Hood to Coast imagines racing as collective therapy by weaving the personal stories of a group of runners taking to the 197 miles of the world’s largest race. We meet an unlikely couple of sedentary non-athletes up for the challenge, a family mourning the death of a young racer (a subplot that includes an unnecessary dramatic confession by the widow), a group of middle-aged men (the “Dead Jocks”) bent on taking idleness out of old age, and a 67-year-old woman who collapsed during the marathon the year before and, a triple bypass later, is back in the race.
The link between all these white folk eager to embrace a chosen challenge (self-imposed difficulty as leisure) seems to be the way running is always about something else. Running appears as sociability, as escapism, as bereavement, as illusion of panacea, addiction, anti-aging potion, and, why not, masochism. The film’s singular take is in framing the sport not as a lonely venture, but as a way of dealing with problems that one can’t actually run from. Running becomes a collective affair, spawning a network of enthusiasts and a sense of kinship out of a shared symptom.
Structured conventionally and in anodyne fashion, like an advertising epic for the marathon in question produced by Pollyanna, Hood to Coast mostly suffers from an incessant soundtrack that stuffs the film with a peppiness that blocks the tragedy of its characters from view, as well as their overcoming it. Perhaps more formal experimentation could have borne out a sense of gravitas for the issues these runners try to sort out, so non-discursively, in testing out the limits of the corporeal. The absurdly long race (though not nearly as long as the film feels) starts 6,000 feet up on Mt. Hood and continues through the countryside, a valley, the city, wilderness, down to an estuary, then all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Yet the film’s flashy cheerfulness (“Nobody as an individual could do something like this, but as a team anything is possible,” says one of the talking heads) never allows us to take in the enormity of the endeavor, or grasp the toll it takes on the materiality of the body. I’d take raw shots of sweat dripping on pavement and heavy panting over slick graphics and guitar-strumming any day.