Free to Run, a documentary directed by Pierre Morath about the history of running and how running became this huge phenomenon, will open Friday July 15th in theaters and VOD.
Just 50 years ago, long-distance running was a puritan, elitist activity reserved exclusively for men who were champions of the track or Stakhanovites of the marathon – that 42-kilometer distance inherited from an ancient myth and thus believed to be solely for madmen and masochists. Any nonchampions partaking in outdoor running were considered to be, at best, eccentric, and at worst, dangerously subversive. “If the police saw you running on the side of the road, they arrested you in the assumption that you were either a delinquent or a criminal on the run”, many pioneers of long distance running would later recount with amusement.
And if men were stigmatized when they left the stadiums to go running out on the road, women were still forbidden from running in official races longer than the 800-meter as it was judged dangerous to their health and femininity. In 1967, The American Kathrine Switzer illegally participated in the Boston marathon by registering under a man’s name so as to join in unnoticed. The marathon director noticed her and began chasing after her with the intention of ripping off her bib number and pulling her out of the race. Defended by her fiancé, she managed to finish the race. It was a shock. Switzer became the female symbol of equal rights in the sport.
In Switzerland, Noël Tamini, founder and editor-in-chief of the magazine Spiridon, heard of the phenomenon named Kathrine Switzer and decided to invite her to participate, illegally, in the Morat- Fribourg race. This initiative was one of many actions in the Spiridon movement that, in Switzerland and Europe, embodied a real revolution in running – a “political” struggle for popular running, open to anyone and everyone, for pleasure and good health. In the name of this struggle, a merciless war was declared on the official racing institutions firmly decided upon forbidding the organization of open races. At the same time, in the United States, popular running was takingoff. From 1976 on, the New York marathon embodied the amazing evolution of long-distance road running. Anonymously invented by a delightful and forward-thinking little man – Fred Lebow – the race would soon enjoy an incredible, planetary success, bringing together participants by the tens of thousands.