As a long time runner and an avid fitness buff, I often explore different techniques, ancient and modern, of the exercises I love. Running, especially, led me to the debate on barefoot running; the concept that the human body is designed to run extreme distances, unaided by technology, without breaking down. This led me to pick up a copy of Christopher McDougall’s book, Born to Run. Published in 2009 by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, the premise of the book began with McDougall’s adamant search for a reason why he couldn’t shake the pain and injuries associated with running. Since McDougall shared my affinity for fitness and discontent with injury, I figured it was worth a read. Little did I know it would change my life.
Christopher McDougall got his start in writing by working with the Associated Press. He was a war correspondent in Portugal and Africa and he also spent some time in Europe. He later returned to write for U.S. magazines like Outside, New York Times Magazine, and Men’s Health. His work for these magazines led to his book writing, first with Girl Trouble and now with Born to Run. He is a three-time National Magazine Award finalist and is currently a contributing editor for Men’s Health.
The plot of Born to Run ultimately centers on McDougall’s study of a lost Mexican tribe who resides in the deadly Copper Canyons. As McDougall seeks to explore why he cannot seem to run without being injured, he is turned on to this odd tribe. The Tarahumara people have practiced running techniques that allow them to run for hundreds of miles at a time and chase down anything in their way. These people are seemingly immune to most diseases and live peaceably in solidarity, away from the modern world. McDougall meets a mysterious loner named Caballo Blanco (the White Horse), an American who lives among the Tarahumara, and works alongside him to run like the Tarahumara do. After being prompted by Caballo, McDougall returns to the Canyons to unite with a handful of other Americans and Tarahumara and set off on a 50-mile foot race through the desert, pitting American technologies against the lost art of natural running.
As a former news writer, McDougall is well versed in how to report on a phenomenon and make it accessible to the public at large. He writes with passion and conviction, his care for this people is displayed throughout. His work is easy to follow without being sophomoric. As a narrative, this work of nonfiction is riveting. It is by no means the next Hollywood action blockbuster, but McDougall engages the audience and follows through. The suspense is constantly building as the reader works toward the monumental race at the end, and there are numerous twists and turns along the way. McDougall also does well to add humor where necessary in his book, as is evidenced by his description of his running cohorts. This is also the beauty in the details of his descriptions, he paints a vivid and imaginable picture of the places that he visited and the people that he met that you almost feel as if you know these people and you know these places.
As a whole, I feel that this is a book that should be read by all runners, but by no means is this a book that only caters to that specific demographic. McDougall wrote this book because he felt passionate enough to tell the world about this people. He lived the experience and does well to relate it to the average reader’s life. This story holds the reader in a way that only a real-life adventure can and I give it my highest praise.
22 July 2010