I think it would be very difficult for anybody to read Christopher McDougall’s “Born to Run” and not wonder “What if…?” from time to time. As someone who has only relatively recently come back to the runnerverse myself and as a newly minted marathoner it certainly appealed to me on several levels.
I’ve always enjoyed stories that develop tangentially from how they were intended or are organic. McDougall explains from the outset of his story that where this story started and where it ended up are very different from one another. The common thread, of course, is running but the story itself, the people within the story and even the science behind the messages the author is trying to drive home are all far from common.
With regards to running, “Born to Run” focusses on two main areas which many people consider to be at opposite ends of the spectrum – ultramarathons and barefoot (or minimalist) running. In fact, the ongoing narrative of the book involves the Tarahumara Tribe from Mexico’s Copper Canyons. The Rarámuri (running people), as they refer to themselves, are known for running distances in excess of 100 km in a single day with ease and do so in their traditional footwear which are very similar to sandals.
McDougall (like many of us) was a long suffering runner who was close to ending his running career altogether when his work as a journalist pointed him in the direction of the Tarahumara. Before he knew it, he was in cahoots with the mysterious American known only as Caballo Blanco (the white horse) in organizing an ultramarathon pitting the best native runners against the best ultrarunners from the States – and himself.
Stories of the racers themselves, the history of ultramarathoning, the evolution (or de-evolution) of the running shoe and even the physiology of running are all interwoven throughout the book. Eventually, all loose threads come together in the culmination of the story – the race itself.
The runner and the science geek in me were both fascinated by this book. There is enough hard data and studies cited to make me want to further explore minimalist footwear as well as well as dietary options to help improve my running. I’m certainly not going to throw away all of my running shoes or empty out my refrigerator and freezer, but I’m definitely asking myself “What if?”
A good book is one that you find yourself discussing with other people as well as causing you to seek out more information. I have already found myself talking about many aspects of “Born to Run” on several occasions and I am already searching for more books, articles and research related to the topics covered within McDougall’s story. This book is definitely worth a read.