The Perfect Runner

by Brooke Smith on March 14, 2012

in Documentaries,Television

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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