Tayte Pollmann’s Top Trail Running Feature & Short Films

While many races are cancelled due to COVID-19, watching trail running films is a great way of staying connected with the community we love. These films are full of exciting and compelling stories from people and places around the world. Some feature the world’s hardest foot races, and profile athletes undertaking challenges in breathtaking natural settings. Others provide a glimpse into the physical and mental side of the sport. All showcase the incredible people and camaraderie that make the trail running community a fun, diverse, inviting and high-spirited group.

Films in the trail running genre are gaining in popularity and although none have yet established themselves as “Hollywood Blockbusters,” they capture natural settings and inspiring tales of human endurance in a way that few sports films do. Listed below are my five favorite trail running feature films and shorts followed by honorable mentions for my favorite YouTube channels.

Did I miss any of your favorites? Reach out and share your top trail running film picks and we’ll do a follow up article listing fan favorites. Contact me at: taytepollmann@trailrunner.com.

Tayte’s Top Five Trail Running Feature Films

The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young
This documentary tells the story behind one of the strangest and most challenging trail races in the world. Initially inspired by a prison escape, this cult-like race has gained international attention for its quirky rules, unique orienteering-style course and fascinating mindset of the race director known by his alliance Lazarus Lake. This film is funny, inspiring and sure to be one of the most interesting stories about a trail race you’ve ever seen.
Trailer: YouTube
Initial Release: 2014
Production by: Annika Iltis and Timothy James Kane
Running Time: 99 minutes
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime Video, Rent or Buy Digital Film, DVD

Karl Meltzer: Made to Be Broken
Karl Meltzer, a.k.a. The Speedgoat, is the world’s winningest 100-mile racer. This film follows his journey as he makes his third and final attempt to break the record on the Appalachian Trail by running 2,188 miles in 46 days. To describe this film in one word: “raw.” Meltzer goes through emotional and physical highs and lows and you learn what it takes to attempt such a large endurance challenge.
Initial Release: 2016
Production by: Red Bull
Running Time: 42 minutes
Where to Watch: Vimeo, Red Bull TV

Run Free: The Story of Caballo Blanco
Every trail runner should know the story of Caballo Blanco, one of the main characters in the international best-selling book Born to Run, and one of the most mysterious and influential trail runners of our time. In this film, you learn about the untold past of Blanco, how he finds himself living among the Tarahumara Indians in the remote Copper Canyons of Mexico and how he is unexpectedly swept into the story of Born to Run that places him on the biggest stages in the running world.
Trailer: YouTube
Initial Release: 2015
Production by: Sterling Noren
Running Time: 92 minutes
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime, DVD

Kilian Jornet: Path to Everest
Catalonian ski mountaineer and trail runner Kilian Jornet is regarded as one of the best trail runners of all-time and is known not only for his incredible racing results, but also his personal trail running, skiing and mountaineering projects. After setting speed records on some of the world’s most iconic peaks including the Matterhorn, Mont Blanc and Kilimanjaro, Jornet attempts to set a record on the tallest mountain in the world, Mount Everest. You’ll learn about Jornet’s intense dedication and creativity he puts into each of his projects, as well as be inspired by his pursuit to continually push boundaries in the sport of trail running.
Trailer: YouTube
Initial Release: 2018
Production by: Kilian Jornet Burgada
Running Time: 80 minutes
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime Video, Vimeo

Unbreakable: The Western States 100
This documentary tells the story of the exciting race between three of the world’s top trail runners at the time as they all face off at the historic Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run in 2010. This film has a great balance between telling the interesting history of the Western States race and how it evolved from a horse race, while also capturing back-stories and live race action of the three runners. An instant trail running “classic” about an unforgettable race between three of the greatest legends in our sport.
Trailer: YouTube
Initial Release: 2012
Production by: Journey Film
Running Time: 106 minutes
Where to Watch: YouTube, DVD

Tayte’s Top Five Trail Running Short Films

Courtney Dauwalter: Ultra Running Documentary Film Exploring Courtney’s Source of Will
Courtney Dauwalter has completely shaken the ultra trail running scene, arriving at the start line of the world’s most competitive trail races wearing basketball shorts and a humble smile, yet going on to demolish the field, sometimes even beating all the men. This film gives insight into how Dauwalter finds her seemingly superhuman endurance strength, while also being human and not getting caught up in the limelight.
Initial Release: 2019
Production by: Dream Lens Media
Running Time: 39 minutes
Where to Watch: YouTube, Amazon Prime Video

In Relentless Pursuit of His Best: The Journey of Ultrarunner Zach Miller
Filmmaker Billy Yang produces some of the highest quality productions in the trail running film industry with his crisp, clean footage, well-scripted narration, and dedication to each of his stories. In “Zach” we get the story of Zach Miller, professional trail runner known for his work ethic and commitment to always give his best in races and life. Yang proves his incredible dedication to this story as a filmmaker, collecting footage spanning several years of Miller’s races and life experiences. The end result culminate in a story that feels more complete and “full-circle” than more simplistic race documentaries or other athlete-profile films.
Trailer: YouTube
Initial Release: 2020
Production by: Billy Yang Films
Running Time: 38 minutes
Where to Watch: YouTube

How a Girl From a Remote Nepali Village Became a World-Class Trail Runner
Mira Rai is one of the most inspiring athletes I’ve ever met. This film tells her story while moving beyond sport as just about competitions and focuses on how Rai uses sport to challenge gender roles in her society, overcome adversity and inspire a new trail running movement among girls in Nepal. Rai is a true hero and athlete. Her story is not one to miss!
Initial Release: 2020
Production by: Red Bull
Running Time: 16 minutes
Where to Watch: YouTube, Red Bull TV

REI Presents: How To Run 100 Miles
Want to run 100 miles but don’t feel like you know what you’re doing? So do the two main characters in this funny and heartwarming story about their attempt to complete their first 100 mile race. If you’re looking for a story about a pair of runners willing to explore their limits, this is for you.
Initial Release: 2018
Production by: REI
Running Time: 28 minutes
Where to Watch: YouTube

Transamericana With Rickey Gates Running 3,700 miles Across America
Rickey Gates, often referred to as the “poet” of our sport, has an exceptional way of observing the natural world and telling stories about the human condition through his running projects. Transamericana, his project to run 3,700 miles across America, dives less into the physical and mental strength required to run that distance, and instead focuses on themes and questions of politics, what it means to be American, what kind of people make up our country, and how we can better understand and connect with people outside of our “bubble.” Although this film is deeply rooted in running, it is by far one of the best introspections into human connectedness and basic human goodness I’ve ever seen.
Trailer: YouTube
Initial Release: 2020
Production by: Salomon TV
Running Time: 75 minutes
Where to Watch: YouTube

Tayte’s Binge-Worthy YouTube Channels

Billy Yang Films – Filmmaker Billy Yang has produced some of the most popular trail running short films about elite athletes and iconic trail races. In addition to the above mentioned film about Zach Miller, be sure to check out Leadman: The Dave Mackey Story, 15 Hours With Anton Krupicka, and Mont Blanc CCC UTMB 2015.

Salomon TV – Although not exclusively about trail running, you can still find many great shorts films about Salomon sponsored trail runners and their adventures/races. Featured athletes include Kilian Jornet, Rickey Gates, Remi Bonnet and Courtney Dauwalter. These films have some of the greatest use of natural scenery I’ve seen in any film.

Run Steep Get High – This channel provides some of the most informative and funny trail race “news,” as well as high quality in-race footage. One classic video I recommend for many of my trail running friends to watch is Miller vs. Hawks: TNF Endurance Challenge 50 Miler 2016 that captures the race footage of elite trail runners Zach Miller and Hayden Hawks as they race each other for the win at the iconic North Face 50 Mile race. While you watch this video keep in mind the incredible camera work of videographer Jamil Coury who stays on pace with these speedy runners and captures extraordinary footage!

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