33 Must Watch Documentaries For Trail Runners

best trail running documentaries

We’ve compiled our favorite trail running documentaries all in one place. They are all free and can be viewed right now via Youtube or Vimeo below. These are perfect for when you are sick or injured or just need a bit of extra motivation to keep up those miles week in and week out. No matter what your reason, we know you’ll find something inspiring! Enjoy…

1. The ‘Most Elusive’ Man In North America

This video follows filmmakers Adam Maruniak and Justin Pelletier as they attempt to find and follow Dag Aabye, a reclusive man living in a school bus somewhere near the town of Vern, British Columbia.  Dag is the oldest man alive to have finished the Canadian Death Race at 76 and has been doing so for the last decade.

This 125k ultra-marathon run over 3 mountain summits and 17,000 feet of elevation is aptly named.  The video goes beyond running and to the contemplation of life itself with regard to age.  But for Dag, age is no matter, and life continues to be running.

2. Western Time

This film follows Nike athlete Sally McRae as she attempts to qualify for and then run the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run, a race from Squaw Valley, California to Auburn, California, for the first time.  Filmmaker Billy Yang does an excellent job throughout of showing viewers the real side to running ultra-marathons with amazing single camera cinematography.

This film is a must watch for a lesson is determination and perseverance.  Throughout, McRae is honest and open about things she is struggling with not only in regard to racing, but when it comes to balancing life as well.  The movie is candid, heartfelt, and a definite watch for inspiration.

3. 52 Peaks

https://vimeo.com/110621927

52 Peaks is a beautiful and contemplative film completely directed, produced, edited, animated, and starring Matthew Dickinson.  It follows him as he attempts to run 52 peaks in 52 weeks all across New Zealand.  The personal journey that the film shows him going on throughout is motivational and his progress in running towards the end is evident.

The documentary is very introspective on running alone and tackling a challenge you set before yourself.  It is a great reminder that hard work and perseverance can pay off.  Shot with a single camera, Dickinson does a lot more running than required to bring us along.  But what an incredible journey we’re shown.

4. Where Dreams Go To Die- Garry Robbins and The Barkley Marathons

This film by Ethan Newberry (The Ginger Runner) follows Canadian ultrarunner Gary Robbins for over two years as he attempts to finish The Barkley Marathons twice, an over 100 mile race widely considered one of the toughest on Earth to complete.

It is a harrowing ultra-marathon held in Frozen Head State Park near Wartburg Tennessee every year.  The race itself is comprised of 5 loops on an about 20 mile trail which changes yearly.

The actual distance of the race is debated with regard to elevation change as well as a requirement being to find books along the trail and take the page of a different bib number given after each completed loop.  All in under 60 hours.  Only 15 people have ever completed the race, and Gary Robbins quest to be come on of them is beautiful and heartbreaking.  Definitely a film to see.

5. The Triple Crown of 200’s

This film follows Team Altra employee Mike McKnight during his pursuit of the The Triple Crown of 200’s, otherwise known as running three 200 mile non-repetitive courses in around 2 and a half months.  The three races that comprise the Triple Crown are The Bigfoot 200, The Tahoe 200, and The Moab 240.

The film shot by Derrick Lytle is a true testament to the limits that the human body can be pushed to and an inside look into some of the most extreme running in the world.

6. The Unknown

The Unknown is another great film shot by Billy Yang in 2017.  It follows Timothy Olsen as he attempts to finish The Hardrock 100, an ultra-endurance 100 mile race starting and finishing in Silverton, Colorado.  The race itself is a winding loop course through the San Juan Mountain Range in the Rocky Mountains that passes through the towns of Telluride, and Ouray.

It crosses thirteen major passes above 12,000 feet and can leave runners, including Olsen, humbled by the intense terrain.  This great documentary shows the struggles of just how hard the sport truly is.  It is an inspiration to watch and to be given this type of inside look into an ultra-athletes life.

7. Set Free

This inspiring video shows a true love for the sport of trail running through the eyes of Kristie Elliot, a trail runner from British Columbia.  In it, Elliot talks about everything from her early inspirations as a young girl, to the things that keep her continually interested in the sport today.

The film shows that it is often easy to lose sight of the fact that a majority of people that participate in this sport do it because they love it.  Kristie is no different as she trains for the Leadville 100, and reminds us that the mental side of the sport is just as important as the physical aspect of training.  Race day is a culmination of the two.

8. Great Himalaya Trail, High Route

This film tells the story of Philippe and Anna Gatta who attempt to run The Great Himalaya Trail High Route through Nepal in less than 40 days.  Running this route in the time they allotted themselves is basically the equivalent of doing 40 marathons in 40 straight days while also running over mountain passes at altitudes between 5000 and 6000 meters.

The cinematography and sweeping shots of the Himalaya’s alone make this film a must see as well as the culture shown throughout this sweeping landscape.  This film is definitely worth checking out not only for the views but for the inside look into just what it takes to push yourself to these extreme limits.

9. The 100 Mile King

This inspirational film is candid in showing everything that The Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run throws at participants, and is the humbling story of Nick Bassett, the oldest finisher in the race’s history with a 29 hour time for the entire 100 miles.

The film itself takes viewers along for not only the pre-race meals, and preparation on race day, but it also follows Nick and his team as he runs, meets up at checkpoints to refuel, and gets paced out in order to stay on track towards the end. It is truly inspiring to see Nick finish, and to check out everything that is involved in order to complete such and intense yet prestigious race.

10. The Road To 135

The Road to 135 is a documentary about ultra-runner Josh Spector and his quest to finish the Badwater 135.  This 135 mile race is ran during the hottest time of the year, July, from Badwater Basin, Death Valley to Whitney Portal, the trailhead at the base of Mt. Whitney.  It puts some of the best ultra-runners against one another through one of the most grueling and arduous races in the world.

The film shows Josh training with his team and preparing for the race in Lone Tree, California with some locals to simulate race day conditions, and on the day of the race.  This film will make you excited about running, and gives a great look into the life of an elite ultra-runner

11. From Squaw To Auburn

In the start of this film, veteran filmmaker Billy Yang speaks directly to the audience telling them that The Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run is his dream race.  He says he wants to share everything that goes into a race like this, the good, the bad, and the ugly, and the film truly does live up to that promise.

It was shot by Joel Silva and does a great job of giving a close up look into the ultra-racing process and the setbacks that happen for everyone.  Billy, as a filmmaker himself is no stranger to being behind the camera, but coming out in front of the lenses, he comes into his own as an actor and athlete being documented.

12. More Than A Race

https://vimeo.com/93351560

This film by Loyd Belcher shows the dramatic backdrop of city scenes and the trails around the only ultra-marathon held in Hong Kong called the Vibram Hong Kong 100.  It follows a few different athletes that are competing in the famed race and the experiences they have in Japan and with this grueling 100 kilometer trail on race day.

The cinematography is dramatic and just as beautiful as the stories the film tells along the way.  This ultra-marathon is a race like no other because there literally is none like it or held near it.  This film is certainly an interesting journey worth taking.

13. The Lion and the Gazelle

This short film is a true inspirational piece and provides many thoughts about why we run, and what it can mean to different people for different reasons.  It seems to use running as an allegory for life itself.  The film says, “when that sun comes up, we are all running.”  It is inspiring to hear, and think about the primal aspect of running, and to remember the introspection that running can bring to oneself.

It is important to constantly be reminded of the reason one goes out trail running, and this film is a great reminder of a few of the many reasons to get back out on the trails.

14. On The Road

This film features sponsored trail runner Rickey Gates, who at 19 dropped out of college to go on a road trip to South America.  Now a bit older, this film follows him on an introspective journey from Aspen, Colorado to San Francisco, California as he road trips on an adventure bike, takes time to remind himself why he got into the sport, and seeks out some of the best trails in the United States of America.

There are many awe-inspiring moments of pristine landscape, and incredible running montages throughout.  Gates seems to be on a search for self discovery and the journey that filmmakers brings us along on is remarkable and unique.  A beautiful look into the life of a professional trail runner.

15. Barkley 100

https://vimeo.com/97270099

This famed race has already been mentioned earlier in this list, but Barkley 100 is a great documentary to show you a little bit more insight into this near impossible and quirky event held every year.  It was originally inspired by James Earl Ray, who assassinated Dr. Martin Luther King, but who was only able to run 8 miles in 55 hours during his and a few others escape from jail in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee.

The race was born after that as a quest to run over 100 miles in 60 hours.  The film follows the history of the race, its competitors, and some of the select few in the world, who have completed the race in the allotted time and with the correct requirements for finishing.  It is a great documentary looking into an even more intriguing race.

16. Curiosity

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a1a-Yd5DW70

This film follows the lives of North Face Athletes Rory Bosio, Timothy Olson, and Hal Koerner in their pursuit of trail running exploration and the trials and tribulations of ultra-marathons.  It was filmed during The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, a 166 kilometer race that traverses this majestic peak in the French Alps.

The film explores running from a competitive standpoint and shows these athletes as they train for and compete in this epic race.  The film digs into the introspective nature of trail running and why these athletes compete, but it is sure to show the elation of finishing courses as well.  A must watch for inspiration to keep getting out there and hitting the trails.

17. 15 Hours With Amelia Boone

Filmmaker Billy Yang is back on this list with another amazing documentary, this one following ultra-runner Amelia Boone.  The film follows Boone as she works her way back from devastating injury that left her sidelined for over a year, and as she attempts to quality for the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Race, through the Sean O’Brian 100k.

It is a courageous journey that shows some of the true struggles of competing in ultra-running.  Yet throughout, she talks about the innate love for running she has, and her words are sure to resonate with viewers.  It is inspiring to see someone work as hard as she does and who enjoys getting out there to run for the sake of running.

18. The Source

This harrowing documentary from Dream Lens Media LLC follows Courtney Dauwalter, and her sources of inspiration to be one of the best ultra-runners in the world.  It follows her throughout the Tahoe 200, a 200 mile ultra-marathon held every year in California.

The film explores her inner inspirations to be a runner, and gives viewers an inside look into another one of the best endurance athletes in the world.  It is inspiring to see someone who is constantly trying to push the limits of the human body and to see just how far she can push herself to that effect.

19. Kroger’s Canteen

This film centers around an aid station known as Kroger’s Canteen, set up in the middle of The Hardrock 100, a loop race previously mentioned, through the San Juan Mountain Range that starts and end in Silverton, Colorado.  The documentary shows some of the former race participants who hike up to the 13,000 foot station to staff it for the current participants on The Hardrock 100.

It is a different kind of trail-running documentary because it comes from people who were once in, but are now just outside the race itself.  The Hardrock 100 is one of the toughest races and so is reaching Kroger’s Canteen, but the people waiting at the top are ready to aid participants, and refuel them for the rest of their journey.

It is cool to see just how much these volunteers care about keeping the runners motivated and ready to finish one of the hardest races in the world.

20. Life In A Day

Life In A Day follows four different female runners as they attempt to tackle The Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run and finish in the top 10.  Each woman has a very different day for the actual event, yet all speak introspectively about running, and what it means to them to compete in such a prestigious event.

The film shows a different side of each runner and where they are in their running careers.  From some, this is their first crack at a 100 mile race, while for others, there are expectations as to where they want to finish.  This is just another great inside look from filmmaker Billy Yang into The Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run.

21. The Musician

This interesting short film follows Ben Gibbard, front-man for the alternative rock band ‘Death Cab For Cutie,’ while he is out on tour and also details his newfound love for trail running and what that means to him.  As a newer trail-runner, but with plenty of life experience from out on the road, Gibbard gives viewers a different angle to the sport of trail running and how much it can mean to those who participate.

The film juxtaposes the feelings of going out on stage each night in front of thousands of people with running on a trail alone and as one with nature.  It is an interesting and outside perspective that is captured perfectly with shots of concerts and those of running.

22. Found On 49

This film is another one on this list that follows a runner attempting to tackle The Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run.  This time it follows runner Jim Walmsley’s first attempt at the race and simultaneously his first attempt ever at a 100 mile run.  It follows him from a couple of weeks out from race day training hard until he is out on the course.

It is a great inside look at the mind of an ultra-runner and the preparation that can go into a race day, especially a first attempt at 100 miles.  He has the heart of a champion but this documentary shows that sometimes the race has a different plan than how you visualize it beforehand.

23. Why We Run

This film or episode of a longer series shows great insight into the questions that runners constantly ask themselves, why do I run?  It centers around ultra-runner Bernd Heinrich who has held, and continues to hold numerous running records, and who was inducted into the American Ultra-Running Association’s Hall of Fame in 2007.

In the film, he talks about the primal nature of running and the things that drew him into the sport.  He clearly continues to be fascinated with the natural notion of running and the primal instincts about it that still are present in humans today.

24. Finding Traction

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_3tCVxm0sm4

This film is centered around Nikki Kimball and her attempt to run the Long Trail, a 273 mile endeavor, consecutively in under the record time of 4 days and 12 hours.  It is a film that intimately shows someone trying to push the human body to and past the limits that are even thought possible.  The trail itself covers over twice the elevation of Mt Everest and is basically 10 marathons in a row.

Kimball might just be crazy, but she is also an inspiration into just how far one can and should push themselves in pursuit of what they see as possible.  This documentary is a must watch to see the limits of human ability.

25. Wonderland

This is another film that centers around ultra-runner Gary Robbins and his attempt to start at Longmire, underneath Mt. Rainier and set the fastest known time around Wonderland Trail.  The current record, held by Kyle Skaggs at just under 21 hours was always considered unbeatable but watch to see if Gary is up to the challenge.  The trail itself circles Mt Rainier.

It is also 93 miles long and features 24,000 ft of elevation.  The film is a great look into what it takes to attempt to overcome unthinkable challenges, and is certainly worth a watch.

26. How One Wrong Turn Changed Jim Walmsley’s Career

This is another film that follows ultra-runner Jim Walmsley, but this time, it is more reflective of a life rather than a close up look at his run in the Western States 100 Miles.  It follows him as he attempts to rediscover himself after life in the military through running and pushing himself to be the best runner that he can be.

He talks about his motivation, as well as overcoming obstacles in your way.  Walmsley is at the top of the ultra-running sport right now and this is a great look into who he is today and how he got there.

27.  My Addiction

This beautiful short film is exactly what you need to watch to get you back out on the trail, and to keep you excited for tomorrow as well.  It intersperses motivational quotes and motifs about running with a beautiful backdrop of shots of runners against sweeping backgrounds.  If you need a quick pick me up to get you out there and training again, check out this quick video.  It is sure to remind you why you run.

28. Pacing Hardrock

This film follows Jeff Pelletier as he helps his friend Kevin Douglas at the Hardrock 100 in 2015 as a pace runner.  This is an interesting look into the ultra-running sport not only because it follows the Hardrock 100 closely, but it does so in a manner different from just following a participant and their race day experience and training.

This film is an inside look into the team that helps each runner in any ultra event, which are critical to the success of that runner.  The preparation from a pacer and the team is completely different than that of a runner so this film shows great insight into the team aspect of ultra-running.

29. The Teacher

This film follows Stevie Kremer, one of the most competitive and strongest trail runners in the world right now.  She is based out of Crested Butte, Colorado and also has a job as a second grade teacher at the local school.  The short film shows how she balances life as a teacher with training hard to stay at the top of the ultra-running sport.

It details how she is able to continually push herself as well as be the best role model and example she can.  An inspiring look into the duality of life as one of the best trail runners in the world.

30. 15 Hours With Magdalena Boulet

The 15 Hours Series by Billy Yang continues to impress and be some of the best inside looks into elite and ultra athletes around.  This one about Olympian and ultra-runner Magdalena Boulet is no different.  Her story is an interesting one and worth watching.

She immigrated to the United States as a senior in High School and has had many other obstacles besides which would have set a less strong willed person back.  She talks openly about balancing life outside running as well as staying on top of the sport.

31. Western States 100 The Window Seat

This documentary by Billy Yang is a great behind the scenes look into the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run.  He spends the day following the race and talking to everyone in the industry from participants to pacers and even the people hanging out at each aid station cheering their friends on.

There is a lot of great footage showing just what this 100 mile endurance run has to offer but also a lot of the things that you might not think about happening behind the scenes for events like this to come to be successful.  If you love ultra-running and want to see everything that a race like Western States has to offer, watch this film.

32. Kilian

Kilian Jornet is widely considered the best mountain runner ever despite growing up as more of a skier and mountaineer.  In this film, he attempts to ski and run in a single day the Seven Summits of Romsdalen, Norway, a 77 km route with 9000m of elevation gain.  This amazing journey that viewers are brought along on shows insight into Jornet’s life and what it takes to push your body beyond limits thought possible.

He talks a lot about his life and the video also shows his preparation for this attempt and the gear he brings.

33. Into Patagonia With Dakota Jones

This film follows Dakota Jones, an American alpine runner, as he searches for some of the best running in the world in Patagonia, South America.  Along the way, he talks about his motivation, and what it is like being a professional runner in today’s world.  The views of sweeping landscape and vast glaciers before mountains make this introspective film well worth watching.

It also highlights the rich culture of Patagonia and an awe inspiring part of the world worth traveling to see for yourself.

 

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