Before I get my Ebert on, I’d like to remind everyone that I refuse to deploy the cliché “fine folks” to describe the company, person, or mysterious emailer that gives me free stuff to try out and review. Sure, the people that give me things are quite often “folks” and I’m also sure they are probably “fine”. But I try to avoid blog clichés so you’ll never see “fine folks” together in a single review sentence (outside of this tortured explanation, of course.) I even wrote about my feelings on this extremely important matter previously. Take a trip down memory lane. Now, on with the show…
I received a copy of HOOD TO COAST last week in an unmarked, standard issue post office padded envelope. Naturally, I assumed it was more of my regularly scheduled shipments of pornography. Instead, it was an actual movie: one I call a “Curtains Open” feature!
If you don’t know, Hood to Coast is a 197 mile relay journey from Mt. Hood to the Oregon coast. It’s billed as the world’s largest relay race with around 1,000 teams and 12,000 runners being stalked by 2,000 transport vans. Most of us have run some form of relay so you know what they are all about: camaraderie, sweaty people rubbing shoulders in vans, crazy costumes, and far too much discussion about each others’ pooping habits. Also, lots of high fives, “woo hoo’s”, and side split running shorts revealing pasty white thighs.
This movie has all of that. This movie also has mothereffin’ llamas. No kidding. When you watch, take note at around the 52 minute mark as a relayer passes a group of those filthy, unpleasant devil-beasts. Funny how they always turn up around races and runners isn’t it? Filthy llamas.
Here’s where I go full fledge Ebert on you: I liked the movie. As you know, F.M.S. uses a non-standard 666 Llama Scale for movie/book reviews. I’d score this a nice high 590 llamas out of 666.
What it did right: Let’s face it, races courses are just a collection of roads, concrete, signs, and distances. Sure, some race courses have more intrinsic character than other courses but, ultimately, they are still just inanimate objects. Based on the title, I was a bit skeptical that I would be in for a bit of over dramatizing of the daunting course itself. What really gives a race its life are the people who run it. The energy, the fun, the excitement come from the people lacing up the shoes and bounding over that concrete and distance. Each has a story. Each are motivated for a different reason. The directors wisely chose to focus their attention on four distinct groups of relayers and their reason to be at this event on this day race than the course itself.
The movie follows each of these groups as they discuss their motivation, their preparation, the race, and the finish. One group is running in memory of a recently deceased father-to-be. One group – a bit obnoxious in my opinion – is an aging group of men dealing with their declining running abilities. Try not to roll your eyes too hard as they squirt down every female runner that passes them with a water gun while forcing them to run through a “power arch”. I sprained an eyeball. Another group features an older woman who had collapsed and needed to be revived at the same event the previous year. And, finally, a group of computer animators/ artists with little to no experience running take up the challenge of the course.
By focusing attention on the specific groups, the course itself becomes a constantly looming background feature to the characters. As with any good documentary, you become involved with these peoples’ lives for a few moments. You cheer them on (or, for the “Dead Jocks”, you passively root for a flat tire.)
What the movie could have done better: I love comparing us “regular” runners to the elites (i.e. their training, their approach, their mental confidence). I don’t think it diminishes what the rest of us do to prepare for a race. I don’t think it minimizes our accomplishments. In fact, sharing the course with the elites is often a thrill and one of the unique features of running. The Bowerman Elite relay team, the favorites, made a brief cameo in the film but I would have loved to see more of them. It would have been fascinating to see the approach the different groups take – and how they handle the rugged challenge – to go from Hood to Coast. Even though the movie is not about “times” and winners and losers, it is about people. And the elite runners are a differently wired people than the rest of us. That contrast could have been more fully explored.
Though she probably wouldn’t admit it, even Mrs. Nitmos seemed at least casually interested in HOOD TO COAST. At least, she didn’t run screaming from the room like she does when I review my weekly mileage splits with her. Runners will enjoy it. Non-runners should at least be interested in the story of the four groups tracked long enough to hold them to the finish. Check it out!
In addition, the flick left me motivated to buy, and retrofit, a rape van into a super awesome relay bus and start heading West. One more relay group; one less rape van! By my math, that’s mighty fine, folks.