Monday, February 8, 2010

Humans Were Born to Run

Christopher McDougall started the quest that became Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen with a seemingly simple question: Why does my foot hurt? Like the majority of runners (from the morning joggers you see in the park to the best trained Olympians), he was plauged with injuries that kept him from participating fully in the sport that he loved. His questions led him to scientists at top research facilities, sports medicine specialists, and ultimately to the Copper Canyons of Mexico and the Tarahumara Indians, a tribe of people who make running long distances a way of life. McDougall wanted to learn the secret to their seemingly effortless running, and along the way touches on the history of the human race as runners, a 100-mile race in the Colorado mountains, the science behind why your expensive running shoes might just be bad for you, and some of the interesting but relatively unknown characters in the ultrarunning world.

You don't have to be a super athlete to enjoy this book. McDougall alternates chapters between scientific research (which is presented in interesting ways--don't worry about a dry presentation of numbers here!), stories of some of ultrarunning's current powerhouses, and his own quests to find the Tarahumara and become a better runner himself. We meet Ann Trason, one of the few people who have given any Tarahumara runner a challenge in a race (and are left to ponder the question of why, as the distances get longer, the times of male and female runners get closer and closer). There's Barefoot Ted, a runner who, you guessed it, sings the praises of running barefoot. Jenn Shelton and Billy Barnett are known for partying as hard as they run. The man who ties the story together is Caballo Blanco, an outsider who has been living in the Copper Canyons for years, earning the trust of the Tarahumara and learning their techniques for both running and serenity. It is Caballo who has organized the race that brings the author, various other ultrarunners, and some of the top Tarahumara runners together and is the focus of the last third of the book.

Read Born to Run to meet some fascinating people, learn a bit of the scienctific design of the human body, and be engrossed in a story. It may inspire you to get out and run, it may make you look at competition and mindset in a new way, it may make you believe that humans really were born to run. Here's an interview with McDougall from the Daily Show if you want a bit more background on how he got inspired to research the Tarahumara.

Cross posted at Dwelling in Possibility.


Neil Richard said...

This was my favorite book from last year. Totally changed how I think about running and seriously motivated me to do more this year than just "run races."

Glad you liked it!

Colleen said...

I am all over this one, Becker! I just ran my first 5K last year (mid life crisis) and found the whole thing to be very interesting - I'm quite intrigued now by how and why other people run.

Becker said...

You will find this one interesting, Colleen--a group of people who run for the pleasure of running, not for the competition, health benefits, etc, who grow up running for fun and never lose that sense of play and community.

Becker said...

I'm not a runner, but I still found it fascinating, and hopefully I can carry over some of the Tarahumara philosophy to climbing mountains (even if I'm walking, not running!).