Christopher McDougall

At camp in Maine as a kid, there was a run up a trail from Long Lake back to the cabins that others could manage with ease. Maybe it took ten minutes if you were half way decent. I struggled with every step.

Playing softball in college in Illinois, my buddies (ha) would tell me to walk to first base rather than run. It was “faster.” Hilarious.

After college, I was on a work trip in New Mexico when I met a woman who happened to run marathons.  I started running, for lots of good reasons. Not running, exactly, but jogging. This was the 1970’s. I lived outside Boston at the time, in Newton Highlands. That’s close to the route the Boston Marathon follows and I’d occasionally go over and watch runners, particularly the elite squads, fly up Heartbreak Hill.

When I ran, I was jogging. I was enduring. I was surviving. I once ran 10 miles on my 30th birthday, just as challenge. For me, that was an “ultra.”

As a result, I read “Born To Run” as someone who has no idea what it means to enjoy running.  But “Born To Run” has changed everything I know about the sport.

“Born To Run” dives into science, swoops into athletic sub-cultures, visits history books and science theories.  It recounts stories of famous Olympians and other distance runners and tackles head-scratching questions about human anatomy and physiology like you’re learning from a fantastic science teacher, the kind who makes you forget you’re learning. It grows, evolves, informs and entertains. It’s one of the most engaging non-fiction books I’ve ever read.

“Born To Run” takes on a basic assumption and tears it limb from limb (yes, that’s an intentional metaphor).

Better: it pounds that assumption into the ground, tackles a corporate giant (Nike) with ease and offers a  detailed lesson about a part of our body most of us probably overlook—our feet.  If you have a question about pronation, this book is for you.

“Born To Run” is about running long distances but it’s core philosophy and value could apply to everything we do.  Everything.  It’s about putting a smile back on your face, finding joy in the hardest challenge.

I live in Colorado and used to look at the athletes who take on the Leadville 100—a 100-mile endurance run in the most rugged mountain terrain of Colorado—as athletes who needed their head examined. No more.  Yes, “we” were meant to run (well, maybe not “me,” but “we.”)  Yes, we were sold shoes that exacerbated problems with other joints (hello, knees and feet) and altered basic, natural running styles. Yes, we have the lungs and the cooling systems that allow us to run, like the Tarahumara, all day.

Chris MacDougall’s book unfolds smoothly. The stories move from Leadville to Mexico’s Copper Canyons to the California desert with ease.  He introduces us to many quirky, interesting characters along the way and we feel like we welcome at every turn. McDougall’s style is inviting. He has a terrific way of building this story toward the powerful 50-mile run that closes the main action of the book. Some of the detours take some time, as in a recounting of the great “Neanderthal Puzzle,” but you return to the main trail of the book with fresh knowledge and energy.

The stars of the book are Tarahumara people of the Copper Canyon and Caballo Blanco, an American who has worked and wormed his way into their world. He is their “shadowy disciple.” But the star is also MacDougall and his natural flair for what makes for a great story.  The final scenes are remarkable, unforgettable and bring “Born To Run” a heartfelt full circle.

Reading “Born To Run” made me wish I could start all over again, try running thing a whole other way.


2 responses to “Christopher McDougall

  1. Nice piece. But you still would get to first base faster if you, er, walked. Ha! Sounds like a good book. Hard to argue about that smile on your face.

  2. It’s an incredible read….just the first few pages will suck you right in.

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