“Born to Run” Review

Love to run?  Often bothered by running injuries? Wonder how people can possible run distances of 50 or 100 miles over inhospitable terrain? This week I am reading “Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World has Never See” by Christopher McDougall.  The basic premise of the book is that most of what we think we know about running is wrong.  Sometimes less is more.  Are fancy, expensive shoes with custom orthotics the best for your feet?  According to the author and many in the book, the answer is no. 


The book does not have much to say about India.  The closest excerpt I’ve found thus far is

 Maybe the ancient Hindus were better crystal-ball-gazers than Hollywood when they predicted the world would end not with a bang, but with a big old yawn.  Shiva the Destroyer would snuff us out by doing…nothing.  Lazing out.  Withdrawing his hot-blooded force from our bodies.  Letting us become slugs.  (pg. 99)


Is that really how Hindus believe the world will end?  I don’t know.  I know Satya does believe that this time we live in is the “Kali Yug”, a time of more evil than good, but we don’t sit around waiting for the world to end around us.


I was also disappointed when the author was asking a training coach about how he can learn to run injury-free.  He asked about yoga.  The coach said something like “The runners I know that do yoga get injured.”  What do you think?  Unfortunately, the author skimmed over this observation and didn’t give reasons why the coach said that. 


The book also includes some more little bits of philosophy such as,” When you run on the earth and run with the earth, you can run forever.” (pg. 114) And,” You can’t hate the Beast (exhaustion, fatigue, pain) and expect to beat it; the only way to truly conquer something, as every great philosopher and geneticist will tell you, is to love it.”  (pg. 125)

The book ends with an account of a 50 mile race between some of the best ultra runners in North America and the Tarahumara Indians.  The Tarahumara call themselves the Running People and can run many miles on narrow, steep paths among desert canyons.  I will not say who won the race, but McDougall’s account is exciting and hard to put down.


I loved the eccentric, larger than life characters such as Barefoot Ted and Caballo.  I enjoyed learning about the Talahumara Indians of Mexico and some of their traditions (don’t just walk up to their door.  You have to sit a few meters off and look away and then wait for them to invite you inside.   If they don’t, then you leave quietly.)  The bits of science were intriguing too.  I never heard before that people were meant to run, and that running gave us an edge over the Neanderthals.  Another scientist believes that running and hunting gave human brains the push it needed to cross over from purely survival thinking into logic, humor, deduction, etc.  He lived with the Bushmen of the Kalahari and actually did run down an antelope with a group of hunters and actually did hunt by imagining the actions of animals.


So will you see me running miles upon miles barefoot?  Perhaps not, but this book did give some interesting and convincing arguments to rethink some common running beliefs I’ve had since high school such as “Always stretch before a run,” “Get running shoes with lots of support and replace them often”.  It also supported Satya’s belief that it is possible to live a healthy, strong life as a vegetarian and gave some reasons why he has seen so many bunions here in the U.S. and many fewer in India. 


Overall, I enjoyed reading this book and will recommend it to my sisters who love to run and to my aunt in Iowa who loves going barefoot.

For a link to a Time interview with McDougall click here.