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Hit the Road: ‘Spirit of the Marathon’

October 9th, 2009 by Rebecca Harper Editor

How do you make a story about marathon runners? You really get into the human stories, says Spirit of the Marathon director Jon Dunham. The documentary tells the stories of six runners who are preparing for one of the fastest marathons in the world: the Chicago Marathon. “I cast it just like it was a feature film,” Dunham says. “I knew I was looking for first-time marathon runners, Boston qualifiers, and a world-class athlete or two. We sent profiles out all over the country, in running magazines, on websites, and the responses came streaming in. Then it was just the process of narrowing it all down. We looked for amateurs, individuals in and around the Chicago area, and the stories evolved from there.”

Of all the famous marathons — New York, Boston — why did the Los Angeles filmmaker choose to focus on Chicago? “All roads were pointing to Chicago,” says Dunham. Because he was looking for someone training to qualify for the Boston Marathon, Chicago made sense. “Chicago sends the most runners to Boston,” he says, because it’s such a flat, fast course. But Chicago was also on the agenda for 2004 Olympic Bronze Medalist Deena Kastor, who suffers a foot injury early in her training for the Chicago race. But, for Dunham, it was also about the location. “It’s one of the bigger races, and it has a skyline rife with opportunities for filming. It’s a beautiful city,” he says.

As we learn more about Spirit ‘s subjects, we learn more about marathons: the training involved, the deep inner strength required to keep your feet going one step after another for 26.2 miles, and the sheer spectacle of the event: tens of thousands of people streaming through the urban city streets.

With this year’s Chicago Marathon taking place on Sunday, Hulu caught up with some of the runners we met in Spirit of the Marathon to see where they are now. (Professional runners Daniel Njenga and Deena Kastor were not available for interview.) — Rebecca Harper (), Editor

Ryan Bradley — Boston Hopeful
Though Ryan Bradley’s race didn’t turn out quite like he planned, he was back to his routine about six months later. “I’ve been doing about one marathon a year since then,” he said. Like the other amateurs we meet in Spirit, he’s not running the Chicago Marathon again this year — but that’s because he’s planning to run 26.2 miles in Des Moines next weekend, instead. His wife will be doing Chicago this year, though, so while she’s running the race Ryan’s on kid duty. “I’ve got to somehow manage to get three kids under the age of five down there to watch their mom run,” he said. “It will be fun — it will be a challenge, but it will be fun.” He and his wife had the opportunity to run the Boston marathon together, and now Ryan’s hoping to requalify within the next couple of years so he can return when he’s 40. So what’s it like living in a household with two marathon runners and three young kids? “We’ve broken our treadmill quite a few times,” he laughs. They take the kids with them on some of the shorter runs — the kids love it, he says — and the whole family recently ran their first 5K together (with strollers, of course).

Leah Caille — First-Timer
A knee injury slowed Leah Caille down in her first marathon, but that didn’t stop her from wanting to do it again. “I got to the first finish line, and the only thing I wanted to do other than sleep for three days was go out there and do it again,” she says. This year, though, she’s unable to participate in the Chicago Marathon due to spinal issues. “When you’re a runner, if you’re sidelined for even a few weeks, that kind of sets you back for a bit,” she says. “Well, I’ve been sidelined for a good long time more than that,” thanks to back surgery last year and then two herniated discs in her neck in March. “When God was passing out healthy spines, I might have been at the bar or something — actually, I was probably out for a run,” she laughs. She’s back to shorter, three- or four-mile runs now and hopes to get back to doing both the triathlon and a marathon this year. In the meantime, she’s started a run team at her daughter’s school — they’ve done several 5Ks together — and she’s coaching her volleyball team, as well. “Things are going really well,” she tells us. “My career has moved forward. I’m in the ‘business’ — I sell sponsorships for major races throughout the country, and I love it. Being a runner helps me to speak with not only knowledge, but also a deep passion for the sport.”

Gerald “Jerry” Meyers — Veteran Marathoner
In Spirit, we meet Jerry Meyers as he’s training his daughter for the Chicago Marathon. And though he’d love to be running this weekend, he won’t be able to make it. “I’m on the injured-reserved list,” he says. “I threw a blood clot in my leg in January and it’s still there.” Though he hasn’t been able to run since the beginning of the year — the longest he’s been off in 30 years — he’s still walking every day. After the film, Jerry ran the 2006 Chicago Marathon but had to pull out at mile 16, when an exposed nerve on the ball of his foot kept him from going any farther. “My family told me that if I didn’t quit, they were going to come after me with a baseball bat,” he says. “I was going to hobble in, but they said, ‘No way, you can’t hobble in on two broken legs, ‘cuz that’s what we’re gonna give ya.’ That’s the first time I was not able to complete a run.” Despite the blood clot, Jerry says he feels great today. “If I didn’t know better, I’d go out and run,” he confesses.

Lori O’Connor — First-Timer
Lori got the marathon bug during her first Chicago Marathon and had every intention of doing it again the following year. “During the first one, my training went really, really well,” she said. “I stuck to the schedule. I missed maybe one run that entire training session. I finished, I had a smile on my face, and I felt great at the end. I thought, like some runners do when they finish a race, ‘I can do it a little bit faster!’ There’s always this push to be better.” She prepared for her second marathon the next year, only to find out that she was pregnant after running the 20-mile training run. “My doctor gave me the option [to do the marathon] and I said ‘Hmm, I think I’m going to stay on the sidelines for this one.’ I know it would have been perfectly safe, but I just didn’t want to do it. I wanted to go for speed, and I knew I wouldn’t be going fast.” This year, Lori’s out of the race because she and her husband are both wrapping up their dissertations. (Lori is getting her PhD in Sociology.) “It’s very time-consuming to train for a marathon, and so this year I said I’m basically just sticking to half marathons,” she said. “I did a few halves in the spring and I’m doing another at the end of October. I’m holding off until the degree is in hand — that’s my reward, so I’ll probably train for one again next summer.”

Last comment: Oct 31st 2014 1 Comment
  • smilinggreenmom says:

    What an inspiring piece! i cannot imagine how challenging this is in so many ways. But so amazingly rewarding and fulfilling to know you, as a runner, can accomplish this. I want to do this now that I have seen this!!! Thanks for the mojo! I know for sure I will need my Topricin pain cream to tackle this though. I need it now just to jog down the street….ug. Thank you!!! :)