Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

January 8, 2011

Summary (from the publisher): Full of incredible characters, amazing athletic achievements, cutting-edge science, and, most of all, pure inspiration, Born to Run is an epic adventure that began with one simple question: Why does my foot hurt? In search of an answer, Christopher McDougall sets off to find a tribe of the world’s greatest distance runners and learn their secrets, and in the process shows us that everything we thought we knew about running is wrong.

Isolated by the most savage terrain in North America, the reclusive Tarahumara Indians of Mexico’s deadly Copper Canyons are custodians of a lost art. For centuries they have practiced techniques that allow them to run hundreds of miles without rest and chase down anything from a deer to an Olympic marathoner while enjoying every mile of it. Their superhuman talent is matched by uncanny health and serenity, leaving the Tarahumara immune to the diseases and strife that plague modern existence. With the help of Caballo Blanco, a mysterious loner who lives among the tribe, the author was able not only to uncover the secrets of the Tarahumara but also to find his own inner ultra-athlete, as he trained for the challenge of a lifetime: a fifty-mile race through the heart of Tarahumara country pitting the tribe against an odd band of Americans, including a star ultramarathoner, a beautiful young surfer, and a barefoot wonder.

With a sharp wit and wild exuberance, McDougall takes us from the high-tech science labs at Harvard to the sun-baked valleys and freezing peaks across North America, where ever-growing numbers of ultrarunners are pushing their bodies to the limit, and, finally, to the climactic race in the Copper Canyons. Born to Run is that rare book that will not only engage your mind but inspire your body when you realize that the secret to happiness is right at your feet, and that you, indeed all of us, were born to run.

Liked:

  • McDougall’s writing style, while not what anyone would consider to be “literary”, is engaging and extremely readable. This felt more like a very long magazine article than a nonfiction book about running (no surprise, since McDougall is a mag writer by trade), and went by surprisingly quickly.
  • McDougall included a lot of interesting information about the mechanics of running. I am a runner (well, maybe “jogger” is a more accurate word), but have never read about different techniques or problems inherent to the activity prior to picking up McDougall’s book. So everything was new to me, and therefore quite fascinating. The whole barefoot movement actually sounds like it has some merit — especially when you go by McDougall’s contention that the advent of all these so-called high-tech shoes with cushioning and support has done absolutely nothing to reduce running-related injuries. I’ve got to admit, I feel like trying barefoot running now!
  • I’d never heard of the Tarahumara, but think it sounds like a very interesting culture. I can’t imagine any kind of scenario where I’d be able to run a 50-mile race (even if I trained with a professional), so to read about these people doing it for fun up and down hot, rocky canyon trails with little more than leather sandals on their feet was quite an eye-opener. Wow!
  • Caballo Blanco (Micah True) seemed like an intriguing guy. Who would give up everything in this world to go live in poverty out in the Copper Canyons of Mexico? Sure, I understand the attraction of living a simple life, but I draw the line at having to run 60 miles just to use a phone or pick up a pack of 9v batteries. Give me civilization (and regular Internet access) any day!
  • Some — not all — of the anecdotes about various ultramarathons and the athletes that participate in them were quite interesting as well.
  • The chapter about hunting animals to death was engrossing, while being a little sad at the same time. The thought of a pack of hunters relentlessly chasing a deer until it got so tired that it dropped from exhaustion made me feel sorry for the animal.

Disliked:

  • McDougall didn’t really offer up a lot of scientific proof for all the claims he made. I know this wasn’t a scholarly paper, but it would have been nice to have a few footnotes along the way so his claims could be independently verified. I know I could just look stuff up on Google, but the book has been out so long and has generated so much interest now that most of the top results are just blogs or message boards talking about what McDougall talked about. Sigh.
  • Pictures would have added a lot to the narrative. I get that the Tarahumara were camera-shy, so I didn’t expect any of them, but how about Scott Jurek, Caballo Blanco, Jen, Billy, Barefoot Ted, etc. Again, I know these are available online, but shouldn’t they have been included in the book to make it feel more complete?
  • There were quite a few boring parts dealing with runners, races, and events that only made cameo appearances. Maybe these names and places would mean something to those on the professional running circuit, but they simply made me tune out.

Rating:

I noticed Born to Run back when it was first published because it spent soooo long on the NY Times Bestseller list (I believe the paperback is still on there now). At the time, I couldn’t imagine how a book about running could possibly be that interesting, so I didn’t bother trying to get it. But now that I’m getting a bit more serious about my own running, I thought I’d give it a chance — and I’m glad I did. This book was far more entertaining and compelling than I ever thought it would be, and though it’s not perfect, it was very interesting and even rather inspiring. I give it 4 stars out of 5.

One Response to “Born to Run by Christopher McDougall”

  1. […] Born to Run by Christopher McDougall […]

Leave a Reply