Friday, August 7, 2009

Review of "Born to Run"

I finished the book Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Super Athletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen over the weekend. Here is my formal review: It's an awesome book! It is not just very good, it is very excellent. The best running-related book I've ever read. It's not a training manual, but rather a clever first person narrative that weaves in a host of curious characters with cutting-edge running, evolutionary, & anthropological research. What more could a running junkie want? I just passed the book on to my wife...we'll see if she enjoys it. Of my 100+ running books (see "my running books" library link on the left sidebar), she's only liked a couple. This one has potential to catch her eye.

This book doesn't offer up the newest fad training program or the latest running diet or the best way to lose 10 pounds in 4 weeks...that stuff is left for Runner's World magazine (every single month!). Instead, Christopher McDougall provides insight into WHY WE RUN. There is something deep inside all of us that draws us to running (or at least rewards us when we do run). Running literally MADE US HUMAN. We evolved to run. If we were designed to run, then we were most likely designed to run in a certain manner...without shoes (or in very minimalist footwear), at an easy pace, over long distances. Humans are the ultimate endurance machine...we can go hours at an easy pace while other animals quickly tire or overheat. Pretty cool...we are all ultra runners at heart...it's in our DNA and our morphology. It's in our feet too. Oh yeah, the book investigates that other thing that seems to unite us runners..."Why does my foot hurt?"

Our feet...those poor soles seem to give us runners lots of trouble. And the knees. And the hips. And the ankles...there seems to be no end to running-related injuries. Surveys indicate that about 80% of runners are injured EVERY single year. And the rate of injuries have been increasing over the years. As shoes become more cushioned and supportive...and expensive, we get more injuries. Ah, there's the rub! Humans were not designed to run in restrictive shoes. We need to get back to our roots. Barefoot running. Running in lightweight sandals. Running in minimalist racing flats. Five Finger shoes!

Yes, the book delves into this paradox of "better" shoes and more injuries. But it doesn't dwell on this conundrum. As soon as you think you're entering an article on running bio-mechanics, McDougall takes you back to one of his great running characters...either a native Tarahumara Indian, a looney American-Tarahumara hybrid, or simply a crazy American ultra runner. You get pulled into the lives of the main characters as though you were right there in the Copper Canyons of Mexico...or the mountains of Colorado, or the border town of El Paso. The book nicely builds and builds toward the "greatest race the world has never seen." Once the race is over and the book ends, I immediately started to miss the characters. I wanted an addendum on what happened to Caballo Blanco. What's up with the present-day Tarahumara? Where's Barefoot Ted? Is Jenn still running and partying? What's Jurek's latest challenge?

In addition to wanting a post script about the host of interesting runners (and some of their families), I wish McDougall had given a bit more history of the Tarahumara Indians. You pick up pieces here and there, but a full chapter devoted to their history would have been nice. And my last complaint...I wish there were set of pictures to accompany the text. Luis Escobar was one of the runners and he is a fantastic photographer (pictures on Escobar web site). Why couldn't we have a set of his photos to enhance the book? Even with my minor quibbles, this book was fantastic. It motivated me to get out and run. It inspired me to enjoy & appreciate my running. It encouraged me to run more naturally with less "modern" devices between me and the earth I was running across. How often does that happen with the latest issue of Runner's World? Almost never.

Born to Run is a keeper. I recommend it, without reservation, to all runners. And after you read it, pass it on to your non-running friends and family. I think they'll enjoy it too. I'll let you know what my wife thinks of it.

PS: Here's a short article by Christopher McDougall talking about running shoes and the "painful truth" behind them. Interesting read and a nice intro to the book.

9 comments:

Heidi said...

I agree this is a wonderful book. It was almost written as if it were fictional, yet you knew it was not...my husband read it and L-O-V-E-D the book so I'm sure your wife will like it!

Chris said...

Heidi,
Yeah, I think she'll like the book. We'll see. Have a good time in New Orleans--isn't that coming up soon?

Anonymous said...

ok, so now i want to get this book; but i came here looking for a howl report. let's go...let's go.
matt condron

Chris said...

Soon, Matt, soon. I'll have that report up before the end of today. Maybe over lunch.

janak said...

This book has a long wait list on all local libraries. So I ordered this book. Normally I would buy the e-book version on my Amazon Kindle. But this time I decided to buy hard copy to share with fellow runners. It should arrive in a day or so and I will write a review after reading it.

Chris said...

Janak,
You'll like the book. Before you know it, you'll be running in five finger shoes like Riddle and me!

Jim said...

I read this book immediately after getting it as a Father's Day present from my wife (granted, I picked it out, but still a nice gift!). Loved it as well, as I also love my Vibram Five Fingers for walking, hiking, even some light running. FYI, I saw Barefoot Ted at White River 50 - he finished just behind me I think... wearing the VFF!

Ian said...

Like Janek said my library too had a long waiting list. Luckiy I was number one on the list before they even got it in - only time I've been number one in something running related :-) GREAT book.

Andy said...

I've already read most of the research that the book cites, but the who hunting connection was something new. I almost want to try to chase down a deer, but I don't want to cause a heart attack (for the deer or myself). Next read, I will take notes and annotate the main points.