The Perfect Runner

The Perfect Runner
The Perfect Runner will be broad­cast on CBC’s The Nature of Things here in Canada on Thursday March 15th at 8:00pm EDT. For more inform­a­tion on other screen­ings and to buy the DVD, visit the offi­cial site.

The Perfect Runner (Director: Niobe Thompson): If you like to run, film­maker and anthro­po­lo­gist Niobe Thompson will take you on a jour­ney to dis­cover your run­ning ancest­ors in his latest doc­u­ment­ary. “What if we had to run before we had to think?” Thompson asks.

Beginning at the begin­ning, Thompson looks at humans’ ancestor, the ape. As this tree climber adap­ted to life on two feet, endur­ance beat out speed. Natural selec­tion turned humans into endur­ance run­ners simply as a mat­ter of sur­vival. “We learned to out­run all the anim­als in our envir­on­ment,” says Thompson. “Humans became nature’s best endur­ance run­ners.”

While many in North America are a long way now from hunt­ing their own food, Thompson searches out some of these endur­ance run­ners in action. He travels to north­ern Russia to observe the reindeer her­ders of the Siberian tun­dra, who need to move at the same speed as their anim­als in order to sur­vive. He invest­ig­ates Bekogi, Ethiopia, home to many of that country’s best dis­tance run­ners. And he looks at the phe­nomenon of ultrar­unning, hear­ing from run­ners who’ve com­pleted the gruelling 125-kilo­metre Canadian Death Race.

The Perfect Runner

He also takes a look at the bare­foot run­ning move­ment, inter­view­ing Professor Daniel Lieberman of Harvard, whose research focuses on the bio­mech­an­ics of the human body. Most run­ners these days wear cush­ioned run­ning shoes. The shoes are meant to pro­tect us, but they’re actu­ally hurt­ing us. Wearing shoes to run causes our heel to strike the ground first, some­thing that bare­foot run­ners never do. This change to our nat­ural gait has res­ul­ted in many injur­ies, des­pite the con­tin­ued “innov­a­tion” of the shoe design­ers.

It would have been inter­est­ing to see an inter­view with one of the shoe com­pan­ies at this point; how­ever, that might have switched the focus of the film too much, not to men­tion cour­ted some con­tro­versy. Thompson prefers to keep the focus on humans as endur­ance run­ners, not humans as con­sumers of brand-name run­ning shoes.

Runners (both recre­ational and elite) will find this doc­u­ment­ary inter­est­ing and inform­at­ive, with just enough inform­a­tion to whet the appet­ite for the sci­ence behind run­ning. As for non-run­ners, it might just entice a few to rise from the couch and lace up.

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