Running road races is only part of my obsession with running. The other side of my running world is coaching, both Cross Country and Track and Field. I started coaching seven years ago at a school in Toronto, as a coach for sprints/hurdles and now coach both high school and competitive track. So when you have a movie about coaching and running: you know I am going to be there on opening night.
I was lucky enough to score tickets for the advanced screening of McFarland – thanks to a local Ottawa radio station. The screening happened on Wednesday night with an almost packed house. I even noticed a runner from my track club in attendance. McFarland is based on the true story of the McFarland High School Cross Country team, coached by Jim White. The film starts at the beginning of the McFarland team history and how Coach Jim started the team. McFarland is a small rural town in California that is one of the state’s poorest towns. The story revolves around Coach White (also called ‘Blanco’ by the teens) who is struggling with finding his place in the coaching world and seven hispanic teenagers who not only train and go to school, but also work several hours a day as pickers in the town’s farms. The movie follows their story and pulls at your heart strings as the characters deal with family and social conflicts and struggles with being labelled by other schools as poor, not good enough runners. The McFarland Cross Country team has since won several State Championships and one of the best running schools in the State.
The movie was fantastic. It is a Disney film, so therefore a wholesome, family movie that doesn’t have much (if any) swearing or violence. You don’t have to be a runner/former cross country athlete to like the film. My husband, who isn’t a “trackie” at all really enjoyed the movie and laughed throughout. The film is a drama, but has several hilarious moments amongst the more serious scenes.
From a coach and runner’s perspective, a few things that I thought were spot on:
Kevin Costner’s Wardrobe
It is a throwback to 1980’s athletic fashion. Kevin Costner plays Coach Jim White and wears some pretty spectacular track suits in this film – including an Adidas track suit. Totally 1980’s and spot on. I kind of want to find my own 1980’s track suit now for coaching.
Prepping as a coach
In the movie, it is portrayed that Jim White has no background in coaching cross country – in real life he actually coached for a few years before achieving success. But, in the movie we see him prepare as best as he could. He uses a kitchen timer for a sports watch for the first few practices, reads newspapers to see results from previous years, reads all the books about running and attempts to run with the kids until he discovers that he can’t run that fast and opts for a bike instead (a pink one at that). That is pretty spot on for new and even experienced coaches. I do regularly look up results from previous seasons, as well as look at rankings for current athletes when prepping for competitions. The bike thing – I’ve been there as I can not run with the fast kids at all. When I was pregnant, I totally coached by bicycle!
Although the race sizes seemed pretty small, compared to the events that I go to – the atmosphere of the races was pretty realistic. You go, pick up a packet, look at the race map, line up with your team (fastest person goes first) and run! The way cross country works is explained in the film. Although it may appear that Cross Country is an individual sport – it is actually a team sport! In the movie, the finishing places of the top five runners on a team are added together to form a team score. If your team comes in at 1,2,4,5,8, your score is 20. The lower the score, the better! It is all about placement. It is also really hard to tell team scores right off the bat and that impatient waiting for results is realistic. In my cross country region, to place for provincials the teams most place top 4, but there are individual spots available for runners who come from schools that don’t have enough runners to “make a team”.
The movie did not shy away from what it is like to run in a cross country race. There was talk about giant hills, struggling to pass someone and what happens when you go out too fast. Then, there was the race faces. Oh, the race faces. The film definitely did not avoid filming some pretty hardcore race faces in the race scenes. I swear I could almost smell sweaty boy too….
Another part of the movie that made me laugh was the running around that the coaches do while at a meet. You want to keep your athletes updated on their pace/keep encouraging them, but unlike track and field – they are not running in circles – so you run to different points on the course to see the runners. During this past XC season, I would run to several different locations and cheer on everyone. I swear I ran 3K that day!
I would strongly encourage that any coach, runner or former high school athlete to go and watch this film. It is 2 hours of great entertainment and afterwards you will totally want to “take a lap” or run some hills.
Have a fantastic weekend!
Disclosure: I won tickets to the screening through a twitter contest. I was not given the tickets to write a review, nor was I asked to write one. I just like running movies!