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

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