Born To Run by Chris MacDougall

Born to Run

Born To Run by Chris MacDougall is a non-fiction book about the author’s adventures into the highly secluded Mexican Copper Canyons to learn about an Indian tribe of “super athletes” called the Tarahumara. The Tarahumara were legendary for their ability to run straight for days at a time, in sandals, on a primitive, vegetarian diet.

The book is based on the true story of a World War II German general who was kidnapped on the Greek island of Crete. It is full of incredible characters, amazing athletic achievements, cutting-edge science, and, most of all, pure inspiration.

McDougall establishes three primary themes throughout the book: the culture and traditions of the Tarahumara, the evolution of distance running, and the science of running.

Overall, Born to Run is a great book which I enjoyed reading. It certainly challenged my ideas on what effective long-distance running is and I’ll now be spending more time working on my form…even if I’ve given up on pure barefoot / Vibram shoes.

What I Liked

I loved, loved, loved this book. I loved the anecdote at the core of the book that goes like this…humans’ mental and social capabilities are well-documented. Our ability to be creative and coordinate with each other is the main reason why there used to be 10,000s of us to 8+ billion of us now.

But – even though our physical capabilities are hilariously awful compared to the animal kingdom…we have always had one (truly ‘killer’) skill – the ability to run a long ways without stopping. Before we mastered the horse, many traditional hunters would simply run our prey down. The antelope were fast…but they would always overheat.

I think it’s a really hilarious image of a bunch of humans hunting by lightly jogging across the savanna for miles and miles until our prey just collapsed.

This secret physical weapon wasn’t really talked about until a human entered the Great Western Horse Race (a 100+ mile race over Wales)…and completely crushed the horse competition.

Humans can sweat on bare skin which evaporates. Our lungs and heart are not too huge or too small for fast-ish endurance. Our back may be awful for lifting…but the upright posture with our gait is energy efficient. All that to say – humans are born to run.

The book digs into this running tribe in Mexico that has a kept a long culture of running – and what lessons we can learn. Running is not a recent fad developed by Nike – it’s a long-lost tradition that we quit when horses and cars came along.

I love that he gets into the science of good running and how to focus on your form and lean into your body’s natural gait rather than relying on athletic gear.

What I Did Not Like

Nothing! It’s amazing.

Now – I’m finishing this review 10 years after reading it. And I have been very surprised that the negative trends that he identified in the book (commercialization and productization of running)…have only gotten worse. The shoes now are even more ridiculous than in 2013. It’s harder than ever to find information and a therapist who will help you establish good form to prevent injuries…rather than just dealing with them. And…unfortunately there’s also a new junk science on the other side of the spectrum that takes the idea of “natural running” and ignores all basic science and basic reality (i.e, that glass and asphalt do actually damage your foot and that yes, you must train a lot to gain & keep good form).

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