Ultrarunning Films

Film is a medium in which a filmmaker communicates with his or her viewers. In ultrarunning films, filmmakers may communicate glimpses of the training, lifestyle, and the incredible training scenery of our favorite athletes. These films can be made independently but often shoe, gear, and media companies help foot the bill and promote sponsored athletes along with ultrarunning in general. Film can also bring a unique element of race coverage and depth to the sport. Films like Unbreakable allow us to witness the front action of the 2010 Western States 100 race with some race history to boot. To the viewers, films offer insight and inspiration.

Here we look at some of the prominent ultrarunning films that have been produced as well as those coming soon; additionally, we offer viewing information for each film so you can enjoy them, too. Through this, we see that the niche of ultrarunning filmmaking has both been a part of the sport for longer than most of us have and it’s presently experiencing a boom cycle.

Cross-Continental Running Films

Several documentaries cover running across North America. The Great American Foot Race, produced by Vision Maker Video, documents the 1928 race from Los Angeles to New York won by 19-year-old Andy Payne. His win netted him an extraordinary prize purse for the time, $25,000. The Great American Foot Race is available on DVD as well as on on Amazon Instant Video for rental or purchase. You’ll see in the trailer that some entertaining reenactment is used to portray an event that took place about 85 years ago:

Runners Charlie Engle and Marshall Ulrich are captured in their 2008 American transcontinental running attempt by a documentary produced by Nehst Studios. You can purchase Running America on the film’s website  on the website via DVD, download, or streaming.

Running the Sahara is another documentary starring Charlie Engle. In 2007, he and two other runners, Kevin Lin and Ray Zahab, ran across the Sahara Desert and has some adventures/misadventures in the process. The film, a LivePlanet and Allentown Production, is available on DVD and by download. Enjoy the trailer:

Race Coverage Films

Two documentaries have been produced on the Badwater Ultramarathon. Running on the Sun was directed by Mel Stuart and is about the 1999 race. Purchasing the DVD is pretty pricey over on Amazon these days because the film is no longer commercially available, but you can rent the DVD on Netflix. The trailer alone will make you melt in Badwater’s heat:

Distance of Truth is another documentary about the race produced by Pageturner Productions, Inc. that includes footage from both the 2005 and 2006 races along with interviews. This DVD is available for purchase (You can also watch a stoke-inspiring trailer there, too.) on the Distance of Truth website.

Profiling HURT, produced by Barry Walton, follows runners Mark Gilligan and Scott Guild in their preparation for and racing of the 2008 HURT 100. The film is available on DVD.

A Glimpse of Heaven and a Taste of Hell from H and A Productions is a film on the 2007 Tahoe Rim Trail 100, which was also the RRCA and USATF National Championship 100-miler that year. Buy the DVD over on ZombieRunner and enjoy its trailer:

Massanutten 100: Two Runners, 100 Miles spotlights two runners, Gary Knipling and Kerry Owens, in the 2006 race and is available on DVD from ZombieRunner and on Amazon. In the documentary, Gary goes for his tenth finish and Kelly shoots for her third. Watch the trailer.

Amyx Video & Editing put together a race-coverage film on the popular Way Too Cool 50k as well as videos on the Tamalpa Headlands 50k, The Dipsea Race, and the Quad Dipsea. All are available from the Amyx Video website on DVD, but, guess what, you have to use that funny thing called snail mail to order them!

Fresh From The Yukon, Inc. produced a race video on the 2005 Yukon Arctic Ultra which includes marathon, 100-mile, and 300-mile races. The DVD is available on their website. Burr!

Not surprisingly, the Western States 100 has been the subject of numerous films. Two separate films by CentreBurn Productions titled Desperate Dreams I and Desperate Dreams II cover the race’s 1982 and 1983 runnings. We love the idea of a glimpse into early versions of the race, but don’t think you can buy that film anywhere now. You’re better off checking your old-school ultrarunner friends’ VHS collections for these.

A Race for the Soul covers the 2001 Western States 100; buy it and watch Scott Jurek and Ann Trason run like heck. Running Madness, produced by Susan Cohn Rockefeller, covers the 2002 race; enjoy the full film free online. Here’s the trailer:

100 Miles To 40 documents runner Michelle Halsne’s 2009 Western States attempt on her fortieth birthday; you can purchase the film from ZombieRunner after watching the trailer on YouTube.

Unbreakable is a feature-length film by JourneyFilm’s JB Benna that details the 2010 race between Hal Koerner, Geoff Roes, Tony Krupicka, and Kilian Jornet as well as race founder Gordy Ainsleigh. The film can be purchased (by DVD and download) on the JourneyFilm website. Note that we published a detailed review of the film and its fall 2011 premier in San Francisco. Here’s the trailer:

Runner/Team Spotlight Films

Also from JB Benna is The Runner chronicling David Horton’s emotional thru-run of the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada. (Watch the trailer or buy the DVD.) The film and David are both so inspiring that you’ll want to climb every mountain and run every trail in sight. JB, too, made Ultramarathon Man: 50 Marathons, 50 States, 50 Days which captures Dean Karnazes’ 50-day journey throughout the United States. (Watch the trailer or buy the DVD.)

Legendary ultrarunner Yiannis Kouros is spotlighted in the biographical film Yiannis Kouros: Forever Running. The film is in Greek with English subtitles and is available available on DVD at ZombieRunner.

Filmmaker Joel Wolpert has done some high-quality profiles on runners such as In the Bitterroots with Mike Foote, Slogging to the Top with Geoff Roes, and The Runner in Winter about Tony Krupicka. These films yield glimpses of the lifestyle of these runners and their relationship with the environments they run through.

Joel and Tony teamed up for a second time last summer to film In The High Country, which is expected to be released in the summer of 2013. This film focuses on Tony’s late summer trips in the high Colorado Rockies after his fourth-place finish in the Leadville 100. Enjoy the trailer for it in the meantime, which will probably make you schedule a mountain vacation for next year:

Tony has been the subject of numerous films with one of the earlier being the 2007 film, Indulgence: 1000 Miles Under the Colorado Sky. The film details his training for that year’s Leadville 100 and his philosophy on ultrarunning in general. This film was produced by Negative Split Pictures and you can watch the trailer or buy the DVD.

The Salomon Running crew releases many short trail running films. There have been two seasons of Salomon Running TV that chronicle the races, training, and adventures of the large group of Salomon-sponsored athletes produced by filmmakers The African Attachment (Enjoy our recent interview with them.). Peruse and watch all the episodes from the first two seasons. Salomon has also put out the Kilian’s Quest films directed by Sébastien Montaz-Rosset which has now been produced for four seasons. Explore all four seasons’ episodes.

The African Attachment is also working with Salomon-sponsored athlete Ryan Sandes on the not-yet-released film, Wandering Fever. The film’s trailer will satiate while we await the real deal:

Sébastien and Kilian have also teamed up for the filmmaking part of a project called Summits of My Life. This is a three-year mountaineering project in which Kilian is exploring his connection to nature and the mountains by scaling monumental peaks of the world as quickly as he can. The project will culminate with Kilian climbing Mount Everest in 2015. The first installment, A Fine Line (our review of the film and its premier in Spain), was released in December of 2012 and is available for purchase on DVD or through download on the Summits of My Life website. Enjoy its trailer:

Another exciting ultrarunning film on the way is Finding Traction with director Jaime Jacobsen documenting Nikki Kimball’s running of the 273-mile Long Trail in Vermont. This film will be released on public television as well as at film festivals in summer 2013. In the meantime, take in the trailer, where you’ll get to see just how tough Nikki is.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • What ultrarunning films have we missed? In particular, we’re interested in hearing what VHS tapes of no-longer-purchase-able films might be sitting on your shelves.
  • Surely you haven’t seen all of these films, have you? Which of them are you most excited about watching?
  • Videography is an especially inspiring communication medium for ultrarunning. What films or trailers have you used to psyche yourself up for a big run or race? How do you think they influence our sport?
Ryan Lindemulder

is iRunFar’s Spring 2013 Intern. Born and raised south of Chicago, Illinois, he ran cross country and track for 11 years and is now directing his passion into trail and ultrarunning. An English major in his senior year at Trinity Christian College, he looks forward to cultivating his running and writing skills. While spending most of his time on the trails near Chicago, Ryan has spent summers working and exploring in Nevada, Utah, and Colorado.

There are 36 comments

  1. Simon

    Don't forget Seb Chaigneau's Get Ready For… videos in conjunction with The North Face – all 3 series are my go-to's for inspiration.

    I'm off to YouTube now!

  2. Sage Canaday

    This is really awesome to see…the creative energy, inspiring stories and history in our great sport captured in the medium of film. Thanks for sharing!

    Not a film, but this homemade YouTube video of Timothy Olson at the 2011 Western States has really inspired me to want to run on the trails and even try a 100-miler someday: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l38mqkVslHY

    Also, totally shameless self promotion here (I don't have a camera crew or any sponsor/company backing me up…yet), but I am hoping to be shooting and editing footage all year for my own documentary about making the transition to ultra/mountain running and racing internationally. I want to include informative training advice and hopefully capture a progression of training and racing along the way (along with interviews of key runners). My project is in the very early stages (I don't even have a title or trailer yet) and I'm really going to have to up my game in filming and purchase/borrow higher quality equipment… however, video has already been a major side hobby of mine on my YouTube channel: http://www.YouTube.com/Vo2maxProductions and something I'm very passionate about.

    1. Bob Loomis

      Sage: I'm Timothy Olson's father-in-law and I did 95% of this video of Timothy (i.e. winning the 2011 Western States). My wife, Debbie Loomis, did the editing. It was 100%% a homemade and heartfelt effort, and was a celebration of Timothy's great accomplishment on that perfect day. I shot this video on my simple Cannon hunting video camera – nothing fancy. It was a blast! Isn't that what ultra races are all about? Just celebrating being on the trail – enjoying the moment!

  3. Lance

    Running the Saharah is on instant watch for any Netflix subscribers. I just watched it not too long ago, it's a good movie. Looking forward to tracking down some of these other movie.

    1. Digga

      I think they are still trying to get funding to finish final stages of getting that film done….. That was the case a couple months ago…..

    1. MonkeyBoy

      I am shocked this info made it past the Jones-Wilkins WS Filter and wasn't pointed out long before I got to it. That Virginia boy is slipping!

  4. Andrew K.

    Profiling HURT is also available as an authorized BitTorrent download from Vodo: http://vodo.net/profilinghurt. The filmmakers request a monetary donation if you download the film, but unfortunately those who have haven't been very generous. According to the website, there have been 5,038 downloads, but only $11 in donations.

  5. sue

    This is a fantastic list, but where are all the women? There are plenty of female runners tearing up ultras–why do all these films feature primarily men?

  6. Rosanna

    My inspirational playlist

    These videos humble and inspire me:

    1) Grandmothers of Endurance by Traci Hahn
    http://vimeo.com/13463958

    Note: One of my all time favorites. I love these ultra grandmas Barb and Vicki! Gives me something to shoot for later in life!

    2) Kilian's Quest S3 E07 – Slow Motion (another inspiring video from Salomon)
    http://vimeo.com/29059143

    3) Videos of ultra running on an epic scale by TNF:

    Helicopter Coverage of The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, 2011
    http://youtu.be/TFWDUsvLCoE

    4) UTMB Official Video – The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, 2011
    http://youtu.be/St49BdhuA8c

    Filmmakers, Salomon, TNF, I would love to see more epic, feature-length videos and films featuring women who ultra run. There are so many out there. Happy trails!

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