Born to Run Book Review
Born to Run by Christopher McDougall has been on the best seller list for weeks and with good reason. It is simply one of the best books I have ever read and I am not a serious runner. It is a must read for all ultra runners, well at least for those wanting to improve their time, feel great, reduce their chance of injury, and pick up some new marathon running tips. But Born to Run will also hold the attention of non-runners as well since McDougall’s writing style is nothing short of captivating. It may even inspire non-runners to become ultra runners or at least a 10 km runner!
When I picked up a copy of Born to Run A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall , I expected to learn the ultra marathon running secrets of a hidden tribe. That seemed interesting enough to me and frankly, I wasn’t expecting much more. I was in for a pleasant surprise. It turns out the hidden tribe are the Tarahumara Indians living in the dangerous Copper Canyons in Chihuahua state, Mexico. Discovering the secrets of the Tarahumara Indians is not an easy feat and just meeting them proves to be an unforgettable journey. Learning about them proves to be even more fascinating. One of their traditions is to celebrate race day the night before with copious amounts of alcohol and then the next day run distances of over 50 miles! McDougall’s insight into the anthropological journey of the Tarahumara Indians is fascinating and will also make the reader question the fate of the Tarahumara Indians as ultra runnerw, as modern day life creeps into the Copper Canyons.
Born to Run also includes a lesson in morphology - questioning whether humans were born for ultra marathon running and when we started ultra marathon running. This may sound dry but was actually very fascinating as experts try to piece the puzzle together and prove that indeed humans were Born to Run.
I was also pleasantly surprised with all the marathon training tips for ultra marathon running included in Born to Run, including not only those of the Tarahumara Indians but other ultra runners as well, including ultra marathon running champion Scott Jurek. One of the key points of the book is that ultra marathon running is best done barefoot, or with the cheapest flattest shoe possible. In line with this trend are Barefoot Parks, found in Germany. Born to Run sets out to prove that running shoes will not only not improve your running time, but will also lead to more injury since they encourage poor running techniques which the ultra runner is not aware of because of all the cushioning in the shoe. If an ultra runner has poor running techniques running barefoot, they will correct themselves as they will be in pain if they don’t, and as a result the chance of getting injured will be greatly reduced. This discussion was one of the most fascinating parts of Born to Run , considering that the running shoe industry is over $4 billion dollars globally and not only do the running shoes not improve your time, but they lead to more injury. Until reading Born to Run, I didn’t realize what a sham the running shoe industry was but McDougall provides concrete evidence supporting his claim, including quotes from former Nike employees. After Reading Born to Run, I reflected on my own experience. While training for my first half marathon, I bought the most expensive pair of running shoes I had bought in my life, on the advice of all the ultra marathon running "experts”. A few weeks into training, I sprained my ankle while running for the first time in my life and proceeded to sprain it several more times, while running in my new expensive shoes, preventing me from training any further or competing in the half marathon. I am a very active person and had never thought about the injury in correlation to the shoes until reading Born to Run. Perhaps I will start training again – without running shoes, or maybe I'll just stick with hiking the Herzogstand.
Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon Featuring the Tarahumara Indians and Ultra Runner Scott Jurek
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Born to Run also discusses ultra marathon running tips related to diet and provides evidence that the best diet for distance running is actually a vegetarian one, not the protein fuelled one that we’ve been led to believe. McDougall provides another fascinating discussion around the best choice of diet, and one that discusses not only the Tarahumara Indian's diet but also the diet of ultra runner Scott Jurek who swears by a vegan diet.
McDougall also provides evidence that ultra marathon running is a sport filled with camaraderie, passed down to us by our ancestors and when we actually enjoy it, our ultra marathon running times will improve. Again, he provides evidence of this by showing us the Tarahumara Indians distance running habits (running in a strategic pack formation) and also displays of camaraderie by Scott Jurek both in the middle and near the end of a long race when he should be exhausted.
I was also impressed at the cast of real life characters highlighted in Born to Run and what a cast of characters they are, from the loner Caballo Blanco with the mysterious history, to ultra runner Scott Jurek, to the wild early twenty somethings, Jen and Billy to McDougall himself. McDougall does an exceptional job of weaving the characters into the story and into the lives of the Tarahumara Indians.
In summary, I would highly recommend Born to Run. McDougall’s writing style is completely engaging. It is a must read for ultra runners and those seeking marathon running tips, but non-runners will also find it interesting and who knows, maybe even be inspired to start running and become the next ultra runner like Scott Jurek. I know I’m thinking about picking up running again - minus the running shoes.