Born to Run by Christopher McDougall is one of the best books I’ve read this year, and I’m not even a real runner. My friend recommended this book to me two years ago, and told me that it was a story of a tribe of excellent runners in Mexico. I thought it sounded interesting, but never rushed to read it. When I was in the States this summer, Born to Run came up again and again in airports, bookstores, and my conversations. I thought it was time to read it, and I’m so glad I did.
My friend was right that there is a tribe of super-runners in the book, but that is far from the whole story. The frame story of the book is the author’s experience with runner. The book begins with his visits to several doctors to find treatment for his many running injuries. He is told many times that running is bad for us, and that we all are injured. His only solution, he was told, is to quit running or get a few cortisone shots to relieve the pain. McDougall was not ready to give up on his sport, so he began a search to run better.
Throughout the book we meet the Tarahumara runners from Mexico, a cast of characters involved in ultra-running (any race more than a regular 26.2-mile run, usually 50 to 100 miles), and the strange, elusive Caballo Blanco, a white man from Colorado who lives among the Tarahumara. Much of the story is the background on the runners: Barefoot Ted is a character too wildly obnoxious to be a real man; Billy and Jen the surfer/runners, and Scott Carrier, the vegetarian super-runner from Seattle. Caballo attempts to bring all of these superathletes together for a 50-mile race in Tarahumara country.
Born to Run is even more than a fascinating story of an impossible race with superheroes. As McDougall continues to find out how to run better, he offers a history of running, running shoes, and the Nike marketing machine. Along the way, he preaches on the benefits of barefoot running, and how modern running shoes actually cause us injury. You’ve no doubtedly have seen those silly Vibram Five Finger shoes. Those skyrocketed in popularity in response of this book. Around where I live, people wear them seemingly as a fashion statement (a poor one at that!). However, this book made an excellent case for barefoot running, and I’ve been looking online for a pair.
McDougall offers us a book that defies to be labeled as one type of book. It’s part biography, auto-biography, magazine reporting, science journal, sport history, and man-vs-nature story. He does all of these well.
Do yourself a favor and read this book, regardless if you like running or not. Just try to leave your Five Fingers in the closet unless you are running.