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248 of 255 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great story, and much more
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...
Published on 16 May 2009 by Don Sull

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226 of 254 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Fictionalised and often disingenuous account
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...
Published on 31 Jan. 2011 by Gerund


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248 of 255 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great story, and much more, 16 May 2009
By 
Don Sull (Cambridge MA) - See all my reviews
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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72 of 75 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not just for ultra-runners and super-athletes..., 24 May 2009
By 
A reader (North East Scotland) - See all my reviews
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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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226 of 254 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Fictionalised and often disingenuous account, 31 Jan. 2011
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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).

So, we clearly have a very fictionalised account. But is any of it complete fiction? Well, yes it is. We are told on page 16 that the Tarahumara "barely eat any protein at all". Well, with a physiology degree to back it up, I can tell you that leads only one way... to wasting and eventual death. It comes as a bit of a surprise then to be told on page 209 that "the traditional Tarahumara diet exceeds the United Nations' recommended daily intake [for protein] by more than 50 percent". Perhaps by page 209 we are expected to have forgotten what he wrote earlier.

On page 157 we are told, in relation to qualifying for the Boston Marathon that "...99.9 percent of all runners never will...". Really? And how was that figure arrived at? For any average runner who puts in training, qualifying for Boston (like me!) is not difficult: 20,000 runners run it every year -- not qualify, which will be many, many times more -- actually run it. The implication behind his figure is that only 1 in 1000 marathoners who would specifically like to qualify do, ie 19,980,000 don't, which is clearly rubbish. His misuse of percentages crops up several times. It is patronising to the reader to assume that he doesn't understand what a percentage means. And it makes one more than doubt when we are told figures like "...70 to 80 percent..". A particular problem with this is that it sounds as if he is being authorative when, in fact, he's not.

His problem with Math(s) unfortunately isn't limited to the use of hyperbole with percentages. He unwittingly shows his problem, in typical journalistic style, in rather stark detail! On page 239, to work out how much older than 27 is an age that is equivalent to the increase in age from 19 to 27, he has to get out his notebook!!: "All righty. I flipped my notebook to a blank page and started jotting numbers. It takes....[I'll spare you the next four lines]..." He comes up with 36. Point made.

But it is the disingenuous nature of much of his writing that I really took exception to. I will give two examples:

One: who do you think ran the fastest?
(a) Page 15: "Lance Armstrong is one of the greatest endurance athletes of all time, and he could barely shuffle through his first marathon despite sucking down an energy gel nearly every mile."
(b) Page 157: "...Ted...transformed himself...into...a barefoot marathoner with such speed that he was able to accomplish something that 99.9 percent of all runners never will: he qualified for the Boston Marathon." [I've already talked about the 99.9 percent]
Answer: We don't know because we aren't told their times. Well, I can tell you: Lance Armstrong, by a long way. In 2006 his 'shuffle' resulted in a time of 2:59:36 and he came 868th out of 37,866 finishers; a brilliant result for a first marathon (and ten minutes under the very fastest age group Boston qualifying time)! And Barefoot Ted? In 2006 he completed the Boston Marathon in 3:20:16, coming in 3,848th out of 19,682 finishers. Not a shuffle either, but in a completely different, and slower, league. In fact, to refer to a result under three hours (faster than seven minutes a mile) as a shuffle is just gratuitiously insulting. McDougall seems to have a downer on Armstrong, as he slates him elsewhere in the book - the reason never becomes apparent.

Two: Why do you think "...Abele Bikila - the Ethiopian marathoner who ran barefoot over the cobblestones of Rome to win the 1960 Olympic marathon..." didn't wear shoes? - we are told this interesting fact in a paragraph about Barefoot Ted researching the benefits of barefoot running. Well, I can tell you, although the book doesn't, that it wasn't anything to do with the benefits of barefoot running. What we aren't told in the book is that Abele Bikila had an upset before the 1960 marathon and couldn't find a pair of shoes to fit and decided to chance running barefoot as he had trained that way; nor are we told that he chose to run in shoes at the subsequent 1964 Olympics.

On the subject of barefoot running, it's interesting that the photograph on the back of the hardback edition shows five runners, presumably principal characters from the book, all wearing running shoes.

Turning to the so called `scientific research' that McDougall is fond of reporting, again we must doubt a lot of what we are told. Why? Because it is presented in a way we can't trust. Yes, some of it may be true, but how much? And how much are we being presented with information that is propounded as fact or we are led to believe shows one thing, but may show something else? Just one set of examples will make the general point:
Page 170: "...no matter how much you run, your odds of getting hurt are the same." This is utter rubbish and is clearly so, using reductio ad absurdum, apart from all the evidence to the contrary.
Page 171: "Is any shoe manufacturer prepared to claim that wearing their distance running shoes will decrease your risk of...injuries...[or]...improve your distance running performance?" No shoe manufacturer followed up the [Dr Richard's] challenge. The conclusion is drawn that "running shoes don't make you go faster and don't stop you from getting hurt.." This is absolute twaddle and I won't insult anyone's intelligence by explaining why.
Page 172: The conclusion that McDougall draws from a study that found that "Wearers of expensive running shoes...are injured significantly more frequently than runners wearing expensive shoes..." is the following: "What a cruel joke: for double the price, you get double the pain." Possibly, possibly. Could it just be that the buyers of more expensive shoes are those runners who push the boundaries of their training more aggressively?
Unfortunately, the whole book is stuffed with this sort of biased writing dressed up as 'scientific fact'; we are used to it in the popular press -- we get a bookful here.

For those of you interested in the 'science', I recommend reading this: [...] -- you'll have to copy and paste; Amazon doesn't allow direct links.

I could go on, about the very dubious anthropological details, nutrition and hydration anomalies etc, but I have written too much already.

The book is just an adventure story, fiction based on fact; enjoy it if you can stomach the style; just take everything with a very big pinch of salt!

[For anyone considering it, at the very least don't purchase the Kindle edition: there is a spelling mistake on the first page that doesn't bode well for the rest of the book (the spelling mistake is not there in the print edition).]
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and wonderfully compelling, 31 Jan. 2014
By 
P. Pechey (London, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Born to Run: The Hidden Tribe, the Ultra-Runners, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen (Paperback)
McDougall weaves together wonderful story-telling with sporting and anthropological history as he recounts his personal quest to understand how humans are able to run for hours on end for up to 100 miles and why modern running shoes are doing us more harm than good. If you enjoyed Feet in the Clouds then you will undoubtedly find this a similarly gripping read.
McDougall's writing is natural and witty and he uses the full palette of colour and vibrancy to bring to life the characters he befriends on his journey to run with the Tarahumara tribe in Mexico. Caballo Blanco and Barefoot Ted and their contrasting personalities particularly stand out the page.
The author's personal story is intertwined with a brilliant narrative that explores the science and evolutionary roots of our ability to run long distances. McDougall writes superbly tense accounts of some of the world's hardest trail races and paints vivid portraits of some of the tough-as-nails ultra-marathoners who compete in them.
The human side to the story is very engaging and expertly told, but in my opinion the best and most interesting chapters are the ones that reveal the human race's evolution into natural runners. I was totally fascinated for example by the chapter on persistence hunting. The author's main point of course is that modern running shoes have destroyed our natural running style and created an epidemic of running injuries that didn't exist prior to 40 years ago. It is a compelling argument for barefoot/minimalist running and well worth reading.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good, but not great, 21 April 2012
By 
Mr. M. Read "mdaread" (Bristol, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Born to Run: The Hidden Tribe, the Ultra-Runners, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen (Paperback)
It would seem I am late to this book, judging by the huge amounts of ecstatic reviews and all the information now on the web about barefoot running inspired by Born to Run. The first I heard of it was when I read about Caballo Blanco, the hero of the book, having died in Mexico. It was there that I learned of the Tarahumara, the tribe of long distance runners deep in a Mexican Canyon. My interest was piqued, being as I was just getting back into running after a long break, although not covering anything like the distances covered by the runners in this book.

To be honest, as I got about of a quarter of the way through the book, I was starting to wonder what all the fuss was about. The writing style is too macho and gung ho - that's not to say the writer makes himself out to be a great runner or anything, but he seems unable to leave the facts to speak for themselves. He can't ever tell us how far, or how hot, or how high, or how deep, without throwing in a clunky simile. There's no finesse to his style and it didn't surprise me to see he'd written a lot for mens and sport magazines as the style is straight out of such publications.

Luckily, the story he's telling is good enough to withstand the style, which seems to calm down a bit towards the end of the book, or perhaps I got used to it.

The book is really two different things, interweaving:

There's the story of the Tarahumara and the white man living among them (Caballo Blanco) who is trying to organise a race between the best US ultra runners and the locals around him. We hear about previous attempts to get the two groups together, which involved taking the Tarahumara to the US races (which wasn't too successful) and we hear about the preparations for the new race and then the race itself. This is all gripping stuff, although some of it probably needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. Some of the characters (Jenn Shelton, Billy, Barefoot Ted) come across as a bit cartoonish and some of the feats just seem exaggerated for effect, which didn't really seem necessary. It's just a shame a better writer couldn't have handled the story, or at least a better editor had got involved.

The second, and by far the most interesting part of the book, is the thesis of the title. We learn about breakthroughs in evolutionary theory that suggest we were, literally, born to run and we get a lot on why running barefoot is better for our running and better for our health than padding our feet in cushioned running shoes which trick our brains into thinking we can run on our heels, without damaging the foot, knees, hips and back. It's a very compelling argument and, as somebody who had briefly looked into barefoot running a while back, a very inspiring one. It has certainly inspired me to change the way I run and to take the first step toward barefoot running by buying some minimalist shoes (if the author didn't buy shares in Vibram before the book was released, he missed a trick).

Overall, a good book. I'd give the parts about the Tarahumara and the race three stars but the parts about running science, five stars, leaving us with four out of five. It's definitely worth a look if you have any interest in running at all - you just have to try and get past the clunky writing.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Luna Sandals, 31 Jan. 2014
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This review is from: Born to Run: The Hidden Tribe, the Ultra-Runners, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen (Paperback)
in: joaopaleta.com

Just went for a nice 16k run with my new Luna Sandals. I got them after reading Christopher McDougalls book “Born to Run” over the epic journey of the Ultra Runners to the Running People Tribe in Mexico. In this adventure, a true story I believe, Scott Jurek, Caballo Blanco, Barefoot Ted and a few other mythical (but real) characters run side by side with this Indians, the “tarahumaras”, that with simple sandals, a special food diet and ancient traditions could run more than 100 km, no matter the age of the runner. Impressive the tribe, impressive the story and impacting book on my desire to run.

So I have been running with vibram five fingers for almost 2 years now and they are great. Did 6 marathons with them last year and I absolutely love them. Still, being an experimentalist, I like to try new things, and being a reader, a runner and a drinker, in this key areas I am an innovator or an early adopter. I had to try the new Luna Sandals, the new business being developed by Barefoot Ted. Shipped them over from the US (I live in sunny beautiful Portugal) and couldn’t wait to try them on.

First feeling was great, although the size of the sole was just a bit bigger then my feet so I had to customize to my foot size by cutting the waste around each foot. Result: My Luna Sandals are like me UNIQUE! Now I have some serious custom made running shoes.

You might be asking yourself at this point how does it feel running with them? Well I like the open air and freedom that the feet have. I chose the medium sized sole so it doesn’t have the same barefoot feeling as the five fingers and after 16k I sense a bit of tendency for friction on the cushion palm part of the feet. I will give them the benefit of the doubt and run with them through the dip for a couple of months. To be honest I had an adaptation period to the five fingers as well. Lets see. At the end of the trial period I will choose the best contender to be under my feet on my running quests and practice.

Talking about that, just subscribed for the Stockholm Marathon in the end of May 2014. It’s time to start practicing for under 3h30 minutes.

Joćo Paleta
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5.0 out of 5 stars A real page turner...of sorts., 30 April 2013
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A friend of mine who has decided to run a marathon told me about Born to Run. I had just completed my first marathon so I thought I'd give it a read. My weekend had become free due to my apartment being hit by lightening scrambling the TV (true story) and with the weather being itself in England (rain, hail, grey & windy) the 2 day break was perfectly set up to read my first book on my brand new Kindle Paperwhite. And what a book to begin with. A real page turner, if only I had pages to turn, I should probably say a real screen tapper as I was taping so quickly my finger was becoming a blur!

I was instantly swept up in the story. Apparently Chris McDougall can't even write a boring email how true this must be as the book kept me engrossed throughout. His characters as well as himself seem larger than life. I think Jenn and I would come to blows (best we don't meet in real life) and Barefoot Ted would do my head in but their passion for running is infectious. I will be hitting the trails shortly, just need to order my pair of Vibrams. I wonder if Amazon sell these???

There has been a few reviews bagging the writing style. Some people need to get out more if this is their biggest gripe with the book. Maybe they should go for a run! The style makes for an easy and enjoyable read that helps the story flow along. At times I felt was down in Mexico with him watching the race from the sidelines being a part of the atmosphere. I could almost taste the mexican food he was describing. No wonder then needed to run an ultramarathon. They must have taken in 20,000 calories in 2 days.

All in all a great read for runners & non-runners alike, which I will be recommending to all my friends. A weekend well spent reading this book. A cracking good yarn.

Now, up to the roof to fix this bloody antenna.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Exceptionally entertaining and influential, 14 Jan. 2013
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This review is from: Born to Run: The Hidden Tribe, the Ultra-Runners, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen (Paperback)
I bought this book on somewhat of a whim, as other reviewers seemed keen on it. I've run on and off for several years, and like most runners suffered a variety of injuries. So although I was beginning to look into learning better running form, I was totally unprepared for the impact Born To Run had on me.

Firstly, it's just a fantastically enjoyable read, brimming with enthusiasm for the subject and people McDougall profiles. His style is down to earth, warm and funny. So it's a great story and read in itself, even if you're not all that interested in running. But there's more to this superb book than just that - much more. It is magnificently inspiring.

After completing the book I was so excited that I began to look seriously into the practice of barefoot running. I have now been barefoot running, both completely barefoot and in minimalist shoes, for about 6 months (with the help of Barefoot Ken Bob, Lee Saxby and others). That's still infancy, for the transitional period has been gradual (re-awakening dormant muscles and tendons takes time) - but my runs have taken on a new dimension. The sensation of barefoot/minimalist running is unbeatable. And they aren't a chore anymore, but immense fun. I no longer use my orthotics, which I once thought of as indispensable, and haven't suffered any of my past knee pain.

I can't thank Mr McDougall enough for introducing me to the ideas in his book, taking the time and effort to learn from the Tarahumara (who deserve the biggest thank you of all!) and others. By imparting his knowledge with such humour, passion and spirit, he has helped give barefoot running the podium it deserves. A tremendous book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars If you run you absolutely must read this book, 14 Oct. 2012
By 
John Tierney (Wirral, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Born to Run: The Hidden Tribe, the Ultra-Runners, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen (Paperback)
This is a (slightly) flawed masterpiece for runners but is essential reading for anyone who runs in any sort of serious way. It's a great tale, fairly well told and it has made me think very hard about how and why I run.

McDougall tells the story of the Tarahumara tribe in Mexico, shy, retiring and superhuman ultramarathoners. Put onto the scent he tracks down someone who is almost a legend - Caballo Blanco - an American who has gone native with the Tarahumara and lives and breathes running.

The author skilfully blends the build- up to a joint US/Tarahumara 50-mile race in the mountains and heat of Mexico with research into how and why we run, taking in barefoot running, why we wear trainers (and - perhaps - why we shouldn't), why runners get injured and what runners should eat. He also manages to tell the story of the Leadville 100 - a daunting 100 mile race in the US mountains - which he makes a real page turner.

I read the book in the build-up to running 2 marathons in a week ( I have just finished the second) and I was inspired by it, despite thinking I know what I am doing, having run 17 marathons over the last 27 years. I was also dismayed to find that there's more to inspiration required to run long distances well, but I am certainly going to try out some of the techniques mentioned in this book, especially the new ultra-thin shoes that make you feel as though you are running barefoot, something the author (persuasively) maintains is the way to avoid running injuries. The idea of running an ultra-marathon (say - 50 miles?) is made very tempting, although just doing 26 today was really hard. One day maybe....

This is not a perfect book - it's style is a little breathless (no pun intended), there are lots of US sport references which are hard to decipher, everyone he meets seems to be a "real character" (although maybe they are) and it bangs on in massive detail about every meal everyone eats. I also got a bit confused as to who was who and where all these races where some of the time. But don't let these minor quibbles put you off - this is simply something you have to read as a runner. It will make you think, and it's also an entertaining page-turner. It's also full of nice quotes about running, my favourite of which is "You don't stop running because you get old - you get old because you stop running."

It is also now made poignant by the fact that Caballo Blanco died earlier this year while out running at the age of 59 - seems as though a heart condition did for him.

If you run and you are reading this and you haven't yet rad this book please do yourself a favour - buy it, read it and see how it makes you re-evaluate the way you run. Massively recommended.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A truly fantastic book, 12 Oct. 2011
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This review is from: Born to Run: The Hidden Tribe, the Ultra-Runners, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen (Paperback)
I've been an Amazon customer for many years now, but have only just been moved to write a review.

This book is brilliant. Not just as a running book, nor just as a sports or travel book. This is just a great book. Probably the most enjoyable book I've ever read. I whizzed through it in record time.

It's insightful, eye-opening, interesting, inspirational, moving and funny. You couldn't make the characters up in this story - and they're all real!

This could have just been another one man versus *insert challenge here* but McDougall has created something much more than that. He puts forward lots of ideas about running technique, especially barefoot running, (non-runners, please don't be put off) but it's all backed by scientific studies. It's a perfect mix of anecdote and techy bits. He has quotes from some of the leading coaches and biomechanical experts in the world and it just helps to tie the whole yarn together. It's genuinely changed my outlook on running and even THE WAY in which I run.

More than that it's a great story, using McDougall as the vehicle to put into action Caballo Blanco's dream about staging the Ultramarathon to end all others: The esteemed Tarahumara tribe taking on the best of the rest of the world in their own back yard.

I've been raving about this book to everyone I know and have offered to lend it to them when I finish. I finished it a week or so ago but can't bring myself to pass it on. I'll be re-reading it again soon - it's that good. So many pearls of wisdom, I'll be taking notes this time too.

Five stars.
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