by Christopher McDougall.
This book’s copyright is 2009. Friends have been bothering me to read this book since 2009.
The story starts with the author (a former war correspondent now writing for a men’s health magazine) searching for “the White Horse” down in Mexico. The White Horse is a white guy who lives with (and runs with) the Tarahumara (a Native tribe in Mexico). There are plenty of articles and books written about the Tarahumara, a tribe known specifically for their ability to run incredible long-distances.
The Tarahumara clearly do not want to be bothered by McDougall, but he really doesn’t care and pursues them for his story. Journalists and anthropologists have similarities in the sense that they are searching for a story. Maybe one person’s story, maybe a peoples’ story. Both have ethical codes. Perhaps McDougall is only doing his “job” as a reporter/a storyteller, but his methods seem intrusive. His storytelling reads like a 5 o’clock news briefing from the guy in the war zone–half pretending to be horrified and half thrilled to be in the midst of the drama. Except the Tarahumara are just trying to live their lives without…the drama.
“The Tarahumara like to be visible only if they decide to be; laying eyes on them without invitation was like barging in on someone naked in the bathroom.”
They have plenty of present and historical reasons for avoiding white folks and the rest of the mainstream world. When groups of Tarahumara do venture out to run the Leadville race (in Leadville, CO), they are quickly exploited. The White Horse met the Tarahumara at this race, and long-story short joins them down in Mexico after proving himself worthy. Now the White Horse is trying to coordinate a 50-mile race with the assistance of the author…Tarahumara against any ultrarunner up for the (potentially lethal) challenge.
Somewhere within the book, McDougall thankfully touches on other aspects of ultrarunning (Yes. Ultrarunning makes a marathon sound like child’s play). McDougall also recognizes that women have been fierce competitors in ultrarunning, and won plenty of overall races (and completed more races as well). Read more on the topic over at Fit & Feminist’s blog: https://fitandfeminist.wordpress.com/2011/09/01/the-secret-feminism-of-born-to-run-pt-1-women-and-ultrarunning/. “Men are stronger.” Not necessarily…Ultrarunning isn’t exactly mainstream, so many folks are unaware that women are pretty much killing it in the ultrarunning world.
Born to Run also discusses barefoot running, running shoes, nuchal ligaments (Your head vs. a pig’s head. Yours doesn’t bob around like a dashboard Jesus. You have special neck muscles), lizards on treadmills, and other fascinating bits of science and faux science (i.e. super cushioned shoes). You will certainly re-think footwear after reading this book (although I still think those 5-finger things are complete BS, especially after their lawsuits…) The more “science”-related chapters are likely the most interesting…although many observations have been made that one needs a sense of enjoyment to “succeed” at running. (Imagine that!) The Tarahumara not only have the “perfect running form” but they seem to love running. It is a way of life (not a chore).
Now. That all said, I would read with caution. A journalist writing about another culture after relatively brief interactions with that culture seems easily inaccurate. (None of the Tarahumara actually discuss running from their perspective in this book). Also. The “science” doesn’t all seem quite right (hence the quotes).
Back to the race. The Tarahumara graciously agree to the 50-mile mountain/desert race. Unfortunately the gringos are mostly obnoxious (with some exceptions). Nobody dies (which is a serious miracle). The end of the book obviously reveals the winner, but this seems irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.
I’m not totally sure if I liked this book or not. I’m glad I read it, but I doubt I will read it again. As my friend Neal said, the book is somewhat sensationalist. I agree. Not a fan of the intense/in-your-face writing style. The purely “non-fiction” label seems somewhat suspect.
So, before you turn vegan, throw out your shoes, drink only chia, and madly dash through the forest on a fifty mile run…consider a slightly more rational approach. Like enjoying yourself? I tried smiling while I ran the other day and it was a truly different experience. (I’m sure the other people at the gym were confused).
I can actually envision the rare times that I enjoyed running, and those times did feel incredible (and none were on a treadmill). After reading this book I still have no desire to run an ultramarathon…but it did inspire me to run a couple miles in the sunshine. I guess that is a start.