Run for Your Life is an independent documentary that tells the story of how Fred Lebow created the New York City Marathon. Lebow immigrated to America from Transylvania during World War II and joined the New York Road Runners before they were the renowned organization they are today. The club -- and the sport -- have never been the same.
The film follows the evolution of the NYC Marathon, the NY Road Runners and the sport as a whole, but Lebow himself is a character that remains both inspirational and absolutely zany throughout. When his peers doubted him, he was able to use his connections to convince NYC leaders that a marathon through all five bureaus would help boost the city's faltering image. While this was an admirable feat, he also held quirky themed races (costume races, backward races, etc.), enlisted the help of Playboy Bunnies for publicity and had tenuous relationships with women. The latter hints at a recurring theme in the film: women in the running world. While not focusing too much of feministic ideas, the film does describe how women overcame social norms to run. Lebow encouraged this, although the first NYC Marathon had no female finishers.
Through all the grandeur that the NYC Marathon gained, Lebow's spindly, awkward figure loomed over it, always sporting his signature cap and tennis shoes. Stylistically, the film is quite impressive. Director Judd Ehrlich managed to create a modern-feeling film about events that happened from the 60s to the 80s. You never feel like you are watching boring archival footage. The mixture of interviews, still images and video from the era keeps the film fresh and moving, and the number of interviews is impressive. We hear the testimony of everyone from Lebow's family to NYC leaders to original members of the NY Road Runners.
All these interviews and media formats come together to make a story that feels exhaustive and complete. By the end of the film, we've seen Lebow's life from before he immigrated through to his death, and we've seen the NYC Marathon go from an odd event in Central Park to one of the world's biggest marathons. While there is much about Lebow to be admired, the film also makes sure to point out his shortcomings in a way that feels less critical than it does honest. When speaking of him, the friends interviewed do show a sense of awe at what he was able to accomplish, but also speak of his flaws with a good sense of humor, so that when you are watching, you feel like you are getting a complete picture of what really happened.
Overall, enough of the story is included in the film so that if any more or less were present, it wouldn't feel right. We get all the ups and downs of Lebow's life, and can still appreciate what he did for the running world. The effect is that of inspiration -- by the end of the film, you will most likely want to run a marathon. That's what Lebow would have wanted.
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