It’s book review week! OK, no it’s not. I’m just being lazy putting together my review of the amazing Nike+ GPS sportwatch. It’s coming. I swear. But in the meantime, I give you this: a review of Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall. I actually wrote this post last summer but it was published on a blog that no longer exists so, I think it deserves to be republished. Born to Run is an epic book so if you haven’t read it yet, you should.
Here’s a quick summary of the plot. The book is about the reclusive Tarahumara Indians of Mexico’s Copper Canyon. This community of people is often described as the world’s greatest distance runners. As a runner himself, McDougall sets out to learn the secret that allows them to run hundreds of miles without rest. Eventually – and despite ongoing injuries – McDougall trains himself for a 50 mile race through the heart of Tarahumara country with a motley crew of American runners including an ultramarathoner, a young surfer and his girlfriend and a barefoot runner who insists he can run all 50 miles in Vibrams.
To say I loved this book is an understatement. I can’t remember reading a book that inspired me as much as Born to Run did. Every time I put it down, I wanted to run – and not just some small distance. I wanted to push my limits and do something epic. I talked excitedly about the book to anyone who would listen. The book has everything you could want: compelling characters, a fantastic story, factual research and amazing athletic accomplishments that literally gave me goose bumps. I talked about the people in the book as if I knew them personally and after I closed the final page of the book and went to bed on Tuesday night, I had an all-night dream about running. I actually dreamt that I was running the 50 mile mountain run that took place in the book. And the crazy part? I loved it. It wasn’t grueling or tiring. I was running freely and easily with a BIG smile on my face.
While the story is fascinating, I also found all the research that McDougall skillfully wove in throughout the plot to be completely absorbing. Looking at the scientific side of running, McDougall included reference to dozens of studies on injury prevention, corrective running shoes and human evolution that helped provide context to the stories in his book.
While I blabbed on about how amazing and inspirational the whole story was, it occurred to me that this book may not be as compelling to people who don’t run. I think one of the reasons I loved it so much was because I could totally relate to the characters and their emotions. I cringed in recognition when McDougall talked about running injuries. I smiled with pride when he told stories of athletes pushing themselves beyond their limits and accomplishing amazing things. I’m just not sure a non-runner would be as moved by these accounts.
The big thing that I took away from this book was that our running ability has a lot to do with the power of the human spirit. We’re not all that unlike the Tarahumara that run hundreds of miles in leather sandals on a diet of pinole beans. Reading about this fascinating tribe of ultrarunners made me remember why I run in the first place. It’s not to win races or be the fastest. It’s just for the sheer enjoyment of running.
If you’ve been reading frivolous fiction lately, I highly recommend you pick this one up next. McDougall is an amazing storyteller and his book is full of advice and wisdom that go well beyond running.