August 17, 2011
I read this book at the urging of a fellow runner, and I’m glad I did. Not only is it entertaining and informative, it also seems to be required reading for everyone involved in long-distance running.
The book in question is the ubiquitous “Born To Run” by Christopher McDougall. It’s hard to find a serious discussion about form, barefoot running and nutrition that doesn’t reference Born To Run.
I read this book on my Kobo eReader which uses electronic ink and stores the books digitally. It was really convenient for carrying the book around. However, I don’t have a book I can display on a bookshelf, nor can I ever have Christopher McDougall sign the book.
Speaking generally, the author spends the book recounting the circumstances that lead to an impressive 100-Mile race in the Copper Canyons of Mexico featuring some of America’s greatest Ultramarathoners and the semi-mythical Tarahumara. There is much, much more to book than the penultimate race. Great detail is spent explaining the history of long-distance running, the Tarahumara running record, the backgrounds of each of the participants in the race. and running history and physiology in general. McDougall’s writing is a little difficult to follow at times, since he darts between many different ideas. After describing how he finds the elusive Caballo Blanco, he spends several chapters recounting years of the legendary Leadville 100 race. From there the author spends chapters describing the famous runners like Scott Jurek that join him on his adventure. And right before the race, McDougall spends a chapter talking about the Running Man theory of Human Evolution. It’s not that the information is bad, but the flow is rather disjointed and seems to wander.
Although the book is a little everywhere at once, a lot of the information is particularly interesting. I’ve re-read the chapter on the Running Man Theory of Evolution several times because it’s so interesting. In that chapter, McDougall explores heavy topics like evolutionary physiology with some comical gems thrown such as Harvard researchers forcing a pig to run on a treadmill. I also really enjoyed the short history of the ‘traditional’ running shoe where McDougall deconstructs the notion that we even need a raised heel. The information I valued the most from the book was the chapter where the author described his own training for the race. There were great tidbits on nutrition, form, training schedule and equipment thrown into the story, whether he knew it or not. One particularly interesting piece of information is to imagine that you’re pulling something from a belt tied to your waist. The direction of force you would use for pulling is the same you should use while running regularly.
Despite the bits scattered throughout the book, the climax is truly touching. The fellowship, adventure and experience of the feature race was very powerful.
This book is for everyone: From the novice runner looking for a motivation to run, to the veteran who wants to look back and relish in the sport they love.