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Hood to Coast

Long-distance relay documentary propelled by the people who run it

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Runners race legs of a 197-mile mountaintop-to-ocean relay in documentary .

Hood to Coast

Directed by Christoph Baaden and Marcie Hume

Screens Jan. 11 at Cinemark Egyptian 24, AMC Owings Mills, Snowden Square, AMC Columbia Mall, and Bel Air Cinema 14

Thousands of racers, children to seniors, toned to jiggly, well-equipped to ill-equipped, gather in the early morning sunlight of a West Coast summer. They cheer each other on, they goof off, they line up, and they jet down a hill in a massive mob of excitement. Up until this point in directors Christoph Baaden and Marcie Hume’s documentary Hood to Coast, you get the impression that this 197-mile race from Oregon’s Mount Hood to its seaside is just fun, something each of the 1,000 teams of 12 does for itself only. Then they all arrive at the starting point, and you start to sense the massiveness of this thing, this 24-hour physical and spiritual test. This is one of those rare and splendid movies that recognizes the beauty of its story and merely augments it, rather than redesigning it, culminating in a wonderful viewing experience.

The filmmakers follow four teams, each with distinct personalities and vastly different motivations, as they run the 2008 Hood to Coast. The Dead Jocks in a Box include lifetime runners reaching their 50s and 60s who are rediscovering the humor of youth to cope with the inevitable physical decline of age. Thunder and Laikaning features a group of unathletic graphic designers who took their name from Laika, the animation company where they work; it includes the endearing Rachel, who insists on doing nothing but drinking beer to prepare for the race and winds up transformed by it. Team R. Bowe races in memory of Ryan, the members’ brother/son/husband/friend who passed away at 30 from an undiagnosed heart condition, just one month before the race and days before the birth of his first son. Most touching is Heart ‘N’ Sole, a team of women in their 50s and above. They rally around teammate Kathy, who nearly died after suffering a heart attack running her 17th Hood to Coast and has returned to run the leg where she fell.

Throughout, Hood records the extremes of human emotion as each runner toils from that excited beginning, through a lull of repetition, into the quiet reflective moments of midnight, and down at last to the euphoric arrival at the course’s end. It’s all captured through simple camerawork—some time-elapsed clouds are about as fancy as it gets—and the filmmakers rarely interject in the movie’s natural pace. They manage to catch intensely personal moments that break your heart: Ryan’s wife tearfully revealing that she didn’t want to keep her newborn son if she couldn’t have her husband; Ryan’s mother running on a lonely country road in the darkness of midnight, saying she’s been talking to her son and his spirit has been pushing her to finish.

Underneath it all flows a stunning instrumental score composed by Nathan Barr (True Blood, Dukes of Hazard, the Hostel series) that quietly eases the story along with tones and sounds that meld seamlessly with the ups and downs of the racers’ experiences. And as effortlessly as the directors bring you into the depths of human troubles, they boost you back up. Perhaps the moment that best embodies the spirit of the race is when Kathy steps aside at the finish line to call her cardiologist. She tells him she followed his advice: She participated in only one leg, the easiest, and walked the whole time, never letting her heart monitor get above 120. She winks and waves at the camera with the giddiness of a teenager getting away with lying to her parents: She actually ran three legs, letting her heart rate climb up to 180 (but with the careful support of her team who made sure she didn’t push herself too hard). And her youth in this moment shines through like an indestructible force. By the time the runners cross the finish line at the edge of the Pacific, they’re ecstatic, you’re ecstatic, the sunshine is ecstatic, and those feelings of hope and teamwork and the beauty of the human spirit that you may have written off as soft stuff are bubbling once more in your most inner of innards.

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