So several years behind every other person who’s ever put one leg in front of the other faster than a walk, I have finally read Born to Run. And when I say read, I mean devoured. We’re talking can’t tear your eyes off the page, picking it up to read for 30 seconds while James pauses a film to pour a glass of wine, talking about it when I’m not reading it. Blogging about it despite the fact every one except me has almost certainly read it already.
When people recommended this book to me, I said I’d read it, but I didn’t fully understand… It’s just a book about running, I’m sure it will be good but how fantastic can a book about running be, really? So it sat, unread, on my kindle until I had exhausted other options. I started reading it on the train back from visiting my mum last Friday and was immediately hooked.
The author begins by telling you how awful running is – that 8 out of 10 runners are injured EVERY year, of the huge amounts of weight pounding into your legs and feet, the “outrageous threat to the integrity of the knee” that makes injury pretty much inevitable for any runner. I’m interested, but slightly annoyed – I thought this was a book about running? Why is it telling me how bad running is? But a small voice in the back of my mind tells me that is probably not the whole story… and that voice is right.
Born to Run is really the story of the Tarahumara – a tribe of people living in Mexico who run, virtually barefoot, and run, and run, and run. They run huge distances at great speeds, and they never get injured. What are they doing that we are not? Are humans really just not designed to run?
McDougall’s book neatly links the story of the Tarahumara, the development of ultrarunning in the US and a scientific / historical exploration of whether we were actually born to run. Every aspect of the book is really fascinating, from the African hunters who literally out-run their prey, to the development of humans who were able to stand upright. Interspersed with all this are the personalities of top ultrarunners in the US, Jenn Shelton, Ann Trason, Barefoot Ted…. and one incredible race in Mexico between the Tarahumara and the US ultrarunners.
He delves into the personalities of each of the US ultrarunners, and while some of them have apparently been less than happy with how they were depicted (Ann Trason, Jenn Shelton), you feel like you get to know these characters in the book, you really care about how they do in the ultimate showdown race, you admire them as individuals. By building up their personalities, McDougall builds up the tension leading into the race in Mexico so that the reader can’t wait for it to begin, can’t put the book down.
Having said that, I lost interest slightly on the long passages about barefoot running. McDougall basically blames all running injuries on Nike for inventing ever more expensive and padded trainers that have removed the foot’s natural strength and changed its position. He makes this point quite quickly, then goes on to labour the point for chapters…. I live in central London. There is no way I am going to run barefoot. He doesn’t even run barefoot himself and neither do the Tarahumara! It just goes on slightly too long….
On the other hand, while reading the book I was converted into thinking that I MUST eat chia seeds. Now I am a good week away from actually reading it, I have reverted to my usual extreme scepticism regarding the nutrition industry and so-called “super foods”. Phew, that was close. But the writing was good enough to completely persuade me at the time.
By the time I finished the book, curled up in bed, slightly hungover on a rainy Saturday morning, I knew I was an ultrarunner. Inside. All I had to do was get out there and actually run 100 miles – didn’t matter the longest I’d ever run was 18 miles, I could be an ultrarunner. All I wanted to do was go and run really long distances in beautiful places. Only a small matter of ….. oh and ….. and that too…. I snuggled back down into bed for a nap.