Going the distance in the Beach

The man who can drive himself further once the effort gets painful is the man who will win.

– Dr. Roger Bannister


Beachers are passionate about their sports, and runners may be the most dedicated of all. Athletes push themselves to strive for that next goal, record or personal best. Some run to stay in shape. For others running is a way of life. Five movies filmed in our community tell the story of a runner’s life at different stages.

reel beach-Four minutes wThe Champion

“Just because they say it’s impossible doesn’t mean you can’t do it.”

It was 60 years ago (May 6, 1954) that Roger Bannister became the first runner to crack the four minute mile. His quest to break the record many thought couldn’t be broken is chronicled in Four Minutes (2005). Ashbridges Bay and Birchmount Stadium stand in for the actual locales in Oxford, England.

The Beginner

Saint Ralph (2004) is a wonderful coming-of-age story from director Michael McGowan. A 14 year-old boy is encouraged to take up cross-country running as self-discipline. His unlikely goal is to compete in the Boston Marathon of 1954. Watch for scenes of a priest riding a bicycle near Kew Beach as well as swimmers at Summerville Pool and runners on the boardwalk.

The Schoolboy Sensation

A still from the National Film Board's Runner shows Bruce Kidd training on the boardwalk.
A still from the National Film Board’s Runner shows Bruce Kidd training on the boardwalk.

Bruce Kidd was a slight Malvern CI student in 1961 when he burst onto the running world to win Canadian Press’ Athlete of the Year two years in a row. Sports Illustrated wrote, “Never in track history, indoors or out, has anyone so young run so far so fast.”

The lyrical NFB short documentary Runner (1962) follows Kidd training along the boardwalk and racing on the track at East York Collegiate. This 11 minute visual poem came out the same year as the British feature film The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. Both stress the solitude of the runner in an era before distance running became popular.

W.H. Auden wrote the verse commentary: The camera’s eye/ Does not lie/ But it cannot show/ The life within/ The life of a runner/ Of yours or mine …

The Olympic Hopeful

Long-distance running really caught on with the jogging craze of the late 1970s as baby boomers started to age.

Sports movies are often about triumph over adversity. In Running (1979) Michael Douglas plays a troubled marathon runner with slim hopes of winning at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. With his personal life spinning out of control, he decides to take charge of something he can do by himself … run. Running for him is a matter of survival, the way it was for early mankind.

Set in Queens, NY, filming took place on Wheeler Avenue near Norway Avenue. One scene has Douglas running across a New York bridge and then over the hill on Wheeler … now that’s what I call a marathon!

Crowds of neighbours turned out to watch the filming. Some of the extras really were the girls next door on Wheeler. Another scene shows the runner followed Forrest Gump-like by a horde of neighbourhood kids. Does anyone remember being in this movie?

The Weekend Jogger

Richard Burton (1925-1984) was way past his prime when he played an aging artist in Circle of Two (1980).

In one scene Burton is spied on by a young teen (Tatum O’Neal) as he jogs on the boardwalk near the Leuty lifeguard station.

A lifetime of heavy drinking had taken its toll on Burton, no longer the dashing leading man who played Hamlet (and proposed to Elizabeth Taylor) here in Toronto in 1964. Circle of Two is no Hamlet. It was one of those tax-shelter era films that gave Canadian movies a bad name. Burton later confessed he “did it for the money.” The artwork was actually created by the hand of Harold Town. The screenplay was by one-time Toronto journalist Tom Hedley, who later wrote Flashdance (1983).

Which politician “running” for re-election holds a high school record for the 440 yard dash?

Answer: Kathleen Wynne

Note: It is a shame that so few movies have been made about female athletes. There was a time when distance running was considered “unseemly” for women. The Boston Marathon was officially closed to women until 1972. Run, Kathleen, run.

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