Here’s Our Pick Of The 13 Best Running Documentaries

Get inspired with these amazing stories.

Running documentaries are a great way to feel inspired by other intrepid marathon runners, ultrarunners, and distance runners who push themselves to the limit or discover something about themselves through running.

As a competitive long-distance runner myself, I understand the insatiable desire to seek inspiration from fellow athletes who embody the essence of running.

From the pursuit of breaking marathon barriers to the exploration of indigenous running cultures, each documentary offers a unique narrative that resonates with both seasoned runners and newcomers alike.

So, whether you seek to be inspired, educated, or simply entertained, these films promise to ignite the runner’s spirit within you.

With so many streaming services and running movies to choose from, we’ve narrowed down the options with our recommendations for the 12 best running documentaries below.

A person with a camera shooting a running documentary.

#1: The Human Race (2019)

The Human Race is sort of the ultimate documentary film about running as it captures the diversity of the sport in terms of age groups, distances, and motivations for running.

Aside from striking cinematography, what I like about this running documentary is that it captures the physical challenges of long-distance running but also highlights the indomitable spirit and mental strength that everyday runners embody.

You also get to learn about the physiology of running, which can have some takeaways for your own workouts.

#2: Spirit Of The Marathon (2007)

Spirit Of The Marathon is a must-see running documentary for marathon runners. It follows the personal journeys of six runners of varying abilities who are training for the 2005 Chicago Marathon. 

The documentary reportedly took filmmaker Jon Dunham four years to make, and the stories that he weaves into this riveting film make this investment of time and effort quite apparent. 

The documentary film pulls from hours of footage that was filmed on four different continents following amateur and elite runners.

Including the indomitable Paula Radcliffe, Daniel Njenga, and Dick Beardsley, along with a first-time marathon runner, a young married couple, and an experienced recreational marathoner. 

As can be expected with the marathon journey of a handful of runners, there is passion, drama, emotion, triumphs, tribulations, growth, and pain that almost every runner can resonate with at one point or another in their own running journey. 

It’s really something to be able to watch the story unfold for each of these six unique runners and see how their training cycle plays out as they try to make their way to the finish line, each with a different goal.

The title is so apropos, because this running film truly does capture the spirit of the marathon.

#3: Breaking2 

Can Eliud Kipchoge break 2 hours?

If you are keen to learn more about the quest to break the two-hour marathon barrier and test the limits of human performance, you will love the running documentary Breaking2

It’s an inspiring story that covers Nike’s Breaking2 project, following Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge, along with two other chosen runners, and their attempt breaking the two-hour time barrier for the marathon. 

It is cool to see some of the behind-the-scenes training, technology, and logistics that were considered and what was learned by the athletes, coaches, and exercise physiologists working towards the same common goal.

#4: The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats its Young (2014)

The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats its Young is the running documentary movie that shed light on this bizarre, nearly impossible 100 miler in Frozen Lake State Park, in rural Tennessee, USA.

You get a glimpse into why this really is one of the toughest races in the world.

Through interviews with runners like Canadian Gary Robbins, who is attempting the Barkley Marathons for his second time, and the unique “madness” that of the race director, Gary Cantrell (known as Lazarus Lake). 

Viewers get to see exactly why the Barkley ultra earns its tagline: “Where dreams go to die.”

#5: Skid Row Marathon (2017)

Skid Row Marathon highlights the inspiring story of Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Craig Mitchell and the running club he forms for unhoused individuals or those suffering from addiction.

I like how this film shows the transformative power of running, both physically and mentally, and how becoming a runner can inspire you to overcome obstacles and make changes in your life for the better.

#6: The Long Green Line (2008)

My recommendation for one of the best running documentaries for younger runners is The Long Green Line, as it tells the inspiring story of a boys’ high school cross country team from Illinois and their coach, Newton, and how integral community support and teamwork are in developing young runners.

#7: Boston: The Documentary (2018)

In addition to covering the tragic 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, the Boston: The Documentary sheds light on the rich history of the world’s oldest annual marathon. 

It is one of the best running documentaries for any marathon runner, especially those who are hoping to qualify for the Boston Marathon, as it seems virtually impossible to finish this running movie without feeling inexplicably drawn to this iconic race.

#8: Unbreakable: The Western States 100 (2011)

If you are asking the question, “What is the documentary about the elite runners?” then Unbreakable: The Western States 100″ is one of the best ultra running documentaries.

But, it’s not just for ultramarathon runners. Rather, any runner from the recreational 5K newbie to half marathon and marathon runners who want to learn about this iconic 100 mile race, which takes place in the rugged Sierra Nevada Mountains, will enjoy this running film.

Unbreakable: The Western States 100 follows the highs and lows of four top ultrarunners (including the indomitable Kilian Jornet from Spain, and Hal Koerner, Geoff Roes, and Anton Krupicka) during the 2010 Western States 100 mile Endurance Run.

The cinematography is stunning, and it is one of the running documentaries that leave you wanting to take up trail running or ultra-marathon racing yourself despite the immense struggles the racers face. 

#9: Finding Traction (2016)

I connected to Finding Traction because this running documentary follows American ultrarunner Nikki Kimball in her attempt to break the speed record on the 273-mile Long Trail in Vermont, a trail my family spent many summers backpacking long sections of throughout my childhood.

I think it’s one of the best running documentaries for inspiring stories of women’s empowerment in the grueling sport of ultra-running.

#10: The Infinite Race (2020)

If you loved Chris McDougall‘s best-selling book Born to Run, one of the best running documentaries to add to your must-watch list is The Infinite Race.

This artistic and engaging ultrarunning documentary premiered at the 2020 SXSW Film Festival.

Directed by Bernardo Ruiz, The Infinite Race highlights the story of the extraordinary long-distance runners from Mexico, known as the Tarahumara people from Mexico.

I first learned of this native population from the book Born to Run, and this captivating running documentary dives deeper into their rich culture and their long history of running in the Copper Canyons, a remote region in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. 

You learn about resilience, natural running with essentially barefoot running shoes, the challenges native populations face when new settlers try to take over their land, the meaning of running, and how American ultrarunners have been inspired by this incredible Mexican community.

#11: Lorena, Light-Footed Woman (2019)

This is a short running documentary on Netflix about Lorena Ramirez, an ultramarathon runner from Mexico.

#12: More Than Gold (2016)

This is an inspiring running documentary about the incredible Jesse Owens and the fellow athletes who ran with him in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.

Plus, it’s narrated by arguably the best storytelling voice in the industry: Morgan Freeman.

The film not only takes viewers behind the scenes of the incredible victorious performance of Owens in four events, but also in the way his running career inspired generations who followed him.

It also illuminates the racial discrimination Owens experienced at home and in the horrific climate that was occurring in Nazi Germany.

#13: Desert Runners (2013)

What is RacingThePlanet I The 4 Deserts Ultramarathon Series?

If you want to get a glimpse into some of the hardest races in the world, you should watch Desert Runners.  

This running documentary showcases the 4 Deserts Race Series, which entails running four 250-kilometer races across the hot, dry, and windy Sahara, Atacama, Gobi Deserts, as well as the coldest desert on the planet in Antarctica. 

You also get to learn the stories of the resilient ultrarunners who take on these grueling ultras.

So, if you’re tired of just running podcasts and you want to enjoy a night in with an Amazon Prime or Netflix running documentary, give one of these inspirational running movies a watch!

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Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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