There is no better time than winter to cozy up indoors with a hot cup of tea and immerse yourself in a documentary that MOTIVATES you. Whether you’re an avid runner or simply someone who appreciates the beauty of human determination, the next 15 running documentaries will be a sure conduit to inspiration.
Because, let’s face it, we all need a little inspiration when outside turns cold and dark, and our warm, cozy bed lures us away from our goals. But spring goals are born in the winter.
I got together with my athlete and writer Rachel Penate to come up with the 15 best running documentaries for you to watch this winter. Watch them while on your next run on the treadmill or before you go to sleep (early so you can wake up early and do your long run, right?!).
These are the best movies to ensure you stay motivated to get out the door on the darkest of days. Watching these running movies helped me stay motivated to cross-train while healing my hip injury.
The best running documentaries to watch are:
- Skid Row Marathon
- The Courage to Run
- Free to Run
- The Infinite Race
- Running While Black
- The Human Race
- The Boston Marathon: An American Running Story
- The Spirit of the Marathon
- Kipchoge: The Last Milestone
- The Barkley Marathons: The Race that Eats its Young
- Unbreakable: The Western States 100
- Desert Runners
- I Am Bolt
- A Drive to Survive
Before I get to the best running documentaries to watch this winter, I will answer some common running movie questions.
What is the movie about the marathon runner?
The popular running movie about the marathon runner is called Running and it is a a 1979 Canadian sports drama starring Michael Douglas and Susan Anspach. Written and directed by Steven Hilliard Stern, it is about a great movie about a fictional American marathon runner and Michael Andropolis and his enduring journey compete in the Olympic Games.
What is the inspirational movie of the marathon?
The inspirational movie about the marathon is called the Spirit of the Marathon (see more below). The 2007 movie, directed by Jon Dunham, follows a group of six runners, including female runners such as 2004 Olympic bronze medalist Deena Kastor, as they train for the 2005 Chicago Marathon. The runners discuss how marathons have positively impacted their lives.
What movie about a runner is based on a true story?
The running movie based on a true story is called Without Limits and is a movie about the life of Steve Prefontaine, played by Billy Crudup. The movie centers around the infamous runner and record-breaker and his relationship with his coach, Bill Bowerman, played by Donald Sutherland.
15 Best Running Documentaries of All-Time
THOUGHT-PROVOKING & INSPIRATIONAL
When Judge Craig Mitchell hits the streets of LA to train for his next marathon race day, he doesn’t do it alone. Alongside him are a group of courageous runners who have climbed their way out of addiction and homelessness through the gift of running and their beloved friend, Judge Mitchell.
“Skid Row Marathon” is a documentary full of inspiring stories that will leave you overflowing with hope for what the sport of running can bring to every single community.
Apple TV, Amazon Prime
2017, 1hr 24min
What happens when a professional runner battling cancer meets possibly the most famous handyman in Central Park – who just happens to be flirting with the idea of running his first marathon?
What begins as a partnership between Chip Gaines and Gabe Gruenwald quickly leads to a deep and lasting friendship that’s impact goes far beyond Gabe’s heartbreaking passing in 2019. “The Courage to Run” is a beautiful look at how a chance encounter can turn into something truly beautiful.
For more on Gabe’s story, check out the documentary Brooks released in 2017.
The Magnolia Network, Max, Prime, Discovery+
Related: Best Podcasts About Running
For so many runners, the ability to step out the door and onto the street is an easy one. But, for women in Afghanistan, that same action could mean harassment or even death.
“Free to Run” is a short North Face documentary film that takes a hard look at this reality for so many Afghan women. Through the story and work of ultramarathoner Stephanie Case, we see both the beauty and heartbreak of her humanitarian work.
Available on YouTube
In 2009, the book “Born to Run” caused a phenomenon among both the running and non-running community alike. For the Tarahumara people of Mexico — the native community the book attempted to highlight — the domino effect of this book looked a bit different. (By the way, I am featured in Born 2 Run 2.)
“The Infinite Race” is an eye-opening ESPN production that highlights the true story of the Tarahumara people — as well as the positive and negative impact foreign runners have had on their community.
2020, 1hr 10min
Each of us has a story. From our origins of birth to the communities and people that raised us, we all traverse a unique path on this journey of life. But, what if the stories we continue to see look nothing like our own?
For many runners, seeing aspects of their own stories in the lives of other runners is easy, but for the BIPOC community, this is not always the case. Inspired by the work of Alison Desir (author of the book “Running While Black”), comes this inspiring three-part series.
Related: Best Running Books to Read This Year
2022, About 22 min each
The Human Race
In 1967, Katherine Swtizer became the first woman to run The Boston Marathon. Now, at the age of 76 she is still lacing up her running shoes and taking to the streets. Many have been inspired by Katherine’s tenacity to pick up the sport themselves, but what about those who don’t experience the inspiration to run until the age of 50, 60, or beyond?
Following the stories of six runners, ages 50-90, “The Human Race” is a celebration of the human capacity to thrive through this sport — no matter the age. “The Human Race” is a truly inspiring documentary and a real testament to the fact that it is never too late to begin!
2016, 1hr 28min
ON THE MARATHON
More than 20,000 athletes apply to run the Boston Marathon each year, but few know that this historic marathon had a much humbler beginning. Told with impressive detail, “Boston” is an enthralling documentary on the history of this iconic World Marathon Major.
(Also watch the documentary about the Boston marathon when tragedy strikes, Boston Marathon Bombings on Netflix).
Curiosity Stream via Prime Video
2017, 1hr 53min
If you’ve ever wondered what it takes to run a marathon, “The Spirit of the Marathon” is your ticket to the work, inspiration, and tenacity it takes to make it to the start line…and finish line.
Following the stories of both elite and recreational marathon runners as they prepare for the Chicago Marathon, this documentary is sure to amp you up for your first or 50th adventure out on the road.
2007, 1hr 44min
In 2017, three elite runners set out to break the 2-hour marathon barrier. While the barrier wasn’t broken, what was broken was the science, mental fortitude, and sheer determination to see a 1:59 marathon in our modern era.
Highlighting the journey to this first attempt, “Breaking2” is a fascinating look at Nike’s effort to create the conditions to break this historic barrier.
Watch at Nike, or stream on Disney+
In 2019, Eliud Kipchoge achieved the seemingly impossible. The Kenyan, at 34 years old, became the first marathoner to finish all 26.2 miles in less than 2 hours, an unthinkable unofficial world record (4:34 minute mile pace).
“Kipchoge: The Last Milestone” is an intimate look at, not only, this incredible athletic achievement, but also the humble man who made it happen.
Available to rent on a few different platforms
2021, 1hr 27min
Related: 26 Pro Marathon Training Tips
ON THE ULTRA MARATHON
Ultra marathoners are known for doing things a little differently: high mileage, rugged terrain, and intense elevation. But, if ultra running had a crazy uncle — you know the one who likes to take it “just a little too far” — it would most definitely be The Barkley Marathons.
Set in the backwoods of Tennessee and inspired by the famous prison escape of James Early Ray, finishing this 60 hour, (allegedly) 100 mile race is just about as elusive as finding the proverbial needle in a haystack.
With 130,000 feet of total elevation, 40 hand-picked runners attempt to etch their name into history each year. “The Barkley Marathons: The Race that Eats its Young” is an in-depth inside look at the 2012 event and the fearless determination it takes to starting line and finish.
2015, 1hr 29min
As one of the oldest and most well known ultramarathons in the US, the Western States 100 is a beautiful, yet grueling challenge for any ultra runner. Every year, this race gathers some of the world’s most seasoned runners, and the amount of training each participant puts into preparing for this historic run is nothing short of impressive.
Following select runners as they train and prepare for the 2011 edition of this historic race, “Unbreakable” profiles the heart and spirit not only behind the history of this course, but also the heart and spirit of each and every athlete who participates.
2012, 1hr 46 min
To some, the idea of running an ultra marathon is an exciting challenge. For a very select few, however, the 4 Deserts Ultramarathon Series is a whole different kind of beast.
“Desert Runners” is a gripping documentary that shadows a diverse group of runners striving to conquer the world’s most challenging deserts. Through blistering heat and relentless sandstorms, the film explores their physical and emotional endurance, showcasing the indomitable spirit of human determination and resilience.
2013, 1hr 39min
TRACK & FIELD
With a career forever etched into the history books under the moniker “fastest man alive,” Usain Bolt is a name the world of Track and Field will never forget. Delving into Usain’s journey — from his Jamaican upbringing to his record-breaking gold medal achievements — “I Am Bolt” is an inspiring documentary that offers an inspiring glimpse into his charisma, dedication, and the challenges he overcame on his path to greatness.
Available to rent on a few different platforms
2016, 1hr 46min
Coming in 2024: A Netflix Track and Field “Docu-drama” in the same vein as “Drive to Survive.” According to an article from Runner’s World, the majority of the storytelling will center around this year’s World Championships in Budapest, and it is one of the best new movies coming out about running next year!
If you want guidance with your running goals, including motivation, check out my run coaching services. Also, be sure to check out my free training plans:
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