- File Size: 1946 KB
- Print Length: 306 pages
- Publisher: Vintage; 1 edition (May 4, 2009)
- Publication Date: May 5, 2009
- Sold by: Random House LLC
- Language: English
- ASIN: B0028MBKVG
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Lending: Not Enabled
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #17,367 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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"A tale so mind-blowing as to be the stuff of legend." —The Denver Post
"McDougall's book reminded me of why I love to run." —Bill Rodgers, San Francisco Chronicle
"Fascinating. . . . Thrilling. . . . An operatic ode to the joys of running." —The Washington Post
“It’s a great book. . . . A really gripping read. . . .Unbelievable story . . . a really phenomenal book.” —Jon Stewart on The Daily Show
"One of the most entertaining running books ever." —Amby Burfoot, Runnersworld.com
“Equal parts quest, physiology treatise, and running history. . . . [McDougall] seeks to learn the secrets of the Tarahumara the old-fashioned way: He tracks them down. . . . The climactic race reads like a sprint. . . . It simply makes you want to run.” —Outside Magazine
“McDougall recounts his quest to understand near superhuman ultra-runners with adrenaline pumped writing, humor and a distinct voice...he never lets go from his impassioned mantra that humans were born to run.” —NPR
“Born to Run is a fascinating and inspiring true adventure story, based on humans pushing themselves to the limits. It’s destined to become a classic.”–Sir Ranulph Fiennes, author of Mad, Bad and Dangerous To Know
“Equal parts hilarity, explanation and earnestness—whisks the reader along on a compelling dash to the end, and along the way captures the sheer joy that a brisk run brings.” —Science News
“Born to Run is funny, insightful, captivating, and a great and beautiful discovery.” —Lynne Cox, author of Swimming to Antarctica
“A page-turner, taking the reader on an epic journey in search of the world’s greatest distance runners in an effort to uncover ...
Full of incredible characters, amazing athletic achievements, cutting-edge science, and, most of all, pure inspiration, Born to Run is an epic adventure that began with one simple question: Why does my foot hurt? In search of an answer, Christopher McDougall sets off to find a tribe of the world’s greatest distance runners and learn their secrets, and in the process shows us that everything we thought we knew about running is wrong.
Isolated by the most savage terrain in North America, the reclusive Tarahumara Indians of Mexico’s deadly Copper Canyons are custodians of a lost art. For centuries they have practiced techniques that allow them to run hundreds of miles without rest and chase down anything from a deer to an Olympic marathoner while enjoying every mile of it. Their superhuman talent is matched by uncanny health and serenity, leaving the Tarahumara immune to the diseases and strife that plague modern existence. With the help of Caballo Blanco, a mysterious loner who lives among the tribe, the author was able not only to uncover the secrets of the Tarahumara but also to find his own inner ultra-athlete, as he trained for the challenge of a lifetime: a fifty-mile race through the heart of Tarahumara country pitting the tribe against an odd band of Americans, including a star ultramarathoner, a beautiful young surfer, and a barefoot wonder.
With a sharp wit and wild exuberance, McDougall takes us from the high-tech science labs at Harvard to the sun-baked valleys and freezing peaks across North America, where ever-growing numbers of ultrarunners are pushing their bodies to the limit, and, finally, to the climactic race in the Copper Canyons. Born to Run is that rare book that will not only engage your mind but inspire your body when you realize that the secret to happiness is right at your feet, and that you, indeed all of us, were born to run.
Amazon Exclusive: A Q&A with Christopher McDougall
Question: Born to Run explores the life and running habits of the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico’s Copper Canyon, arguably the greatest distance runners in the world. What are some of the secrets you learned from them?
Christopher McDougall: The key secret hit me like a thunderbolt. It was so simple, yet such a jolt. It was this: everything I’d been taught about running was wrong. We treat running in the modern world the same way we treat childbirth—it’s going to hurt, and requires special exercises and equipment, and the best you can hope for is to get it over with quickly with minimal damage.
Then I meet the Tarahumara, and they’re having a blast. They remember what it’s like to love running, and it lets them blaze through the canyons like dolphins rocketing through waves. For them, running isn’t work. It isn’t a punishment for eating. It’s fine art, like it was for our ancestors. Way before we were scratching pictures on caves or beating rhythms on hollow trees, we were perfecting the art of combining our breath and mind and muscles into fluid self-propulsion over wild terrain. And when our ancestors finally did make their first cave paintings, what were the first designs? A downward slash, lightning bolts through the bottom and middle—behold, the Running Man.
The Tarahumara have a saying: “Children run before they can walk.” Watch any four-year-old—they do everything at full speed, and it’s all about fun. That’s the most important thing I picked up from my time in the Copper Canyons, the understanding that running can be fast and fun and spontaneous, and when it is, you feel like you can go forever. But all of that begins with your feet. Strange as it sounds, the Tarahumara taught me to change my relationship with the ground. Instead of hammering down on my heels, the way I’d been taught all my life, I learned to run lightly and gently on the balls of my feet. The day I mastered it was the last day I was ever injured.
Q: You trained for your first ultramarathon—a race organized by the mysterious gringo expat Caballo Blanco between the Tarahumara and some of America’s top ultrarunners—while researching and writing this book. What was your training like?
CM: It really started as kind of a dare. Just by chance, I’d met an adventure-sports coach from Jackson Hole, Wyoming named Eric Orton. Eric’s specialty is tearing endurance sports down to their basic components and looking for transferable skills. He studies rock climbing to find shoulder techniques for kayakers, and applies Nordic skiing’s smooth propulsion to mountain biking. What he’s looking for are basic engineering principles, because he’s convinced that the next big leap forward in fitness won’t come from strength or technology, but plain, simple durability. With some 70% of all runners getting hurt every year, the athlete who can stay healthy and avoid injury will leave the competition behind.
So naturally, Eric idolized the Tarahumara. Any tribe that has 90-year-old men running across mountaintops obviously has a few training tips up its sleeve. But since Eric had never actually met the Tarahumara, he had to deduce their methods by pure reasoning. His starting point was uncertainty; he assumed that the Tarahumara step into the unknown every time they leave their caves, because they never know how fast they’ll have to sprint after a rabbit or how tricky the climbing will be if they’re caught in a storm. They never even know how long a race will be until they step up to the starting line—the distance is only determined in a last-minute bout of negotiating and could stretch anywhere from 50 miles to 200-plus.
Eric figured shock and awe was the best way for me to build durability and mimic Tarahumara-style running. He’d throw something new at me every day—hopping drills, lunges, mile intervals—and lots and lots of hills. There was no such thing, really, as long, slow distance—he’d have me mix lots of hill repeats and short bursts of speed into every mega-long run.
I didn’t think I could do it without breaking down, and I told Eric that from the start. I basically defied him to turn me into a runner. And by the end of nine months, I was cranking out four hour runs without a problem.
Q: You’re a six-foot four-inches tall, 200-plus pound guy—not anyone’s typical vision of a distance runner, yet you’ve completed ultra marathons and are training for more. Is there a body type for running, as many of us assume, or are all humans built to run?
CM: Yeah, I’m a big’un. But isn’t it sad that’s even a reasonable question? I bought into that bull for a loooong time. Why wouldn’t I? I was constantly being told by people who should know better that “some bodies aren’t designed for running.” One of the best sports medicine physicians in the country told me exactly that—that the reason I was constantly getting hurt is because I was too big to handle the impact shock from my feet hitting the ground. Just recently, I interviewed a nationally-known sports podiatrist who said, “You know, we didn’t ALL evolve to run away from saber-toothed tigers.” Meaning, what? That anyone who isn’t sleek as a Kenyan marathoner should be extinct? It’s such illogical blather—all kinds of body types exist today, so obviously they DID evolve to move quickly on their feet. It’s really awful that so many doctors are reinforcing this learned helplessness, this idea that you have to be some kind of elite being to handle such a basic, universal movement.
Q: If humans are born to run, as you argue, what’s your advice for a runner who is looking to make the leap from shorter road races to marathons, or marathons to ultramarathons? Is running really for everyone?
CM: I think ultrarunning is America’s hope for the future. Honestly. The ultrarunners have got a hold of some powerful wisdom. You can see it at the starting line of any ultra race. I showed up at the Leadville Trail 100 expecting to see a bunch of hollow-eyed Skeletors, and instead it was, “Whoah! Get a load of the hotties!” Ultra runners tend to be amazingly healthy, youthful and—believe it or not—good looking. I couldn’t figure out why, until one runner explained that throughout history, the four basic ingredients for optimal health have been clean air, good food, fresh water and low stress. And that, to a T, describes the daily life of an ultrarunner. They’re out in the woods for hours at a time, breathing pine-scented breezes, eating small bursts of digestible food, downing water by the gallons, and feeling their stress melt away with the miles. But here’s the real key to that kingdom: you have to relax and enjoy the run. No one cares how fast you run 50 miles, so ultrarunners don’t really stress about times. They’re out to enjoy the run and finish strong, not shave a few inconsequential seconds off a personal best. And that’s the best way to transition up to big mileage races: as coach Eric told me, “If it feels like work, you’re working too hard.”
Q: You write that distance running is the great equalizer of age and gender. Can you explain?
CM: Okay, I’ll answer that question with a question: Starting at age nineteen, runners get faster every year until they hit their peak at twenty-seven. After twenty-seven, they start to decline. So if it takes you eight years to reach your peak, how many years does it take for you to regress back to the same speed you were running at nineteen?
Go ahead, guess all you want. No one I’ve asked has ever come close. It’s in the book, so I won’t give it away, but I guarantee when you hear the answer, you’ll say, “No way. THAT old?” Now, factor in this: ultra races are the only sport in the world in which women can go toe-to-toe with men and hand them their heads. Ann Trason and Krissy Moehl often beat every man in the field in some ultraraces, while Emily Baer recently finished in the Top 10 at the Hardrock 100 while stopping to breastfeed her baby at the water stations.
So how’s that possible? According to a new body of research, it’s because humans are the greatest distance runners on earth. We may not be fast, but we’re born with such remarkable natural endurance that humans are fully capable of outrunning horses, cheetahs and antelopes. That’s because we once hunted in packs and on foot; all of us, men and women alike, young and old together.
Q: One of the fascinating parts of Born to Run is your report on how the ultrarunners eat—salad for breakfast, wraps with hummus mid-run, or pizza and beer the night before a run. As a runner with a lot of miles behind him, what are your thoughts on nutrition for running?
CM: Live every day like you’re on the lam. If you’ve got to be ready to pick up and haul butt at a moment’s notice, you’re not going to be loading up on gut-busting meals. I thought I’d have to go on some kind of prison-camp diet to get ready for an ultra, but the best advice I got came from coach Eric, who told me to just worry about the running and the eating would take care of itself. And he was right, sort of. I instinctively began eating smaller, more digestible meals as my miles increased, but then I went behind his back and consulted with the great Dr. Ruth Heidrich, an Ironman triathlete who lives on a vegan diet. She’s the one who gave me the idea of having salad for breakfast, and it’s a fantastic tip. The truth is, many of the greatest endurance athletes of all time lived on fruits and vegetables. You can get away with garbage for a while, but you pay for it in the long haul. In the book, I describe how Jenn Shelton and Billy “Bonehead” Barnett like to chow pizza and Mountain Dew in the middle of 100-mile races, but Jenn is also a vegetarian who most days lives on veggie burgers and grapes.
Q: In this difficult financial time, we’re experiencing yet another surge in the popularity of running. Can you explain this?
CM: When things look worst, we run the most. Three times, America has seen distance-running skyrocket and it’s always in the midst of a national crisis. The first boom came during the Great Depression; the next was in the ‘70s, when we were struggling to recover from a recession, race riots, assassinations, a criminal President and an awful war. And the third boom? One year after the Sept. 11 attacks, trailrunning suddenly became the fastest-growing outdoor sport in the country. I think there’s a trigger in the human psyche that activates our first and greatest survival skill whenever we see the shadow of approaching raptors.
(Photo © James Rexroad)
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And, as any great read might do it allowed me to feel connected — however remotely — to interesting peoples; and exotic places I probably wouldn't've ever been able to imagine existed no matter how many more years I might live.
More importantly, to me personally; it was what made me aware of: the existence and potential benefits of minimalist footwear; and, the absurdity of the school of thought — that would have us believe nature's evolutionary design success with the human foot can be vastly improved by a plethora of modern footwear gimmickry. And lastly, how transitioning back to nature's time-tested, time-proven way (barefoot) might actually reset one's ambulatory infrastructure to where it's meant to be in the first place — the place it took a significant long two million years or so to leisurely perfect on its own.
In fact: the wealth of somewhat esoteric information in this book proved to be an unparalleled revelation which provided me with fresh insights — fundamental to my particular set of circumstances at that time.
The key reason being; that although I've never actually suffered from plantar fasciitis or related knee injuries; as a teenager I was thrown off a galloping horse who stopped abruptly; landed on a fallen tree in a mountain wilderness area; and sustained multiple, grievous, internal injuries due to the ensuing trauma. One of the worst being a herniated lumbar disc which I've painfully had to deal with for most of my adult life. Walking, running, and sometimes even just standing at some kind of work-station or another could cause severe back-spasms.
The point is, after reading about the Tarahumara and the running-shoe industry; I decided to purchase a pair of zero-drop shoes (aka foot-gloves) and soon started the transition period. Walking for an hour or so each day to start with and slowly increasing the time as quickly as I deemed prudent.
After about three months I was up to ten miles a day (on a good day) and felt the physical transition to be mostly complete at that time.
It was then I tossed my expensive running shoes into the trash; along with my very expensive shoe orthotic inserts; and have never looked back. It's been about six years now since my last visit to an Osteopath or Chiropractor (yeah, for real).
Astonishingly, other than some recent lower back pain from sleeping on a soft (worn-out) mattress; my bad disc has mostly been behaving its otherwise typically fickle-self for almost every day of those six years.
Nor am I flatfooted by any means either! My arches have remained as healthily high, and every bit as strong (probably much stronger) as they ever were, and this without any arch-support whatsoever thank you very much.
Neither am I otherwise suffering from any other sort of chronic foot/knee pain, even though I frequently walk for miles at a time (love walking now more than ever); and even jog a bit on occasion.
And although I still prefer my bicycle for serious endorphin hunting (the only thing I've ever been hopelessly addicted to in my entire life); walking/jogging now feel decidedly better than they did with typical athletic-type shoes before transitioning. Indeed, this totally sordid business of genuinely needing arch-supports in modern shoes seems like an enormously cruel joke to me now.
To be clear: the irony here being that apparently, the exact reasons I perceived requiring their dubious benefits in the first place; were primarily due to the fact (lumbar disc issues aside) that the footwear I've been beguiled into enduring most of my life — was indeed the biggest, most pernicious joke of all!
To conclude: After delving into Christopher McDougall's Born to Run for the second time this decade, one of my takeaways is that; it's not just a book for runners, elite or otherwise. It's also an entertaining book for the open-minded everyman with an adventurous spirit.
Distance running is the fountain of youth (if done correctly), and this book both inspires you to run and gives you tips on how to run without hurting your body.
Top international reviews
Honestly one of the best books I've ever read. I didn't really know what to expect when I bought this but my god can Christopher Mcdougall write. Highly recommended.
As a relatively new runner I came to this book via Chris's youtube posts and ted talk. I had no idea what is was about. i can see why it is a bestseller. This is a great mix of yarn spinning and the history of human running. The research and scientific discoveries are presented in a very consumable and entertaining way.
The book just makes you want to ditch the garmin, the £100 trainers and the rest of the kit we as runners consider indispensable nowadays and just get out there wearing nothing but a smile.
If you aren't a runner at all or only an occasional runner I think you'd enjoy the story of the author's journey in Mexico to find this elusive tribe of running people and the organising of an epic 50 mile race (interesting side note, they were actually featured in Joel and Nish v The World on Comedy Central recently, so they can't be that elusive anymore).
The story of many great runners, most of them forgotten, all of them could run very long distances... Ultra-marathons in absolutely horrific terrain and conditions. There is so much good stuff in this book, I will not spoil the details. Apart from ancient tribes mentioned on the cover, there are run aways, challengers, hunters and even world famous scientists discovering how running played critical part in survival of many species, and how homo sapiens are superior in this regard. Running techniques to avoid injuries are broadly discussed in this book as well.
I highly recommend this book to anyone, especially non-runners. It's an easy read, stories are really absorbing, and you will definitely learn few things from it.
I would be very surprised if anybody didn't start running after reading this book.
I loved the author’s quest to find out how he could run faster, and the places and people this quest took him to. So many fab characters introduced to the reader through the pages, and the Tarahumara - just amazing people!
I’m not a runner, more a once a year jogger, but loved this and felt inspired to lace up my trainers. And the anthropological aspect of the book is fab too. Am recommending it to everyone!
Apart from the story itself, the bits on the evolution of humans and the science of running are really interesting. Also, the part on the facts of a foot's anatomy is helpful and informative. He also points out how a mid-foot strike point in stride is the best way to run.
On a personal note, I have always been a relatively short distance runner who constantly suffers from injury. But this book opened up my eyes to a whole new world. It was the start of my education into a new way of running. As a result, I have changed my shoes, gait and how my foot lands on the ground. And I am better for it.
This is a great book for runners and non-runners alike. I would be surprised if it didn't inspire a large percentage of readers into throwing out their trainers and giving a barefoot run a go.
The story that takes you there sounds like a Hollywood trailer of superlative beautiful, heroic, crazy running gods... just wish it had dialled back a bit.
Love it otherwise.
We ran through thick mud and deep puddles for another 5K and he not only kept up with us but slowed down for us! I was really impressed with the shoes. Before he left us to return home (10K further) he told us to buy "born to run".
Which we promply did and read. In a nutshell, the first quarter of the book is interesting, occasionnally dragging for too long and really diverting from the topic but the rest of the book is amazing. It is a journey shared that you never want to end.
I used to think that entering a half-marathon race once a year or a few 10Ks was an achievement or that running a couple of 5Ks a week with a 10K over the weekend was good going at my age (soon to be 50. How wrong was I! I have been plagued with injuries most of my life and this book in as little as two months, has changed both my wife's and my life.
My wife is asthmatic and with very poor lung capacity, the most she has ever ran up to two month ago was 10K and that is with numerous breaks. Only last Sunday, she vanished with the dogs and came back a while later having ran 10 miles, 60% more than she had ever ran. I now run between 10 and 15K three to four times a week, before going to work, whilst my wife run slighlty less distance (but catching up!)
and tops up her runs with several spinning classes. We also a longer run up to and occasionnally longer than a half marathon every Sundays. All without injuries.
This book really breaks the boundaries. I now know that running a marathon is a mild achievement relatively easy to reach. I also know that my horizon has changed as I know I can achieve greater distances without getting injured. My new target is a 50 miles run, then I'll see how I feel and might carry on...
It is all about self belief, the correct running technique and the right pair of shoes.
I love running anyway, but did find this book affirming to go for the longer distances (at whatever age) without being a dry "how to" tomb. I am now looking with great suspicion at my Nike Free running shoes however...
I have only just started to run at 63 years old and I'm running in sandals. ( so comfortable )
I don't think I could run in trainers, they just don't feel right.
I never know how a Rabbit or cheetah breath while sprinting until reading this book.
Great read !!!!