Movies and Books That Inspire

Inspiration can come from all different types of places.  As runners, we have so many potential inspirations from family and friends to athletes with moving stories.  One area of inspiration can be watching movies or documentaries and reading books about running events or other runners’ achievements.

Just like anything else, we all have our favorites, but the following are some of the movies and books that either inspired my running or I just enjoyed watching or reading:


Boston – This documentary is about the history of the Boston marathon, up to and including the horrific 2013 bombing and the completion of the 2014 race.  It includes several interviews with past winners/competitors and also has footage of old races.  All of these things help to show why this race stands alone as the most prestigious road race in the world.

Up until the last couple of years, running the Boston Marathon wasn’t a goal of mine because it always seemed mythical to me, something that I shouldn’t even be thinking about because of the difficult qualifying standards.  But after seeing this documentary, I’m more inspired than ever to give it a shot!

The Spirit of the Marathon – This documentary is all about the build up to and the actual running of the Chicago marathon.  It follows six runners as they prepare for the race and what I really enjoyed about it is that the featured runners are at different levels of experience from first-timers to veterans, so it offers many different perspectives.  Finally, it captures the true feeling of a big city marathon and everything that comes with it!  There’s also a sequel called The Spirit of the Marathon II, which is very similar but follows several runners’ preparation and completion of the Rome Marathon.

Having completed 7 marathons myself, I can say that it is a life-changing experience.  Both of these documentaries reminded me of this and made me look forward to the next time I can complete a marathon. If you are considering a marathon or preparing for one, I’d highly recommend one or both of these documentaries!

Where Dreams Go to Die – A documentary about the Barkley Marathons, an approximately 100 mile trail race through the woods of Tennessee.  There’s so many quirky details about this race and it would take too long to mention them all, but here are a few of them.  Runners have 60 hours to complete 5 loops of the same course.  Only about 40 runners are allowed in the race each year.  And to show exactly how difficult this race is: only 15 people have ever completed the entire race in its 30+ year history!

The documentary itself follows Gary Robbins, an ultrarunner from Canada, in his 2016 and 2017 attempts at completing the race.  There’s other documentaries and short films on YouTube out there about this race, but this was by far the best one I saw.  This is definitely not a race that I have on my bucket list, but I enjoyed the documentary and respect anyone who’s attempted it. 

Honorable Mention:

Desert Runners – A documentary about four amateur runners and their attempt to complete the Desert Grand Slam, a racing series in which competitors run a 250km (155 mile) race in four deserts around the world – Atacama Crossing (Chile), Gobi March (Mongolia), Namib Race (Namibia) and The Last Desert (Antarctica).

Without Limits – A biographical movie about the life of Steve Prefontaine, the great American distance runner that tragically died in a car crash in 1975 at just 24 years old.  At the time of his death, he held the American record in several different track distances. 


Running the World by Nick Butter – To be honest, I put off reading this book because I knew how much I’d enjoy it.  It combines two of my favorite things – running and traveling.  Beginning in 2018, it took Nick Butter less than 2 years to run a marathon in every country (all 196 of them!) in the world and, in doing so, he became the 1st person in the world to accomplish this!  As you’d expect, some countries were more difficult than others due to weather, political or safety issues, but consistent throughout the book was Nick’s passion for running and sharing it with the people he met all over the world!

While I don’t think that I could do something this big, I definitely want to do something similar around some countries. Besides just the enjoyment of reading about Nick’s experiences, this book, and Nick in general, have inspired me to think about other running possibilities.

Ultramarathon Man by Dean Karnazes – If you haven’t heard of Dean Karnazes, read this book.  Even though he ran cross country in school, he stopped running until he ran 30 miles on his 30th birthday in 1992.  The rest is history.  He’s since won several different long distance races including the Badwater Ultramarathon – a 135 mile race across Death Valley, which he’s won twice.  He’s also completed many other long distance events and expeditions including completing 50 marathons in 50 states on 50 consecutive days, which is chronicled in a different book and documentary.  He has a few other books (including one coming out in April 2021), of which I think the best among them is The Road to Sparta, in which he goes to Greece and runs the original marathon route as it was run 2,500 years ago! 

A huge inspiration to me – not necessarily because I want to do everything he has done, but because reading about what he has done makes me think of what more I can do. 

The Happy Runner by David and Megan Roche – We’ve all heard it before: it’s about the journey not the destination.  This is essentially what this book is about.  It focuses on enjoying the process of training and turns the focus more towards having the race be the celebration or culmination of a training cycle rather than making it the most important part.  In addition, I really liked that training tips were given throughout the book as well. 

It’s good to change your perspective from time to time and allow yourself to view something from a different angle.  This book helped me change my perspective on running altogether. 

Honorable Mention:

Life is a Marathon by Matt Fitzgerald – The author goes to several different marathons around the United States and speaks with different levels of runners about what got them into running and to that marathon itself.

There are so many movies and books about running that it’s hard to compile a list of favorites. I’d love to hear if anyone has seen or read any of my recommendations and if you had similar feelings about them. Even better, I’d love to hear your recommendations for ones I should add to my constantly-growing list!

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