Friday, April 23, 2010

Born To Run Review

Caution: Reading this will make you think you can run ultra marathons and even worse/better: it will make you want to. 

My mom tells me that when I toddler, I would run and slide on the wood floors of our house. My brother and I would run circles and just laugh. She said we would run all afternoon. When I was a kid, I recall running circles around our yard for hours. Just running, racing, playing tag. I remember the feeling of running free and running with the wind in my hair. Little brown summer legs carrying me ALL over our one acre yard. I never wanted to come inside. 

Where did that GO? That playful LOVE of running... Christopher McDougall's book Born to Run, begs the question of why we stopped running like we did when we were kids, why we stopped loving the ease of it, the freedom. He set out on a journey to find his own answers to that and a host of other very vital and interesting questions about whether or not we were indeed, Born to Run. 

It all started when Christopher was experiencing foot pain on his 3 mile runs around his neighborhood. He wanted to be a runner and lose some weight, but kept running into injuries. In his doctors office he was flipping through a travel magazine and found a picture of a man in a skirt running through the desert in sandals. This is his first link in a great journey: the Tarahumara of Mexico.  

They are literally "the running people", some of the fastest runners going the farthest distances, their techniques and methods of running nearly unexplored when Christopher sets out to find them. Born to Run, not only chronicles his amazing journey through the dangerous Copper Canyons of Mexico to find the Tarahumara but also the elusive Caballo Blanco or The White Horse.  Caballo, a running legend of sorts, the Tarahumara befriended and Christopher believes to hold the key to running. What unfolds is a winding trail filled with tales of friendships forged and races ran. 

More than just the journey through the Canyons, to Caballo's feet and down the winding trails on which the Tarahumara run, Born to Run is a journey through the history of running itself. From the story of a half a dozen men in Boston breaking marathon records in the 70's, the founder of Nike cooking up the first running shoe in his basement the book covers running history in a fascinating voice. 

It's as if Christopher is writing a mystery, some kind of kinetic Agatha Christie, who-done-it novel. The whole book takes us down the path as he is asking, exploring and revealing wonderful historical findings, stories and methods. It's as if we were side by side with the author discovering it together. The research that is presented and the historical documentation is more than impressive, it is very well done and is by NO means dull or dry. Instead he offers us good reason and fact as to why we ARE, born to run. 

He touches on ancient hunting methods, the way human's bodies differ from animals, who's made to sprint, which body's are built for the long haul and of course talks about why we experience modern running the way we do. This is mostly in response to his own injury laden running past and the discoveries about the body's response to running he makes along the way. Exploring the history of running, it's movement into modern running and looking ahead, the book opens up many conversations about method and style that I will leave for you to read. Please, PLEASE do.  

But, it's not simply running history, but running present and future even as Christopher finds himself facing the sport of ultra running. Despite considering myself a running for many years now, I had not only heard of, but didn't imagine existed. People running marathons yes, that's common knowledge: the weekend warriors beside the elite athletes pounding out 26.2 miles, but ultra marathons? 50 milers, 100 even 250 mile races, sometimes in hazardous conditions... for added thrill? I was oblivious

Ultra runner Scott Jurek with a Tarahumara runner - notice the foot striking difference!

Christopher talks about ultra runners like Scott Jurek, Jenn Shelton, Ted McDonald (Barefoot Ted) who LOVE running and concludes that the love makes all the difference. In what? Performance, endurance, drive, will, mechanics, how could it? The more I read, the more I bought it. Loving running doesn't make you faster or better, but when you run in the best and most efficient way you can, the love shows on your face and in your pace! Christopher talks about the ultra runners too who are just regular people, who found they could go the distance and he tells many inspiring stories, I was actually close to tears a number of times. I know, crying over running.  Sheesh. 

One of the fascinating stories of the book (and there are MANY) is that of Barefoot Ted who wanted to run, but like Christopher and so many of us, experienced pain that made running impossible. Despite trying almost everything he could not find a solution to the problem, until? Yep, he ditched the kicks and went back to the basics. Now an ultra runner as well, he writes his own very fascinating blog and coaches others on their running style. 
Barefoot Ted

Born to Run is one of the best books I have ever read, the style is gripping and keeps you turning the pages in suspense and awe of all that was researched and captured in it's pages! The characters are endearing and memorable, so much so that I started following Scott & Ted on Twitter! 

The book really ignited my own passions again for my running and caused me to take a look more closely at how and WHY I run. The only thing I didn't like was there were a few chapters that leaned heavily on evolution and that's just not my thing. But they were part of the book as a whole of course and while the information was good and presented well, I happen to think that the intricacy of the human system points to design. Creative, ordained, brilliant, holistic desgin. My two cents.  

Please read Born to Run, if you haven't, if you have, what was YOUR favorite part?

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