shows how much competitors in this unique race suffer but also the sportsmanship and companionship that you rarely find elsewhere. The ending is the stuff Hollywood screenwriters couldn’t make up.

Watch here: YouTube

Run Forever

This film should be under the definition of ‘inspirational’ in the dictionary. British record-breaker Nicky Spinks took on the challenge of smashing the 37-year-old record for completing the Double Bob Graham Round in under 48 hours.

A single Bob Graham Round involves navigating 42 Lake District peaks in under 24 hours – a double is completing a single round then turning around and doing it again. Even just getting your head around finishing one round then starting another is difficult. But Spinks, who overcame breast cancer in her thirties, powers her way round, via magical views (such as sunrise on Helvellyn), beans on toast and quiet determination, to break the record.

Watch here: YouTube

Underdog

Damian Hall is currently one of the UK’s best ultramarathon runners. Without much fanfare, the former journalist has run one of the world’s hardest races, the Ultra-Trail Mont Blanc, for the past four years, working his way up from 29th, to 19th, to an impressive 12th in 2017. But that was not good enough for him – his dream was a top 10 finish.

Could he do that in one of the hardest races in the world, against some of the best pro-ultrarunners, while working full-time and maintaining a vaguely normal family life? This follows the optimistic underdog on the race of his life.

Watch here: Amazon Prime | Vimeo

Leadman: The Dave Mackey Story

A film by Billy Yang, a filmmaker and podcaster who creates some of the best running documentaries on the internet. This profiles Dave Mackey and his return to ultra-running after losing a leg following an accident while out trail running.

For his comeback Mackey does not go for any old race though; he decides to conquer the Leadville 100 – not only running the famous 100-mile race, but also becoming a famed ‘Leadman’, which includes completing a number of other running events, plus mountain-biking 100 miles too.

Watch here: YouTube

Breaking2

A film about a result everyone already knows – Nike’s attempt to get someone to smash through the two-hour marathon barrier. This movie examines the preparation behind the attempt, and profiles each of the three runners involved – Eliud Kipchoge, Zersenay Tadese and Lelisa Desisa, leading up to the historic attempt itself.

If nothing else it shows how much time and prep the Nike team put into breaking the barrier, and goes on to show exactly what a special athlete and human Kipchoge is.

Watch now: Amazon | iTunes

Courtney Dauwalter: The Source

Up-and-coming US ultrarunner Dauwalter is no longer up-and-coming – she is now smashing records and winning races across the world. This film looks at her approach to racing and life during one of the toughest ultras out there – the 200-mile Tahoe Endurance Run. Since then she's gone on to win the UTMB on her first attempt.

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How can she go deep enough into her pain cave to beat not only all the men, but all the women too? For her, it’s a desire to not fail. That, and a cold beer and some candy at the finish.

Watch now: YouTube

Made To Be Broken

Karl ‘Speedgoat’ Meltzer attempts to break the fastest known time for running the Appalachian Trail. He’s helped on the 2,190-mile journey (one that normally takes hikers around six months to complete) by his dad, his wife, friend and competitor Scott Jurek, and other luminaries of the ultrarunning world.

We see him consume thousands of calories (including pizza and ice cream), ice his battered feet, lance deep blisters, avoid moose, rattlesnakes and bears, plus battle tendonitis and his own mind as he aims for the record.

Watch now: YouTube

Wainwright Record Attempt

If you cannot stand blisters, this is not the film for you. Fell-runner Steve Birkinshaw takes on a record that is seemingly unbreakable – running the 214 ‘Wainwrights’ as mapped out in Alfred Wainwright’s Pictorial Guide To The Lakeland Fells.

Not only did Birkinshaw document his attempt in the highly recommended book There Is No Map In Hell, but a camera crew also filmed his agonising seven days of running. By day three his podiatrist is determinedly trying to patch up Steve’s feet, which are already essentially one huge blister each.

Steve takes to running uphill in his socks and sliding down on his backside. “I’ve never seen someone suffer so much in 25 years of fell running,” says fellow fell-runner Gavin Bland. You feel every step Steve takes, and wince every time he does, so when he eventually reaches the finish at Moot Hall you’ll be upstanding in celebration.

Watch now: Reelhouse

Life In A Day

Another one from Billy Yang, this one covers the brutal Western States 100-miler, and in particular four women gunning for a top 10 finish. The women – Magdalena Boulet, Devon Yanko, Kaci Likteig and Anna Mae Flynn – are from different backgrounds and have varying experiences of ultramarathons; Flynn, for example, has never run 100 miles before.

We follow all four as their races progress, fatigue sets in, injuries take hold and the mental battle begins. The race wrings your emotions like a sponge – and that’s just as spectators.

Watch now: YouTube

Déjame Vivir

This list would not be complete without including one of Kilian Jornet’s ‘Summits Of My Life’ films. We’ve gone for Déjame Vivir, a documentary about running up and down Matterhorn as fast as he can – as you do.

The film builds to the big event by seeing him train on Month Blanc, then take on a bizarre (and dangerous) race in freezing temperatures on Russia’s Mount Elbrus, before scoping out Matterhorn and attempting to beat Bruno Brunod’s record of 3hrs 14mins.

Jornet’s almost superhuman ascent of the mountain is white-knuckle viewing, but the descent is something else – he practically flings himself down the mountain, sliding down ropes, bouncing off rocks and skating on glaciers yet never looking in less than total control.

Watch now: Reelhouse

Mira

This short film follows the inspirational story of Nepalese runner Mira Rai and her rise to the top of the ultramarathon rankings over the past few years. Born into poverty in the mountains surrounding Nepal, Mira left school aged 12 to sell rice at the local market.

It turns out that those long, hot days of lugging 20kg bags of rice were good training for ultra-running. After joining the Maoist Army, a friend suggested running a local 50km race. So with no training, no kit and no fuel, she turned up and won the race.

From there, Mira challenged some of the world’s highest-profile runners in a range of the most technically demanding skyrunning events, all while staying humble and grounded and still in disbelief at seeing herself in a magazine or holding a trophy.

Watch now: Vimeo

REI Presents How To Run 100 Miles

An entertaining and advice-packed film about two amateur runners embarking on their first 100-mile race. They film everything, including mid-run toilet breaks, and in doing so build up a humorous account of exactly what it takes to train for a race like this.

On the day of the race itself, we follow the two friends through the highs and lows of running 100 miles. There are low points – huge, seemingly insurmountable lows – but there are highs too, and the ending is ultimately uplifting and joyous.

Watch now: YouTube

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