Book Report: Born To Run by Christopher McDougall
Born To Run by Christopher McDougall, 2011 National Best Seller, nonfiction
As I've gotten deeper and deeper into the ultra running hole, after running the Dawg Gone 50K and leading up to the Rough Trail 50k I wanted to read, and learn more about the sport, and running in general. I picked up Born To Run based off of some recommendations by friends and was really glad I did.
The overarching theme to the novel is proving a hypothesis that the human body, as a primal instinct, is Born to Run.
Christopher McDougall starts with a simple question and ends up uncovering a trail so deep it takes him to complete exhaustion to get out. That question;
"Why does my foot hurt?"
A question simple enough, yet so complicated. McDougall enlists the help of some of the best doctors of modern medicine to ask the tough questions on why his body aches and hurts after he runs long distances. Ending up in various Doctor's offices, they tell him what they know based on their training.
"Chris, you aren't meant to be a runner."
For the benefit of all who read this story, McDougall isn't satisfied with that answer. He digs deeper. He continues to push and ask questions, "Why are some people built like runners and why are some people not?"
The answer as he, and readers discover is not nearly that simple. The reader begins in a story entrenched with narrations about Caballo Blanco, "The White Horse", an indigenous tribe of Tarahumarra who live deep in Mexico’s Copper Canyons, and the author’s own personal journey into trying to run ultra distances.
Throughout the course of the story McDouglass provides anecdotes about how he came to where he is now. He provides telling arguments about barefoot running. Including, how the running shoe got its start and why they even started designing the shoe in the first place. In this discussion, are questions as to what running form allows the human to run fastest over a long distance. McDougall entices these questions and thoughtfully gives his resolution to these questions leaving the reader to decipher if they believe his methodology.
For the final proof of evidence, McDougall digs into the evolutions of humans and the Homo Erectus. How did they survive the Neanderthals? Why are their brains so big? Are there any muscles or ligaments that also evolved? Evolution and locomotion researchers from the University of Utah and Harvard University collaborated to discover these questions and more. McDougall taps into the minds of these researchers and along with a few adventurous tales delivers his final argument with an enthusiastic gust.
I found the novel to be a thrilling read. At times when I read McDougall’s arguments as to why humans are born to run it shattered everything I knew about running. As a runner and a general outdoors enthusiast I enjoy a good tale of adventure and struggle. This novel has it all and included scientific research to please the nerdy engineer side of my brain.
I constantly found myself having to put the book down because I was blown away with the arguments presented. I needed to tell people what I’d just read. I finished the novel on a plane and I think the people sitting next to me could tell I was just absolutely blown away. McDougall introduces evidence and thoughts put together in a logical way for the ordinary person to understand. He flawlessly combines science and practice when relating to running form and overall movement of the human body.
From an entertainment perspective, I couldn’t put the book down. I read on my lunch breaks and I often found myself wanting to read longer, when I had to put the book down and get back to work. I will say though it was a great reprieve from everyday life. There were always hidden mysteries and tales in every chapter. McDougall may have made some of the stories more dramatic than they really were, but I’m happy for that. Who doesn’t tell a story and not stretch it a little bit to get their listeners on the edge of their seat?
I rarely re-read books, but this one might be in the running to be read again in a year or so. The tales and background information is that good I’ll want to read it again to voyage back into the Copper Canyons of Mexico.
Recommended for: Runners of all shapes and sizes, people who want a tale of epic discovery, or people who want to dig deeper into the evolutionary past of humans as a species.
Further Reading: After reading Born To Run, you can check out Scott Jurek's book, "Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness", Here's another review of Born To Run by the Washington Post here.