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Born to Run: The Rise of Ultra-running and the Super-athlete Tribe [Hardcover]

Christopher McDougall
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (437 customer reviews)

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Book Description

23 April 2009

'Make friends with pain, and you will never be alone.'

At the heart of Born to Run lies a mysterious tribe of Mexican Indians, the Tarahumara, who live quietly in canyons and are reputed to be the best distance runners in the world; in 1993, one of them, aged 57, came first in a prestigious 100-mile race wearing a toga and sandals. A small group of the world's top ultra-runners (and the awe-inspiring author) make the treacherous journey into the canyons to try to learn the tribe's secrets and then take them on over a course 50 miles long.

With incredible energy and smart observation, McDougall tells this story while asking what the secrets are to being an incredible runner. Travelling to labs at Harvard, Nike, and elsewhere, he comes across an incredible cast of characters, including the woman who recently broke the world record for 100 miles and for her encore ran a 2:50 marathon in a bikini, pausing to down a beer at the 20 mile mark.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Profile Books (23 April 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1861978235
  • ISBN-13: 978-1861978233
  • Product Dimensions: 21.8 x 12.8 x 3.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (437 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 62,409 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Christopher McDougall is a former war correspondent for the Associated Press and is now a contributing editor for Men's Health. A three-time National Magazine Award finalist, he has written for Esquire, The New York Times Magazine, Outside, Men's Journal, and New York. He does his own running among the Amish farms around his home in rural Pennsylvania.

Product Description


Born to Run is a fascinating and inspiring true adventure story, based on humans pushing themselves to the limits. A brilliantly written account of extraordinary endurance, far from home - that also explains how anyone can run better - it's destined to become a classic. (Ranulph Fiennes)

Chris McDougall runs hundreds of miles across the planet's most hostile terrain with a lost tribe, a zonked-out surfer couple and a barefooted maniac, then tells their amazing story with the narrative skill and gusto of a Carl Hiassen novel. It's quite simply the best book you'll ever read about running, as through the gentle, reclusive super-athletes of the Tarahumara Indians, he connects with its true spirit and offers inarguable evidence that everything the modern runner knows is wrong. There's top-class travel writing, cutting-edge science, and an inspiring tale of endurance -- it's brilliant, and brilliantly life-affirming. (Lloyd Bradley, author, The Rough Guide to Running, former Consultant Editor, Runners’ World and Men’s Health)

Initially, I thought "Me? Read a book on running?" Then suddenly - wham! - I was drawn in, galloping along through a multi-faceted landscape that is by turns exhilarating, funny and weirdly absorbing. It's been a breathless read, but sheer endorphinous pleasure. (John Gimlette, author of At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig)

Driven by an intense yet subtle curiosity, Christopher McDougall gamely treads across the continent to pierce the soul and science of long-distance running. McDougall's ambitious search leads him deep into the ragged folds of Mexico's Copper Canyon, where he somehow manages the impossible: he plumbs the mystic secrets of the fleet-footed Tarahumara Indians while never losing his deep enchantment for the majesty of their culture. (Hampton Sides, author of Blood and Thunder and Ghost Soldiers)

Wonderful. It's funny, insightful, captivating, and a great and beautiful discovery. There are lessons that translate to realms beyond running. The book inspires anyone who seeks to live more fully or to run faster. I just loved this book. (Lynne Cox, author of Swimming to Antarctica)

Hilariously funny, weird, and nonstop fun to read; runners can sink their teeth into this tall tale (Bill Rodgers, former American record holder in the marathon)

McDougall has written not just a classic book for runners but for anyone who has ever dreamt of venturing beyond one's comfort zone. In ultrarunners he uncovers a tribe worthy of the pioneering drifters that fired the American spirit, and in McDougall ultrarunners have found their own Kerouac or Krakauer. (Tim Butcher, author of BLOOD RIVER)

His prose is light and airy, informative without being pretentious ... [McDougall] offers insightful sidebars on a variety of topics, from the development of the modern running shoe to an evolutionary argument that humans are literally "born to run." A terrific ride, recommended for any athlete. (Kirkus (Starred Review))

Hugely entertaining ... this is one of the most joyful and engaging books about running to appear for many years (Irish Times)

This is the BEST book on running I've ever read (Shankara Smith, manager, Run and Become)

Equal parts quest, physiology treatise, and running history ... [McDougall] seeks to learn the secrets of the Tarahumara the old-fashioned way: He tracks them down ... The climactic race reads like a sprint ... It simply makes you want to run. (Outside Magazine)

Christopher McDougall writes like a world-class ultramarathoner, with so much ease and heart and gusto that I couldn't stop reading this thrilling, fascinating book. As soon as I finished, all I wanted to do was head out for a run. (Benjamin Wallace, author of The Billionaire’s Vinegar)

Exhilarating (Richard Askwith, author of Feet in the Clouds: A Tale of Fell-Running and Obsession)

A bible for the barefoot running community (Ben Fogle)

Like an energy-drinking Carlos Castaneda ... McDougall creates a fascinating portrait of a truly egalitarian and beautiful race, one that has removed itself from the corporate spectre of the modern world and all its collected idiocies. Recommended for sports and non-sports fans alike (Paul Dale The List)

An inspirational read (Sunday Business Post, Ireland)

This is, quite simply, the best book on sport I have ever read. (Bruce Elder Sydney Morning Herald 2009-06-27)

McDougall ... reaches the state of bliss that runners, or so we're told, very occasionally experience in the midst of an endless run (Simon Kuper Financial Times)

It's a great book ... a really gripping read ... unbelievable story ... a really phenomenal book ... you should really pick it up if you can (Jon Stewart The Daily Show)

A ripping read for runners, as well as anyone who likes a great story about extraordinary people and what makes them tick (Witness, South Africa 2009-07-15)

It's inspiring stuff (Newcastle Herald, Australia 2009-10-17)

Enlightening and beautifully told, this tale makes you want to grab your running shoes and push yourself a little further (You Magazine, South Africa 2010-02-11)


"Hugely of the most joyful and engaging books about running to appear for many years."

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
236 of 243 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great story, and much more 16 May 2009
By T. Sull
Born to Run succeeds at three levels. First, it is a page turner. The build up to a fifty-mile foot race over some of the world's least hospitable terrain drives the narrative forward. Along the way McDougall introduces a cast of characters worthy of Dickens, including an almost superhuman ultramarathoner, Jenn and the Bonehead--a couple who down bottles of booze to warm up for a race, Barefoot Ted, Mexican drug dealers, a ghostly ex-boxer, a heartbroken father, and of course the Tarahumara, arguably the greatest runners in the world.

Born to Run is such a rip-roaring yarn, that it is easy to miss the book's deeper achievements. At a second level, McDougall introduces and explores a powerful thesis--that human beings are literally born to run. Recreational running did not begin with the 1966 publication of "Jogging" by the co-founder of Nike. Instead, McDougall argues, running is at the heart of what it means to be human. In the course of elaborating his thesis, McDougall answers some big questions: Why did our ancestors outlive the stronger, smarter Neanderthals? Why do expensive running shoes increase the odds of injury? The author's modesty keeps him from trumpeting the novelty and importance of this thesis, but it merits attention.

Finally, Born to Run presents a philosophy of exercise. The ethos that pervades recreational and competitive running--"no pain, no gain," is fundamentally flawed, McDougall argues. The essence of running should not be grim determination, but sheer joy. Many of the conventions of modern running--the thick-soled shoes, mechanical treadmills, take no prisoners competition, and heads-down powering through pain dull our appreciation of what running can be--a sociable activity, more game than chore, that can lead to adventure. McDougall's narrative moves the book forward, his thesis provides a solid intellectual support, but this philosophy of joy animates Born to Run. I hope this book finds the wide audience it deserves
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66 of 68 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not just for ultra-runners and super-athletes... 24 May 2009
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The title of this book suggests it is a tale about ultra-distance runners and tales of heroic enterprise. That is partially true, but not the entire truth, and that is why this book deserves a wide audience.

Under the tale of a 50 mile race through inhospitable terrain is a theme that running is fun, and that humans are uniquely adapted to running to such a degree that it is suggested that the trappings of civilisation have denied us our essential nature.

Using the story of a mystery runner in the canyons of Mexico as a thread, we are lead through a discussion of the mental and physical aspects of running, with a look at how tribes untouched by "civilisation" around the world demonstrate McDougall's thesis.

McDougall presents a convincing argument that biologically and mentally we are designed to be distance runners. He argues that it is external issues - the selling of running shoes, the limitations we put on ourselves and that society attempts to impose - that prove to be the limiting factor for many of us. If anything, the characters presented become not super-athletes (as some authors have portrayed ultra runners) but actually very ordinary people who have chosen to ignore the preconceptions about what we "ought" to be able to do.

Yes, the book does give a lot of insight into ultra running - but it also has as a lot in it for anyone who runs, be you someone who runs for pleasure and excercise, or a keen competitive athlete. Highly recommended.
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185 of 206 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Fictionalised and often disingenuous account 31 Jan 2011
By Gerund
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I realise I'm in minority here but I really didn't enjoy this book at all. As a result of all the rave reviews I bought a copy for both myself and a friend - we were both hugely disappointed.

The author, Christopher McDougall, is an American magazine correspondent and this perhaps goes someway to explain a lot of what I didn't like about the book. To begin with, it is written in a totally 'omniscient' manner, ie McDougall can see inside everyone's head. This is excessive, continuous, and extends right across the board from events to which he was privy, through events to which he was not, on to imagined `eureka moments' of various research scientists. In a similar manner, he describes events from the past, where he wasn't present, in a way he clearly feels will paint some sort of picture: eg "Then she wiped her greasy mouth on her sports bra, burped up some Dew, and bounded off". Maybe she did wipe her mouth on her sports bra, but I doubt it, and I feel quite sure she never gave him an account, years later, of her burp.

In a similar vein I confess that I didn't like the continuous use of words like `chomp' instead of `eat' and `chug' instead of `drink'. I imagine that is just a difference in usage when comparing opposite sides of the Atlantic but I did find myself wishing someone would just 'eat' something! And I do wonder if the use of block capitals as well as italics was really necessary. I am not talking about the start of each chapter but sentences like:
"...I remember thinking What in the HELL? How in the HELL is this possible? That was the first thing, the first CHINK IN THE WALL, that MAYYYBEE modern shoe companies don't have all the answers..." (nine of those lowercase words are in italics, which I can't format here).
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24 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't put it down 9 Dec 2009
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Being interested in pushing my running further I looked at a number of ultra distance books and picked this one because of the numerous and unanimous good reviews it had. Once started, I couldn't put it down. A fantastic read, not just for runners but sporty people generally. The author doesn't try and say 'look how good I am, I'm better than you' but rather says 'look, I was struggling, kept having problems and couldn't progress further - much like everyone else out there and wanted to see if I could change that'. It was that attitude that I liked. With a healthy portion of story interwoven with scientific study, the history of ultra running and the coming of the running shoe, the book was a perfect length, very well written and I've recommended it to anyone I know who's into any sort of sport.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read for facts and storyline!
Great book.Great non fictional story packed with scientific datas!You will buy minimalist running shoes and you will
never look back on conventional badly designed and badly... Read more
Published 2 days ago by M. Locci
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Not bad, but wasn't as impressive as I was expecting.
Published 3 days ago by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars From my armchair, into the Canyons ...
I read this to understand my ultra-runner daughter. Now I understand! It's a very readable book - an intriguing story, well told, that underlines real athletic achievements. Read more
Published 7 days ago by A. West
5.0 out of 5 stars Captivating and inspiring! Not only did I learn a ...
Captivating and inspiring! Not only did I learn a lot, but I changed my running style, shoes and diet after reading this book (oh, and I moved to South America too, so I guess I... Read more
Published 9 days ago by KRz1981
5.0 out of 5 stars The Runner's Bible
Utterly contagious, this book caused me to take up barefoot running and I've never looked backed. Combining scientific journals, athlete biographies and a brilliant story... Read more
Published 10 days ago by Charlie Green
5.0 out of 5 stars and also filled with tons of great knowledge.
An incredible story - very inspiring, very motivating, and also filled with tons of great knowledge.
Published 20 days ago by Thomas Jakobsen
5.0 out of 5 stars What it means to be Human
This book is about far more than running. It is a book about being human. A book about how we were made and having forgotten are now getting into terrible problems. Read more
Published 23 days ago by TPat
5.0 out of 5 stars amazing
About to go back to page 1 and re-read it. Now I'm required to say a few more words for the quota...
Published 26 days ago by JMaj
5.0 out of 5 stars brilliant
Great book. Super easy to read but hard to put down. Super info for those suffering with running injuries. I hope to benefit from the information.
Published 1 month ago by pkburns
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great book, Christopher McDougall really keep you enterteined all the way through
Published 1 month ago by Bonscraft
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