On the Edge

By Sal Citarella

Recently, on an impulse fueled by something stronger than Gatorade, I watched my old VHS tape On The Edge. For those of you who may not remember, it was a big screen release in 1986 and well received. It was unique not only in its focus on trail running but that it was made by runners for runners and featured real runners. Is that clear? It’s a representation of the Dipsea, since 1905 the second oldest continuously competed race in the land.

Bruce Dern, as Wes Holman, was the lead actor and did his own running. Roy Kissin, an accomplished runner himself, wrote the story. Marty Liquori, third American high schooler to break four minutes played himself as a TV commentator. Gary Bjorklund, another Olympian, is in the field of runners. Walt Stack played himself, as he always did in life.

One advantage I might have is that I’ve lived in Marin County, CA for several years and have run the race. The 7.4 mile race from Mill Valley to the ocean at Stinson Beach and also the Double Dipsea. Frankly, having done it, I’ve never felt inclined to do it again. The trail is gnarly and varied and can’t accommodate the large number of runners it attracts. Consequently, you’re forced to run someone else’s race rather than your own. In the Double Dip, with a greatly reduced field, I maintained approximately the same pace I did in the one-way simply because I could. My only regret is that I failed to capture a full-size print of myself as the online poster boy for the Double Dip. It was pure luck that they used my image.

But to get back to the story, the lead character, a 44-year-old prior Olympian, comes home to prove something. The race is handicapped by age and sex, so older runners and women have traditionally done well. Tamalpa, the local running club has dominated the event with its home-court advantage. The Dipsea has traditionally been an open-field event, so shortcuts have evolved for those intimately familiar with the trails of Mt. Tam.

There are characters representing former outstanding Dipsea runners, such as Darryl Beardall and Mary Etta Boitano. Wes links up with his former coach, named Elmo. It’s probably only coincidence that there is an Elmo in the Tamalpa club; he is the writer/singer of your favorite Christmas classic, Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer.

Conflict is introduced concerning Wes Holman’s eligibility to enter. Characteristic of the Running Boom, events have been somewhat overwhelmed by hype and publicity. The new Race Director happens to be a former Olympian who was instrumental in Wes having been barred by the national organization for accepting airline tickets from race promoters. This was how it had been back in the ’60s and ’70s when “amateurism” was still the official policy in the US while many other countries openly supported their athletes. Wes runs as a bandit and as efforts were made by officials to bump him out, the field ran interference for him.

The one questionable aspect to the film is the gratuitous sex with Pam Grier. Now, I’m not against extracurricular activities of consenting adults, but frankly, it has nothing to do with the story.

Late in the movie, when the race itself is underway, the scenes are just outstanding and the finish-line events will raise goose bumps in any runner. I won’t give it all away except to confirm that Wes has his day. 

It’s still available on Amazon, but you’d better run.

Categories: Features

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