Born to Run:
A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen
by Christopher McDougall
A salesman at a local running store told me they have seen an upswell of people asking for minimalist shoes and Vibram Five Fingers after reading Born to Run. He said, "We haven't seen an interest in running like this in my lifetime. People are talking about running."
Christopher McDougall is a former Associated Press war correspondent who began a quest with a single question--why does my foot hurt? McDougall's situation mirrored my own, which quickly caught my attention. After age 40, he decided to become a marathon runner despite weighing 230 pounds, exactly the same as my bodyweight at all three marathons I have run. I know the pounding 26.2 miles puts on a body that size, not to mention the hundreds of miles required by a traditional long, slow distance training program.
His results parallel injury profiles of many runners, "I'd ripped my hamstring (twice), strained my Achilles tendon (repeatedly), sprained my ankles (both, alternately), suffered aching arches (regularly) and had to walk down stairs backwards on tiptoe because my heels were so sore," (p. 8). Such a set of injuries represents that of a normal runner. In any given year 80% of all runners will be injured, regardless of running ability and body type (p.9).
While on assignment in Mexico, McDougall encountered a story about the Tarahumara tribe of Mexico. A physiologist studied the Tarahumara in 1971 and concluded, "Probably not since the days of ancient Spartans has a people achieved such a high state of physical conditioning," (p. 15). In addition to uber-fitness, they maintain a Utopian society. "In Tarahumara Land, there was no crime, war, or theft. There was no corruption, obesity, drug addiction, greed, wife-beating, child abuse, heart disease, high blood pressure, or carbon emissions. They didn't get diabetes, or depressed, or even old: fifty-year-olds could outrun teenagers, and eighty-year-old great-grandads could hike marathon distances up mountainsides. Their cancer rates were barely detectable," (p. 14).
Thus begins a quest for the secrets of the Tarahumara. McDougall encounters a collection of one-of-a-kind characters most fiction writers would be hard pressed to conceive. Along the way, he observes and records what makes human beings run well.
The bottom line--our bodies already know how to run properly, and we can relearn it. Even more, we are designed to run. "We run when we're scared, and we run when we're ecstatic, we run away from our problems and run around for a good time," (p. 11).
Recommendation: Read it before your next race!
Born to Run teaches a number of lessons for any runner: nutrition, shoes, technique--it's all in there. Even better, it reads like a story. Get Born to Run and read it.
The adventure-sports coach who finally fixed McDougall's running problems sums up why the Tarahumara live so well, "The Tarahumara aren't great runners. They're great athletes, and those two things are very different." What is the difference? "Runners are assembly-line workers; they become good at one thing--moving straight ahead at a steady speed--and repeat that motion until overuse fritzes out the machinery. Athletes are Tarzans. Tarzan swims and wrestles and jumps and swings on vines. He's strong and explosive," (p. 211).
That description fits very neatly with our goal of creating the world's fittest people.