Thoughts: ‘Born to Run’ by Christopher McDougall

by Kim on November 11, 2012 · 22 comments

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Whew… it has been a week! After staying up until almost 3:00 a.m. on election night for work (posting local election updates to our newspaper website) and going into work on time the next morning, I spent most of the rest of the week in a bit of a fog (hence, no blog updates).

As a result, I spent a good chunk of this weekend decompressing with a book: Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. Born to Run is a mix of a book — part anthropology, part history, part scientific inquiry, part memoir — about ultra-running, an extreme sport of extreme athletes running hundreds of miles in a single race. McDougall, a journalist and often-injured runner, begins the book by trying to explore why most runners are often injured but eventually stumbles across the much more interesting story of the Tarahumara Indians, a reclusive tribe in Mexico’s Copper Canyons who seem to be born to run.

Eventually, McDougall finds himself participating in a once in a lifetime race pitting several of America’s best ultra-runners against the Tarahumara in a 50 mile showdown through unforgiving territory. But before arriving there, McDougall also explores the science of running and a growing anthropological theory that part of what makes us humans (and, in fact, helped our ancestors thrive) was our genetic predisposition for running. If these experts are to be believed, humans were, in fact, born to run.

I picked up Born to Run this week because I just wanted something different to read. I’m also trying to motivate myself to start exercising regularly again, and thought a book about how awesome it is to run might give me the spark I need to start back up with the Couch to 5K program I started earlier this year but abandoned after tweaking something in my foot and getting discouraged (I haven’t ever gotten to the place where I like running… so it doesn’t take much for a setback). I’m not sure if Born to Run is going to turn me into a runner — I probably need a running partner to make that happen regularly — but it was a really fun read.

The thing about a book like Born to Run is that the main story is one of those amazing and weird and interesting tales that can carry itself, and the journalist who stumbles across it just sort of has to get out of the way and let the story do the work. For the most part, McDougall does that, mentioning himself only as much as he needs to in order to provide some evidence that an average person can achieve the ultra-running feats that seem to come so naturally to the Tarahumara and the other ultra-runners he profiles. And his digressions away from the main tale of the Tarahumara/American Ultra-Runner Showdown to explore the history of ultra-running and the anthropological roots of running make sense as part of the bigger story.

Born to Run is just a lot of fun to read — I definitely recommend it. And even if it didn’t inspire me to jump off the couch and start pounding the pavement, I hope it will settle in the back of my mind and, eventually, give me the mental poke I need to try running again

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Trisha November 11, 2012 at 10:56 am

This sounds really interesting. Like you, running isn’t exactly my favorite thing to do, but I wish it was. :)

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Vasilly November 11, 2012 at 12:31 pm

Anthropology? Yep, this is the book for me! I’m going to see if my library has it. I don’t run but when I do, I love it.

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Kim November 13, 2012 at 8:08 pm

Yes, that part is so interesting! He talks about researchers who are trying to argue that we actually evolved as running people and used to hunt by simply being able to run down animals (because we could run so much further than they could to tire them out).

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Charlie November 11, 2012 at 3:22 pm

I love books where the amazing story carries itself, as you say, though I’m wondering if anyone makes it out uninjured, I suppose for that it’s best to read it. It does sound fascinating, especially given how we tend to see Olympians as the best.

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Kim November 13, 2012 at 8:10 pm

Well… it’s not that they all end up uninjured, more that the style of running the Tarahumara have (or the exploration of bare foot running) has fewer injuries.

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Natalie ~ the Coffee and a Book Chick November 11, 2012 at 4:16 pm

This is one of my favorites this year. I listened to the audiobook while I was running and it was fantastic! I agree that it may not turn people into runners, but I think that most may not feel so opposed to running as they once were, which is a good thing! :)

I did a Google search on Micah True (Caballo Blanco) and it turns out he passed away just this year, surprisingly in the very same way McDougall described that True would want to. Unbelievably eerie.

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Kim November 13, 2012 at 8:11 pm

That’s a good point — I feel more open to the idea of running than I did before, even if I haven’t quite jumped on the bandwagon.

Oh no, that’s sad news! He was such a fun guy to read about.

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Kailana November 11, 2012 at 6:47 pm

I have been curious about this book for a while. It sounds really interesting and I saw a documentary of sorts on the same subject that was really good.

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Kim November 13, 2012 at 8:11 pm

Do you happen to remember the name of the documentary? I’d love to watch it.

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Savvy Working Gal November 11, 2012 at 10:08 pm

I read Born to Run a few years ago, but never got around to blogging about it – I couldn’t decide what I wanted to say. I used to run and even considered running in a marathon, but quit after an injury. Born to Run did not inspire me to take up running again. I actually ended up thinking ultra-running was a pretty “extreme” sport that attracted some pretty “extreme” characters. What did you think of the Barefoot running? I considered writing a blog post about how Nike spends a lot of advertising money convincing us we need to buy the latest most expensive trend in running shoes when barefoot running is actually better for us. Then I got to thinking (after seeing the new expensive barefoot shoes at the gym) aren’t barefoot shoes just another expensive trend? I don’t think I want to jump around in my aerobic classes wearing them. I also think of this book every time I hear about the drug cartels in Mexico. If I recall correctly McDougall does an excellent job describing how dangerous they are. Overall, I was pleased with the book and would recommend it to anyone interested in reading about running or extreme sports.

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Kim November 13, 2012 at 8:16 pm

Oh definitely! These are very, very extreme people. I cannot imagine doing some of those races, even if I did become a runner.

I thought the info about shoes was interesting. When I was doing Couch to 5K, I tweaked something in my foot because I was just using regular aerobic shoes. If I start up running again, I do want to get a pair of flatter shoes… but I also worry that having wore shoes for so long my feet are too weak to switch without hurting myself too.

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Marlena November 12, 2012 at 10:00 am

I really, REALLY liked this book. I read it two summers ago when I started the Couch to 5K program and felt so inspired.

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Kim November 13, 2012 at 8:17 pm

That’s great! Although it didn’t quite make me want to run, but I did start a different fitness program to get more in shape. So there’s that :)

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Laurie C November 12, 2012 at 11:42 am

I think the book on extreme Scrabble playing (Word Freak) was more up my alley! Half of my family runs, but I’m in the other half. Born to Run sounds interesting, but would rather read it as a magazine article than a whole book!

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Kim November 13, 2012 at 8:18 pm

I love Word Freak! It’s such a great book. I know the author wrote for a magazine and did this as a magazine piece first… maybe Runner’s World? I can’t remember.

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Jaclyn November 12, 2012 at 2:42 pm

I loved BORN TO RUN – I really felt that even the more science-y parts read like a novel. But as for being inspired to run… well, the only thing that works for me is a race on the calendar. Have you considered signing up for a local 5K? It’s fun, it pushes you to train, and you get a t-shirt! Win-win-win!

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Kim November 13, 2012 at 8:19 pm

Absolutely. He has a great style of writing that made everything a lot of fun. I like the idea of signing up for a 5K. They do a few of them during the summer that I could try — a deadline would probably help :)

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Jessica November 12, 2012 at 4:57 pm

I am completely not a runner, but I loved this book anyway. The only thing I didn’t like about it was that there were no pictures – especially of the rubber tire sandals. I had such a hard time imagining what they looked like. Luckily, the author’s website has a picture of them as well as the cast of characters. I highly recommend this book!

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Kim November 13, 2012 at 8:19 pm

That’s a good point — pictures would have been nice. Especially of that final race. That would be so cool to see. Thanks for the tip on the author’s website — I’m going to check it out!

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susan November 14, 2012 at 4:02 pm

I liked this book as well. Read it 2 or 3 years ago. I’m not sure I agree with all the barefoot running but I thought the book was interesting and inspirational in ways. And Unique too. cheers http://www.thecuecard.com/

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Kim November 18, 2012 at 4:37 pm

I’m not sure I’m ready for barefoot running either, but the scientists he interviews make a decent case for it being more natural for us.

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