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You Were “Born To Run”: A Book Review

by Christine Skelly » on Aug 11, 2011 8

The Bible of Barefoot that sparked interest in FiveFingers, barefoot running, and the return to a more natural way of running in the interest of health made it’s way into my fingers about two weeks ago, after my father had finished turning the last page.

He welcomed McDougall’s strong use of “word pictures” and I agreed with him, his strong use of imagery moves the novel along well, keeping a swift pace, like it’s subjects. For those unfamiliar with McDougall’s history or purpose in this book, Born to Run begins as he states with the question “Why does my foot hurt?” and follows his account of meeting with the same dead ends when encountering traditional podiatrists. Their solution: orthotics and a cortisone shot. Oh yeah. And stop running.

Stop running?

Excuse me? (My words, not his).

I was glad to find that McDougall did not really stop running, and eventually found a set of leads while out on other journalistic ventures about runners who logged 50-100 miles at a time, and were documented to reach distances of 300 miles in a day. 300 miles? That’s simply preposterous. Not for the Tarahumara Indians of the Copper Canyons in Mexico. This gentle group of Ruramuri, or “Running People” have stayed far removed from civilization after Cortez showed them centuries ago that outsiders should not be trusted.

The book continues on and documents other star runners able to run “Ultras” or super marathons totaling 50 to 100 miles at a time. That sort of number made me feel pretty wimpy as a recreational runner and thus sparked my intrigue even more deeply. How was it that people like me, who never liked to run, could one day just go out for a 20 mile jaunt in the morning and come home and do it again before bed? McDougall chalks it up to a certain demeanor in the end, highlighting that the peaceful Tarahumara not only run for transportation and survival, but also for the love of it.

He reveals other secrets in the book such as the fact that humans are BORN TO RUN due to the physiology. See your rear end? It’s big. I’m not making a pass, I’m saying that gluteus maximus is only present in running animals. The chimpanzee, our close genetic relative doesn’t have one because it is a walking animal. We are the only creature in the animal kingdom that cools itself through perspiration instead of our lungs, which means when any other animal gets too hot it must stop running or it will overheat and die because it is out of breath. Animals can only take one breath per stride meaning that they can only keep speed up for very short distances like the cheetah or deer and gazelle. Man usually averages two breaths per stride and because our lungs are free to breathe instead of cool, we can continue to run for extended periods, even enough to hunt an animal down just running.

The book leads up to the final face off between some of the best runners known nationally in the American circuit against the Tarahumara in a friendly 50 mile race organized by a “Gringo Indio”, a white nomad called Caballo Blanco, one of the rare individuals accepted by the Tarahumara.

The entire tale reads more like a story than a real analysis and while it describes the need to return to shoes pre-Nike of 1970, I feel it could have included more about some of the technical aspects of why in certain areas. Such as FiveFingers being mentioned, but not explained particularly, worn by one runner called “Barefoot Ted”. But making it a narrative broadens the audience and allows runners and non-runners alike to be able to pick it up and read it’s conversational tone.

Bottom line: go read it. Even if you aren’t the reading type, it was a fast, entertaining read that inspires if you have any inclination to run.

I am reading “Loneliness of a Long Distance Runner” next. Give me your suggestions for good running reads, or even movies if it can be found on Netflix.

If you’ve read “Born to Run” what did you like? Any gripes? Let me know in a comment below.

Submitted Comments

  1. Kai says:

    The book “Born to Run” is to blame that I picked up running as a sport and I am totally addicted to it. I run in vibrams and I run really barefoot. It’s been a blast. The book is an awesome read and needless to say, I read the book in basically one big swoop. Yes, it was that good. And yes. It’s an inspiration like no other.

    *bows deeply and runs off for another run*


  2. Alden says:

    Great book.

    Reading it inspired me as well. Finished it 7 wks ago, have been working my way up to running since.

  3. David says:

    Great read – Inspired me to run more with minimalist footwear. I run exclusively in VFFs now. My first marathon was done in them. I’ll never go back! Shoes are clunky to me now.

  4. Dustin says:

    I read through Born to Run in one night as well, it was definitely enthralling. One of my favorite reads of all time. I read not too long ago somewhere on the interwebs that McDougall was working on a sequel, not sure if thats true though.
    Running the Sahara, is a good Netflix running Movie. I think one of the Steve Prefontaine (Without Limits I believe, though don’t quote me on it) movies is on there as well, just try and not throw things at the TV every time Bill Bowerman is on the screen. I’m reading Running on Empty by Marshall Ulrich right now, so far its been a really good read. Also anything in the books section of zombierunner will be worth buying.

  5. Corey says:

    I actually read Born To Run well after I started wearing FiveFingers. It’s a great book.

    I’m glad Christopher McDougall didn’t go into more specifics on the technical aspects of bf/mr. I think that’s what made the book more accessible to people who aren’t runners.

  6. Daniel says:

    Actually, there is a movie based on the book “Loneliness of a Long Distance Runner”…I recorded it on my DVR many months ago but haven’t sat down to watch it…it’s supposedly THE ‘angry young man’ movie…and I’ve read most of ‘Born to Run’ and I am enjoying it…actually read Barefoot Ted’s book too and that is more of the ‘why’ that you are looking for…it’s called ‘Barefoot Running: Step by Step’…I have run barefoot a few times, most notably a run I did for 4 miles a while back (after I ran 2 miles in my Frees) but your review for the Merrel’s True Glove put them over the top for me and I am purchasing some now…the only reason why I am buying shoes is for safety concerns…I would love to always run barefoot sans shoes…my Frees are great but even they feel like too much cushioning now…

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