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Marathon Challenge

3.8 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Every year thousands of athletes from across the globe flock to Boston to run the citys marathon, known worldwide as the ultimate test of stamina and endurance. But how do you run 26 miles if you have trouble making it around the block? With good coaching, discipline, and lots of group support, as NOVA shows when it follows 13 sedentary people through a nine-month regimen designed to prepare them for the grueling Boston Marathon.


This is an especially inspirational hour for those who would like to run a 26.2-mile race but fear it is beyond them. --Michael Storey, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

The real story, though, is watching the muscle-free Team NOVA get to the starting line. We get pathos, confession, and - remember, this is PBS - the science to explain the physiological impact of exercise. --Geoff Edgers, Boston Globe

Ultimately, though, the most inspiring part is race day, when the ones who made it through training line up to run the Boston Marathon in gloomy, rainy weather. By the end, you don't care how long it takes them to finish
the grueling journey; you just want to see them crossing that finish line. You might even get a little choked up watching some of them realize their
goal. I sure did. --Julie Deardorff, Chicago Tribune

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: .
  • Directors: Nova
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Closed-captioned, Color, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Studio: PBS
  • DVD Release Date: February 12, 2008
  • Run Time: 56 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000XBPDZ8
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #126,486 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

I ran my first marathon this year and I was looking forward to being inspired and motived by this documentary. Unfortunately, that didn't happen. However, if you're not a runner and want to learn more about what it takes to complete a marathon, you might find parts of this documentary interesting.

Here's the key problem: I'm not sure how the producers expected a 56 minute program to effectively cover the nine month experience of 13 first time marathoners. Very little time and dialogue is devoted to knowing who these people are; we only hear a brief summary of why they want to run. Some of the participants introduced at the begining of the film are almost completely ignored.

The film has some neat graphics that show how the inner workings of the human body during training and this was the strongest part of the film. But I was dismayed by the lack of attention to a training regimen. We're told that the participants ran short runs during the week and then progressively longer ones on the weekend. And? We see fleeting shots of the participants running in the snow and suffering through some injuries, but not much more than that.

I understand this isn't a training video, nor did I expect it to be one... but it would've been much more interesting if the film included how the lifestyle of these runners changed (e.g., eating habits, which are totally ignored), and the impact the training had on their families and loved ones. I also wanted to learn how they worked to increase their speed.

The documentary's brevity prevents the viewer from becoming engaged. When one of the participants has to quit due to injuries sustained while training, she shows up at the end of the film cheering on her fellow team members as they run the marathon.
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The Boston Marathon is the world's oldest marathon, with 20,000 runners participating in 2007. NOVA, with the help of nearby Tufts University experts and a former Boston Marathon, decided to find out if ordinary people (those who might watch, but not even think of entering) could successfully participate with only 9 months of preparation.

Twelve were randomly selected from a much larger number. First they went through basic screening to determine their fat composition (all the women were high in fat composition, though not all were overweight), and heart condition. The latter was assessed through stress testing - one overweight (74 lbs.) woman's wave-pattern was alarming enough that doctors stopped her test. Fortunately, after about two-weeks of preparation they decided she could proceed. (Interesting asides - doctors pointed out that stress testing performance had a strong genetic component, and that those previously in good aerobic condition tended to remain so - even after discontinuing their exercise program.) At this point the group include the previously mentioned considerably overweight woman, a diabetic female, a 13-year HIV veteran male, and others with shin splints and knee problems. Ages ranged from 28 to 60.

After the initial 9 weeks training one female had to drop out because of recurring stress fractures; she was replaced by a 300+ lb. former professional football lineman. It was also interesting to learn that 90% of the participants' aerobic improvement had occurred at this point - thus, running marathons is not required to substantially improve one's physical condition. Another interesting fact was that well-conditioned humans can outrun dogs and horses over a distance - they overheat and fade, while humans cool off more efficiently.
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While the program's 1-hour time limit (total run time is about 53 minutes) and nearly year-long footage provided editing difficulties, the results of Nova's Marathon Challenge are undoubtedly heartwarming and inspiring.

The Challenge was simple: find 13 sedentary, non-athletes - people referred to initially by their coach as "dog meat" - and transform them, with structured guidance and support, into marathon finishers. Along the way their support structure is ample. A Tufts University Professor of exercise physiology, who is also an avid marathoner, serves as their guide. The Tufts track coach serves as their running mentor. Uta Pippig, a physical dynamo (won 3 Boston marathons, 1 NY marathon, was in 2 separate Olympics), provided inspiration, advice, and motivation through her cute accent, transforming the letter t into d on most occasions. Additionally, they had access to top notch medical assistance. Before the race they were given VO2 Max tests (used to calculate efficient oxygen utilization) and body composition measurements in the DEXA machine. In other terms, they were measured, weighed, evaluated, and tested to the Nth degree. Nearly all medical evaluations and tests are accompanied by a fancy animation showing the internal workings of the human body, and how running, for the most part, improves its function. I enjoyed each of these interludes and learned a few things along the way. However, making this sound like 13 people just fell off the couch and worked themselves into marathon shape without assistance is a bit disingenuous. Akin to the Biggest Loser reality show, the final accomplishment is personal; but each had a lot of help from trained professionals along the way.
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