Todd’s Review of Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

I’ll get to the review in a second, but first, a little background.  I come from a family of runners.  My sister regularly runs and joined the running club at her university, and my Dad recently finished his first marathon earlier this year (way to go Dad!).  So, why shouldn’t I run too?  I’ll tell you why: I’m pretty lazy.  However, all that soon ended when I began running for real earlier this year.  I also began training for Ragnar, a relay race held around the country that covers 192 miles with 12 runners per team (my company put together a team).  In the midst of my training, my Dad lent me Born To Run, a book Kim and I had given him for Christmas the year before.  So, ready for inspiration and motivation to keep training, I began reading.

Central to McDougall’s work is his quest to find the Tarahumara, a reclusive tribe in the Copper Canyons of Mexico that is renowned for their long distance running abilities and general good health.  To do so, McDougall sought out a man known as “Caballo Blanco”, or the “white horse” in Spanish.  McDougall learned that this man had disappeared into the Copper Canyons years ago, and had all but blended into the local culture and was rumored to be affiliated with the tribe.  However, the reason McDougall was searching out this tribe in the first place was due to a simple thing: foot pain.  Searching out relief for his pain, once McDougall learns the ways of the tribe and undoes years of learned bad running practice he is amazed to find that his pain disappears and the distance he runs increases farther and farther.  Going into detail, McDougall outlines the new running practices and places them against conventional wisdom.  He dovetails these new inspirations with his continued story to meet these Tarahumara and change his life forever.

I must say, this book was riveting.  I knew this was the case because I was reading it on the way to Mexico in a plane (which I’m not fond of), and it made me completely forget that I was flying.  Perhaps it was because I was just getting into running, or perhaps it was McDougall’s awesome ability to reel the reader in with a great story.  Either way, it was definitely an eye opening experience.  The way in which the Tarahumara are portrayed and how their lifestyle is analyzed was so interesting.  Their whole lives revolve around running, and they use it as a form of entertainment and competition that fosters a community of inclusiveness.  McDougall makes a great point in juxtaposing their culture with our own, as well as pointing out the fallacies of the running shoe industry in looking for profits over correct running form.  It was interesting to see that once McDougall realized that he could run with less cushioned shoes (or no shoes at all), his pain and fatigue problems went away.  His analysis of the history of shoe manufacturing once it was determined that a “heel strike” may be the correct way to run was very interesting.  I followed his advice and switched to a front/mid foot strike which eliminated the hip pain I had felt when running.  Sure, it could be a placebo effect, but I definitely think that I learned a lot and I definitely enjoyed the mix of history and science that McDougall offered in Born to Run.  This is definitely one to check out!

5 out of 5 stars

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall
Knopf Doubleday (2009)
Hardcover: 304 pages
ISBN: 9780307266309