Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Review: Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

Tarahumara runners in Copper Canyon, via Running Matters
Reviewed by Christina

Full Title: Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen

Published: 2009

It's about:  In this mishmash of memoir, travel writing, persuasive essay, and sports science journalism, Christopher McDougall describes his own experience with a running-induced injury and his subsequent quest to discover how a native Mexican tribe of natural-born runners, the Tarahumara, can run absurd distances at breakneck speeds for their entire lives without injury or burnout.  Along the way he researches and becomes acquainted with a number of eccentric American ultra-marathoners.  It all comes together in a climactic 50-mile footrace in the forbidding Copper Canyons.

I thought: I LOVED THIS BOOK.  LOVED.  I can't remember the last time I was so continuously engrossed, inspired, and awestruck while reading.  I almost don't want to give too much away about it because I so enjoyed learning something new on nearly every page while also being drawn along by McDougall's enthusiastic storytelling.  Born to Run is full of amazing information about what humans can do.  I especially loved his chapter about our evolutionary background and how distance running may have saved and created modern mankind.  I realize that the jury is still out about the scientific validity and health benefits of certain ideas McDougall favors: minimalist running, the endurance running hypothesis, and ultramarathoning.  But I can't remember the last time I met so many interesting and new (to me) topics in one book.  I'm pretty convinced by McDougall's writing, and I'm generally not an easy person to convince.  Plus the end is heartwarming, even to a crusty old cynic like me.

Because of my own adoration, it's hard for me to accurately judge whether the average reader would react as strongly to Born to Run as I did.  It's hard for me to resist overstating things here; I really do feel that this book has changed my life.  I've only ever been a casual runner at best, but now I feel motivated to learn to love to run.  And in a more broad sense this book has awaked in me a new respect for what we as people are capable of accomplishing.  I've already begun recommending it to every person I know who has even a mild interest in running or sports/exercise science, but I think I could expand that recommendation to anybody who loves adventurey nonfiction.

Verdict: Stick it on the shelf!  Do it now!  Especially if you consider yourself a past, present, or future runner!

Reading Recommendations:  Perfect for giving you a new passion for running (and life in general) after the gluttony of the holidays.

Warnings:  a few swears.

Favorite excerpts“That was the real secret of the Tarahumara: they'd never forgotten what it felt like to love running. They remembered that running was mankind's first fine art, our original act of inspired creation. Way before we were scratching pictures on caves or beating rhythms on hollow trees, we were perfecting the art of combining our breath and mind and muscles into fluid self-propulsion over wild terrain. And when our ancestors finally did make their first cave paintings, what were the first designs? A downward slash, lightning bolts through the bottom and middle--behold, the Running Man.
Distance running was revered because it was indispensable; it was the way we survived and thrived and spread across the planet. You ran to eat and to avoid being eaten; you ran to find a mate and impress her, and with her you ran off to start a new life together. You had to love running, or you wouldn't live to love anything else. And like everyhing else we love--everything we sentimentally call our 'passions' and 'desires' it's really an encoded ancestral necessity. We were born to run; we were born because we run. We're all Running People, as the Tarahumara have always known.” 

“There's something so universal about that sensation, the way running unites our two most primal impulses: fear and pleasure. We run when we're scared, we run when we're ecstatic, we run away from our problems and run around for a good time.” 

What I'm reading next:  Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (!!!!!)