Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
If you’re struggling to find motivation to train or even think ahead to your next race (whenever that may be), you’re normal. Endurance athletes around the world are left to find inspiration wherever they can find it. Maybe you’re jumping into challenges, competing in virtual events, or following your favorite pros as they compete on the computer. But if we’re all honest, none of these substitutes are quite the same as the feeling of crossing the finish line or watching someone else accomplish their dream. So, we’ve compiled a list of movies to try to help you get in touch with that “doing something epic” feeling. Is it the same? No. But it’s at least a step toward remembering what it looks like to set out a goal, go after it, and achieve it. You’re spending extra time in front of the TV anyway, right? Might as well make something that will inspire you.
We Are Triathletes (2018)
Filmmakers document the lives of six triathletes (Mirinda Carfrae, Tim O’Donnell, Luke McKenzie, Rudy Garcia-Tolson, Qi Dang, and Bessy Leszczynski) as they prepare for and compete in the 2014 Challenge Roth triathlon. The film also features historical looks back and interviews with Ironman legends, including John and Judy Collins, Julie Moss, Kathleen McCartney, Scott Tinley, Dave Scott, and Mark Allen.
Iron Cowboy The Story of the 50-50-50 (2016)
The documentary follows James Lawrence (the Iron Cowboy) as he attempts to complete 50 iron-distance triathlons in 50 consecutive days in all 50 states. The film follows the “wonder, mystery, and controversy” that took place along the way.
Online video magazine host Brian Rose teams up with punk singer John Joseph for an unflinching look at triathlon’s effect on two troubled pasts. Rose, with guidance from Joseph, trains for and competes in Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga while fueling on a 100% plant-based diet.
The Last Mile (2018)
Watch it: YouTube (Free)
This documentary follows athletes of all levels as they work to compete at the ITU Long Distance World Championships in Penticton, B.C., Canada back in 2017. The stories are inspiring, and it’s comforting to watch athletes compete on a beautiful course.
So far everything has been a documentary. This one is not! Ultrasound tech Natalie never finishes anything. But when a cancer patient tells her about a triathlon, she’s intrigued. Like many of us have, she checks out the iconic ABC footage of Julie Moss (an associate producer on TRI) collapsing at Ironman Hawaii in 1982 and is inspired to sign up for her first race, the Olympic-distance Nation’s Triathlon in Washington, D.C. She joins a Team in Training-like organization to help her achieve her goal. Read our complete thoughts on the movie here.
Brittany Runs a Marathon (2019)
Probably the most mainstream movie on this list, this one is also not a documentary. Brittany, a hard-partying New Yorker, gets a wake-up call when the doctor tells her how unhealthy she is. Motivated to get her life together, she makes new friends and takes up running to help her prepare for her ultimate goal of competing in the New York City Marathon.
Spirit of the Marathon (2008)
Watch it: Amazon (Rent $3 or buy $10)
The film follows six runners with different backgrounds as each one prepares for and competes in the Chicago Marathon. Whether you’re looking for a little motivation, or just want to put a smile on your face, this movie is a great reminder of why we started competing in endurance sports.
Run for Your Life (2008)
The documentary recounts the life of Fred Lebow, who founded the New York City Marathon. It’s a fascinating look at how one man’s love for running turned into one of the most popular endurance races in the world.
Desert Runners (2013)
A group of everyday runners attempts to finish the most challenging ultramarathon desert race series on the planet across Chili, China, Egypt, and Antarctica. Both the landscapes and the people are amazing and inspiring.
The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young (2015)
A famous prison escape sparks the idea for a cult-like race in Tennessee that has seen only 10 finishers in its first 25 years. The event only accepts 35 runners each year through a secret application process. Participants battle through treacherous terrain to find hidden books as proof of following the route.
McFarland USA (2015)
Inspired by a true story, the movie follows cross country coach Jim White (played by Kevin Costner) as he takes a new job at a high school in California. White and his students have their differences, but things begin to change when he realizes the boys’ exceptional running talent.
I AM Bolt (2016)
This documentary puts together footage from some of Bolt’s top performances and other archival footage with present-day interviews to see how Olympic champion Usain Bolt became a running legend.
National Geographic follows runners Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya, Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia, and Zersenay Tadese of Eritrea attempting to break two hours in the marathon as part of Nike’s Breaking2 project. The documentary shares how the stars live and train for the record-breaking attempt. It also dives into the science behind the equipment and environment put in place to help these runners attempt to complete the task at hand.
Without Limits (1998)
The oldest movie on this list is a classic. This biographical sports film follows the relationship between record-breaking distance runner Steve Prefontaine and his University of Oregon coach Bill Bowerman, who later co-founded Nike, Inc.
The Redeemed and Dominant (2018)
Before you start arguing that a CrossFit documentary movie shouldn’t be on this list, hear us out! The documentary follows athletes as they take part in four days of intense competitions at the CrossFit Games in Madison, Wisconsin. It’s a different kind of strength and endurance—but it’s a fascinating watch for anyone who loves to compete.