Spirit of the Marathon II, which had its one-day worldwide premiere Wednesday, was basically told in the way of its 2008 predecessor: follow a handful of runners from the start of their training program up to and through the end of their marathon. (By the way, if you saw Spirit I and II – leave a message in the comments about which one you liked best.)
In this case, it was the 2012 Rome Marathon, and the everyday runners included:
- Domenico “Mimmo” Scipioni, a 70-something pizzeria owner and his buddy, Domenico Anzini.
- Cliff Scott, a 60-something high school track coach from New Jersey who chose Rome as his first marathon.
- Julie Weiss from Santa Monica, trying to raise money for pancreatic cancer, which took the life of her father.
- Ylenia Anelli, a woman who owns a sports apparel shop in Italy, who is also running her first marathon.
- Two elite athletes: Vasyl Matviychuk from the Ukraine and Epiphanie Nyirabarame from Rwanda.
The movie starts the actual morning of the Rome Marathon, with each of the marathoners going through their pre-run ritual, i.e., pinning their bib to their shirts or eating breakfast or simply praying. Then the movie flashes back to where it all began for each runner, letting them narrate in their own words (in subtitles for the non-Americans) how they started running.
The most heartwarming story comes from Weiss, who’d run more than 20 marathons before Rome. After each race, she’d call her dad and tell him she did not qualify to run the Boston Marathon. Her dad would give her words of encouragement and she’d carry on. Her father would eventually be diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer and would die soon afterwards. Two weeks after her father’s death, she ran the California International Marathon (in Sacramento) and qualified for Boston, with, obviously, a heavy heart. She decides to run 52 marathons in 52 weeks to raise $1 million in the fight against pancreatic cancer and the 2012 Rome Marathon would be the first of those 52 marathons.
You see a lot of other similar stories of overcoming personal tragedies from the other runners. Scott, the high school track coach, saw his son die from heavy drug use; Nyirabarame had lost friends and family members in the genocide in her country in 1994.
There is not much drama on race day, however. All but “Mimmo” – the pizzeria owner – finishes the race; Mimmo having to drop out because of a bum ankle. Anelli and Nyirabarame – the elite marathoners – both finish in the Top 20. Weiss talks through the entire race and near the finish line, a man she passes tells her to be quiet. She stays cheerful and hugs the man after crossing the finish line. Later, the movie shows her completing the 52nd marathon in her journey, the 2013 Los Angeles marathon. (And Weiss herself has a neat little blog detailing her efforts.)
The movie is intertwined with interviews of famous runners like Bill Rodgers, world-marathon record holder Haile Gebrselassie; Hal Higdon; Jeff Galloway; Kathrine Switzer; Paula Radcliffe, and others who tell great stories about competing in past marathons.
My quick two cents: If you are a running freak, like myself, you will like the movie. You will totally relate to what the marathoners are going through, especially on race day.
The problem, though, with a movie like this, is telling a story that speaks to non-runners who want to take up the sport. The movie starts out so slow — I mean do we really need to spend 5 minutes watching “Mimmo” opening up his pizzeria.
In the first Spirit of the Marathon, released in 2008, the movie producers spent more time telling you how runners prepared for the marathon. There was lots of footage of people’s training runs and eating and talking about their training runs and eating.
In Spirit of the Marathon II, they told you more about the personal stories of the runners. And though some of those stories were very warm, I wish they would have spent a little more time talking about how you actually prepare for a marathon, though I loved hearing from the likes of Rodgers and Higdon and Switzer. That was a nice touch.
Look, unless its Chariots of Fire, movies about marathons are hard to pull off. Spirit of the Marathon II will not likely make a non-runner want to go out and pluck down $100 for his first marathon entry fee, but as a documentary on what marathoning is about, the movie was a good effort. But sequels (not counting The Godfather II) rarely outdo originals, and in this instance, Spirit of the Marathon I was better.