Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Perfect Runner - A Look Into The Documentary

The Perfect Runner
Produced and Directed by: Niobi Thompson
A Clearwater Documentary
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

I had the opportunity to see 'The Perfect Runner' by Niobi Thompson prior to its official release this week, and of course could not pass up the chance and I jumped all over it. Sometimes it pays to know people in the business, and this was one of those times (thanks Erik). When I first heard about this film coming out, it quickly went up to the top of my list of must see's. Not only does it revolve around the evolution of running which is interesting in its self, it also touches on the Canadian Death Race which I will be participating in this summer. Let me not forget the references and perspectives pertaining to barefoot running from someone who does not run that way, it is always interesting to see how that plays out.

Niobi Thompson has done a fantastic job of not only providing the history and development of man into the running machine that we were and some cases still are, but also provides examples in the modern world of the potential that we, as humans have. We developed into runners as a method of survival, be the hunter or be the hunted, which allowed us to help become the species that we are today. From the continent of Africa, more specifically Ethiopia to the tundras of Siberia, this documentary touches on the wonders and mysteries of the human running machine. What we as humans have to do to survive in some of the harshest elements and locales in the world. This documentary touches on the lost art of the 'Persistance Hunter', which allowed us to hunt much faster prey to survive, because 'the ability to run gave us the ability to eat'. The human species was built for endurance not speed, this is a key element of this documentary.

Niobi has also brought in some fantastic guest speakers including Dr. Dan Lieberman, Professor of Human Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University; Dr. Larry Bell, Sports Scientist at the University of Alberta, and a host of other top of their fields specialists that bring an interesting perspective to the evolution of running and where we might of gone wrong in their opinions.

What I really like about this documentary is it gives you the information, without bias and lets you make your own decision. The purpose of a documentary is to present the information and I feel Niobi has done that in spades. This is something that all runners should watch with a open mind and come to their own conclusions. We are only limited by ourselves, this has been proven time and time again by the few that have stepped outside the box, and pushed their body to what they thought were their limits, and then pushed a little bit more just to see. I am amazed by what we can do and what we are capable of doing, not quite 3 years ago I could not even run a mile and this summer I am running 2 legs of the Canadian Death Race.

Even though I am a barefoot runner, I also believe that there are times when shoes are required, I use them as tools not as crutches. A perfect example of this is provided within this film, a good quantity of the elite Ethiopian runners come from poor farming communities and grew up and started their running barefoot, which in turn strengthened their feet and bodies and provided them with the basis to become that elite runner. Once they reached the elite training facilities they started running in shoes (racing flats) which allowed them to further their skills and excel in the world of elite running. Now I will never get to that point, because I run more for the enjoyment of it, and I will never be that guy who qualifies for Boston (maybe when I am 70 it might happen) so I continue to run barefoot as much as possible and continue to push myself to new limits. I am running the first and the fourth legs of the Death Race this summer, with the intent to complete the first leg barefoot and the fourth with a minimalist shoe (probably the NB Minimus Zero Drop Trail Shoes) because of the crazy mountain summit trails. Our bodies are amazing machines and we have the ability to adapt to every environment with the proper training and tools. I do expect some looks and comments when I roll up to the start line for the beginning of leg 1, but that is ok because I will be smiling all the way and looking forward to the challenge ahead.

I look forward to meeting Niobi this summer, as he is returning to finish what he started last year and complete the Death Race solo. I wish him the best of luck, and cannot wait to compare notes on race day.

I hope you take the time to watch this documentary which airs Thursday, March 15th at 8:00 pm on CBC-TV and on Thursday March 22 at 10 pm ET/PT on CBC New Network, as it may give you a perspective on running that will give you one of those 'lightbulb going off' moments.                 

Niobe Thompson is a documentary filmmaker and anthropologist, with a PhD from Cambridge’s Scott Polar Research Institute. An experienced producer, writer and on-screen presenter, his recent films include Inuit Odyssey (CBC) and Tar Sands: Canada for Sale (CBC). He also specialises in location producing on extreme high-Arctic locations (BBC’s Frozen Planet (BBC) and Channel 4’s Medicine Men Go Wild). Before joining Clearwater Media, he was Killam Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Alberta, spent three years as a human rights researcher in Africa and South Asia, and worked as a forest fire fighter in northern Canada. His most recent book, Settlers on the Edge, is based on five years of research in the Russian Arctic.
Quote from ClearwaterMedia Inc. website
 More information on the documentary can be found at CBC's link here.

On, on.

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