I have always been interested in the legends of the Tarahumara Indians and have found very little about them in the way of reading hence the purchase of this book. I thought I might gain a bit more insight on these fabled ultra runners of Mexico by reading Christopher McDougall's book and I was not wrong. I found this book not only answered all of my questions on these legendary runners but it also gave a good account on the history and evolution of running. The story bounced from the home of the Tarahumara in Mexico's deadly Copper Canyon to the science laboratories of Harvard, to Kalahari Bushmen and the modern ultra elite racers of the US.
Sections of the book also gave superb in depth explanations on the ethos of barefoot running, a scientific overview of running evolution and a very interesting interpretation of how Homo sapiens evolved as the most efficient endurance mammalian machine on earth. All of this was contained in a extraordinary story that pitted the best of the US elite ultra marathoners against the best of the Tarahumara runners in an ultra race set in the formidable Copper Canyon of Mexico. The real life characters in the book are not only extraordinary but exist in real life and some of them are worthy of their own books.
In simple terms this is a story about a race between two worlds, the ancient traditional world of the Tarahumara runner against the modern world of the twenty first century ultra athlete. More than that however, it is a story about the joys of running, where a run is seen as a part of life not a chore in its daily cycle. The book is well written, full of humour and excellent explanations, it is simply the best book on running I have read. The sad epitaph of this book however is that as I write this review in Mexico itself, the recent news (this week) on the Tarahumara is that they have been forced to accept government assistance due to failed crops and there is deep concern as to their future existence.
I first came across Christopher McDougall whilst listening to Midweek on Radio 4. He was a guest talking about his time in South America and the tribe he had learnt about and subsequently become acquainted with. It was a vivid and interesting story which he only touched upon in the interview. The book details the impact it had on him, his running and his life. I found it enjoyable, intriguing and enlightening.
I am so glad that I heard his interview. This book is an incredible story about seemingly superhuman runners who can defy what many people might think to be the limit of natural physical ability. Yet these are simple people who have simply adopted running as a core part of their culture.
The story has many digressive moments that seek to challenge home truths and perceptions which have been spoon fed to us by large multinational sports brands. It is interesting and enlightening and I felt actually supports the story quite well as it helped me understand how you can apply the ways of the Tarahumara runners to your own life and escape the things you may believe you need to perform well in running but may actually be doing you damage.
McDougall himself states that he believes heavily cushioned sports shoes were responsible for his long lasting knee problems that seemed to evaporate when he began to run like the Tarahumara.
You might not agree with everything that is laid out in the book, but it certainly inspired me to take up and enjoy running and push myself further - and also to question what marketing companies throw at us without evidence to back it up.
Wow. Wow. Wow. This is the most inspiring book I've read in a long time. It's also uniquely inspiring in that it's not about what other people have done, but about awakening you to what you are able to do. What your body is meant to do. Whether you've run ultra marathons, or just longed to be able to run around the block, you'll get a great deal of inspiration out of this book.
Born to Run is anything but a dry discussion about running, thanks to McDougall's experience as a war correspondent, his enquiring mind, his never-say-die approach to getting to the bottom of things and of course, his love of running. What we have instead is a fast paced, action packed story that is part narrative, part biology and anthropology lesson, part revelatory and part motivational seminar. Like a brilliant run, it will leave you both breathless and exhilarated.
"Know why people run marathons?... Because running is rooted in our collective imagination, and our imagination is rooted in running. Language, art, science, space shuttles, Starry Night, intravascular surgery; they all had their roots in our ability to run. Running was the superpower that made us human - which means it's a superpower all humans possess."
For me the best part was how it explained and put into words so much of what running means to me. How running just feels right, how it feels meditative, how I feel closer to myself when I am on a long run. Any runner will probably agree that they feel more grounded when they're running regularly, more in touch with their natural selves. And this book lays bear all the historical and anatomical reasons why an activity that is considered - by those who don't know any better - to be something that requires `endurance' `discipline' and even `pain/suffering/agony' can in actual fact deliver a pleasure that one can get addicted to.
I would recommend you follow it up with Haruki Murakami's `What I Talk About When I Talk About Running' if you want a different yet equally inspiring take on running. It's the poet / artist's version of running and goes further at putting into words all the things I love about running.
One word of warning is that this is one of those books that will keep you up reading way beyond your bed time - so try to read it when you have time to get fully absorbed by it.
An amazing, inspiring read that I highly recommend to both runners and non-runners alike.
Having run for several years, I've always struggled with enjoying the process of running and now having read the book, it's made me totally re-think my approach and I'm happy to report it's going well; I'm finally enjoying the running process!
To be clear, even before this reading book I always enjoyed everything surrounding the running activity itself: the adrenalin before, the social aspects, the feel-good feeling afterwards, the stat-tracking and seeing improvement. However, I very rarely, if ever enjoyed running itself; it's always been a tough-slog that I see through to the end no matter what.
The book made me question why I'm not a smiling runner! Why isn't it as fun as it used to be as a child? Well, finally, thanks to a change in technique and attitude I've made that transition from unhappy running to happy running and long may it continue!
My advice to anyone thinking of going from heel-striking to midfoot/forefoot running: take it slowly and expect burning calves for the first few runs! Re-calibrating all that muscle memory doesn't happen overnight but you'll get there eventually and will likely never go back!
Some small criticisms regarding the book but none that warrant knocking a star off:
Writing style is very "American journalist" (apologies to any American journalists!); it takes some getting used to but in time you get used to it!
Some unfortunate praising of Lance Armstrong. Not the fault of the author's of course; this was written before the drugs scandal but it does make for some cringe-reading! Oscar Pistorius even gets a mention too which is a shame! I'd love to see a revision made with these references taken out; they're not pivotal to the story or flow of the book anyway and I'd gladly welcome their removal!
To summarise: read this book and be inspired! Be a happy runner!