What's Your Favorite Running Movie?

So who is eagerly awaiting the release this month of what I believe is the first big-studio movie about high school cross country? I see some hands raised out there in West Plains, Hermitage, Herculaneum, Festus, Potosi, Eureka, Jackson, Kearney and Blue Springs. Most of those hands probably have mittens on them this time of year.

McFarland, USA conveys the true story of a California high school cross country coach who leads a bunch of underachieving Hispanic boys on a rags-to-riches journey to an eventual state championship. Now, it is Disney that is telling this tale and old Walt's bunch has been known to embellish a thing or two when it comes to translating real life into cinema. All that said I still love a good running flick.

I have yet to see McFarland but my hope is that it does for cross country what Hoosiers did for high school basketball. I think of Hoosiers as a cinematic love letter to the sport of round ball. If Disney gets as many things right about cross country that Hoosiers did about small-town high school basketball, we will be in for a treat.

There are so few movies made about our sport that we need to pause and contemplate those that have made it to the big screen -- or at least live on via Netflix and my Amazon Prime membership.

Chariots of Fire is maybe the first movie about running that I remember paying money to see in a theatre. Chariots is as much about the fracturing class system in Great Britain after World War I as it is about running. This film is beautifully shot and may have introduced slow-motion video as the go-to special effect for all future sports scenes. No one who saw Chariots will ever forget the haunting theme song that also won the 1982 Academy Award for best original score.

The story of native American Billy Mills winning the gold medal in the 10K at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics games is one of my favorites. Robby Benson, the Zac Efron of his day, plays Mills in the aptly-named movie, Running Brave. Mills ran cross country and track at Kansas University and many of us have passed his iron silhouette as it floats on the fabled cross country course at Lawrence's Rim Rock Farm.

I was lucky enough to meet Billy two summers ago when I was the MC for a gathering that honored his life and running achievements. He is as humble and pleasant today as he was quick and determined down the stretch of his gold-medal 10K. If you have never watched the video clip of his incredible race, enjoy it here -- and never again pass by his silhouette at Rim Rock without at least offering a nod in Billy's direction.

Steve Prefontaine might be America's greatest distance running idol. I know Frank Shorter is credited with being the father of the American running boom in the 1980s. And Bill Rodgers is likely our most beloved marathon champion. Jim Ryun was my childhood hero on the track. But it is Pre's likeness, words and hair that live on today on the t-shirts of high school runners and the wallpaper of our iPads and phones.

Pre Lives! Two movies that came out within one year of each other chronicle Pre's short but remarkable career and his enduring influence on distance racing. Prefontaine came out in 1997 and Without Limits in 1998. Both are worth watching but Without Limits does the better job of telling his story. There is also a documentary on Pre's life that is titled Fire on the Track: The Steve Prefontaine Story. I have not seen this film but Competitor Magazine thinks so highly of it that it ranks it as the best running movie of all time. Amazon.com sells it for $48 -- so lend me your copy if you have one.

Unbreakable: The Western States 100 came out in 2011 and it should be in every distance runners' video library. This documentary follows a handful of favorites running the 2010 Western States grueling 100-mile race. This DVD has been passed around my Sunday morning long-run group so many times it has no permanent home. I conjure up clips from this movie in my head during the tough portion of a marathon and remind myself I get to stop after only 26 miles.

Will McFarland, USA be as memorable as these favorite running flicks of mine? I can only hope. But even a bad movie about running is a good time spent resting up for my next run.

Greg Hall