Book Review: Born to Run

born to run distance running fitness running warrior spirit

The barefoot running book I got from the shoe store provided me with all the technique I needed, but it didn’t really provide the underlying mindset behind running. It didn’t help me rekindle the love of running that got me started in the first place back in high school. And so, ultimately, it would have just been another failed attempt to get back into running.

Born to Run, on the other hand, helped me train an entirely different set of techniques and skills that are just as necessary in any physical endeavor: the spiritual ones.

A Story About Some Crazy Runners

On its surface, Christopher McDougall’s book is the modern story of the Tarahumara, a tribe of Mexican Indians living in one of the most remote locations on earth. They call themselves the running people because their culture is held together by their tradition of running for miles and miles and miles. They are, by all accounts, some of the greatest distance runners in the world.

McDougall tells the story of how they were initially noticed by the ultra-running world, brought to the states to run the Leadville 100, one of the most brutal ultra-marathons in the world, and eventually faded from glory because of their unwillingness to be used for profit or to themselves run for fame and glory. That’s the backstory. The book then picks up in the modern day and follows the efforts of Caballo Blanco, a gringo-turned running-man, to organize a race to show the world how great the Tarahumara can be on their home turf. A chance meeting between the author and Caballo Blanco leads to the recuirtment of the top ultra-runners in the states, who head down to test their luck against the running people.

Along the way, McDougall reveals all sorts of mind-blowing research and developments in the running world. Running in shoes in bad for your joints and knees. Modern running shoe technology was developed by Nike with no scientific input. Humans were designed to run long distances more efficiently and faster than any other animal, even using this ability to chase our prey to the point of heat exhaustion. Smiling makes you run faster.

Smile and Run Faster

The real gems in the book come in little pieces scattered amidst all the life stories and races of these great runners. Every now and then, McDougall will comment on the expression on one of the Tarahumara’s face as one of pure ecstasy. Or he will describe the way Jenn and Billy trained by listening to beat poetry. He recounts the training programs of top running coaches, which include things like have fun and eat like a poor person instead of interval frequency. Think easy, light, smooth, and fast.

The message that comes across is that running is about so much more than going fast and getting in shape, and the keys to running well are not found in the places we normally tend to look. For those who run well, running is effortless, even as they are dying from the effort.

My Return to Running

From all these stories, I began to piece together a new approach to running and training in general. It wasn’t about the fitness so much as the enjoyment of exploration. Running was a way to get from place to place and to relive the thrill of the hunt in our modern society.

I started heading out on to local trails without any goals in mind other than to move. I let the trees and the wind guide me as I tried to get back in touch with the Khaled who used to run for meditation. I tried to let the earth dictate my form so that I rolled easily over hills. And most of all, I just tried to smile while I ran.

And like magic, the more I ran, the more my old, persistent injuries faded away. I would wake up with an undeniable urge to get out on trails, and running would leave me feeling more energized than any other workout I’ve done in the last two years. I felt like I could run for hours, and was always sad to come to the end of my runs.

Born to Run is a story about the world’s greatest runners, but it is also a story about the human desire, or instinct, to run. For me, it was a wake up call, reminding me of why I had run in the first place, and why I had wanted to train at all. It helped me regain my lost inspiration for running.

I guess the take-away message might be we run to live. Running should be tied into enriching all the other aspects of life, and when done with the right motivations, it should strengthen your spirit as much as it does your lungs and legs.

Born to Run is a testament to the human running spirit. I recommend it to any athlete, runner or not, but especially to those who may have lost sight of what it is they used to find inspiring in long runs.

Run on, Brave Warriors!

- (**