Mo­tion Pic­tures

Ac­tors play­ing run­ners: ex­cel­lent drama or ridicu­lous farce?

Runner's World (UK) - - Contents -

Be­ing an ac­tor is about putting your­self in some­one else’s shoes. But when they hap­pen to be run­ning shoes, get­ting into char­ac­ter pre­sents an ad­di­tional phys­i­cal chal­lenge. Some ex­cel: for ex­am­ple, Stephan James, who played Jesse Owens in Race (be­low), a biopic about the le­gendary sprinter (out now on DVD), trained for five months and achieved a 12-sec­ond 100m. Dr Jes­sica Bruce (above), a biome­chan­ics ex­pert and founder of the Run3d Clinic (, says his hard work shows. ‘James dis­plays good pos­ture and ac­cu­rate sprint­ing me­chan­ics, in­clud­ing a fore­foot strike, good range of hip flex­ion and ex­ten­sion, and strong knee drive at toe-off.’ We asked Dr Bruce to turn her crit­i­cal eye on some other movies about run­ners (good and bad).

For­rest Gump

Tom Hanks plays the slow-wit­ted but kind­hearted and sur­pris­ingly fleet-of-foot Gump, who goes for a run one day, and is still go­ing three years, two months, 14 days and 16 hours later. ’Hanks does a good job of show­ing the pro­gres­sion from non-run­ner to ul­tra marathoner,’ says Bruce. ‘When he’s flee­ing bul­lies in the film’s early scenes his form is up­right and con­trolled, with quick turnover, good hip ex­ten­sion and kick­back. Later, he de­picts a more relaxed, eco­nom­i­cal style, with a shorter stride length, less hip ex­ten­sion and in­creased knee flex­ion – a com­mon way of con­serv­ing en­ergy when fa­tigued.’

The Lone­li­ness of the Long Dis­tance Run­ner

In this bleak, at­mo­spheric black-and-white 1962 clas­sic, based on the short story by Alan Sil­li­toe, Tom Courte­nay plays Colin Smith, a young rebel whose talent for run­ning is his route to re­demp­tion, at least in the eyes of the gover­nor of the borstal where he has been sent. ‘Courte­nay’s run­ning style – es­pe­cially his ex­ag­ger­ated arm swing – is un­con­trolled,’ says Bruce. ‘There is excessive move­ment in all three planes, even at slower speeds. This is costly in terms of en­ergy ex­pen­di­ture and would be in­ef­fi­cient over long dis­tances.’

Fast Girls

Lenora Crichlow suf­fered two stress frac­tures in her an­kles while pre­par­ing for the role of Sha­nia in this feel-good film about two run­ners fight­ing for a place in the GB women’s 4x100m re­lay squad (it was re­leased in the buildup to the 2012 Lon­don Olympics). Bruce isn’t sur­prised Crichlow be­came in­jured. ‘She lacks the strength and sta­bil­ity needed to pro­duce sprint power and speed, and shows excessive hip ro­ta­tion, knee col­lapse and rear-foot prona­tion.’ Sprinter Asha Philip, who won bronze in the 4x100m re­lay at the Rio Olympics, liked the film but ad­mits she laughed ‘quite a lot’ at the run­ning scenes.

Char­i­ots of Fire

Di­rec­tor David Put­tnam re­cruited Olympic coach Tom Mc­nab to ‘make sure the ath­let­ics look real’ in his 1981 film about two Bri­tish run­ners com­pet­ing at the 1924 Paris Olympics, de­vout Chris­tian Eric Lid­dell (Ian Charleson, above left) and Jewish Harold Abra­hams (Ben Cross). Charleson may not have won one of the film’s four Academy Awards for his por­trayal of Lid­dell, but Bruce says ‘he shows good hip ex­ten­sion, kick­back and gen­er­ally good up­right pos­ture. It’s only to­wards the end that the ex­tra ef­fort is betrayed by excessive arm swing­ing and his pelvis tilt­ing for­ward’.

Run Fat­boy Run

Si­mon Pegg plays out-of-shape, com­mit­ment-shy slacker Den­nis Doyle, who un­wisely takes on a marathon in Lon­don in an at­tempt to win back the af­fec­tions of his for­mer fi­ancée (Thandie New­ton), whom he left at the al­tar five years ear­lier, lit­er­ally run­ning away from his wed­ding. ‘His run­ning style is that of the ar­che­typal in­ex­pe­ri­enced dis­tance run­ner head­ing for in­jury,’ says Bruce. ‘He has too much hip move­ment, in­di­cat­ing weak glutes, and as he picks up speed his stride length in­creases without his step rate chang­ing, which will re­sult in over-strid­ing.”

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