Born to Run is a combination of running philosophy and funny, bizarre stories of athletes and runners that had me chuckling throughout the book. McDougall’s projections of multiple voices and personalities (including his own) were so uniquely distinct, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could actually remember everyone’s names AND what they were wearing with ease, even though there were a gazillion characters. I enjoyed Born to Run to the point where I’m already itching to get up and go for a run right after reading the acknowledgements at the end, and that’s really saying something since I don’t even remember the last time I ran outdoors.
A foot injury prompted McDougall, a journalist for Men’s Health and The New York Times Magazine, to question why and how some people run faster than others without succumbing to injuries. His search led him to the Tarahumara tribe in Mexico, who run through the rough terrains of the Copper Canyons literally all day everyday without breaking a sweat, and look ecstatic while doing so. McDougall is surprised by the joy that these Indians showed while running, and dug more into their past; he ends up learning about their history from Caballo Blanco, the “White Horse”, a friend of the Tarahumara who is part-hippie, part-hermit, and part-crazy. Caballo is planning The Greatest Race Ever (McDougall doesn’t call it that, but I think it sounds cooler), and is trying to gather some of the greatest athletes in the world to race against the Tarahumara people – and he needs McDougall’s help to do so. In the process, McDougall learns the secrets of running from the fastest runners on Earth, and walks us through the history behind how humans started running and why running injuries are so common today.
I find that most non-fiction books I’ve read are like conversations that constantly veer off course, and Born to Run is no different. McDougall skips back and forth between tangents about the history of running-related things (such as running shoes), the stories of researchers and runners that he met throughout his travels, and his own journey to find a “cure” for his foot. The first few chapters veered too off course, in my opinion, because the time skips were a bit confusing, and I had a hard time figuring out how the chapters were related. However, once a goal was set in the form of planning The Greatest Race Ever and the pace of the story picked up, the flow was much better.
The best part of Born to Run is that McDougall’s voice is addicting. (He actually reminds me of Timothy Ferriss, by the way… maybe it’s the athlete-and-lack-of-hair combination?) Even when he’s talking about history, he throws around a few “ain’t”s and it sounds like he’s talking to me as if he’s talking to a friend at the gym. McDougall also infuses personality into the people he’s met, and when I read about Caballo, Jenn Shelton, Scott Jurek, Arnulfo Quimare, and everyone else that appears in the book, I feel like I actually know them, because McDougall gets inside their heads and pulls out all their thoughts and feelings onto the page. McDougall described these people so well that, when I went on his website to look at pictures of all the runners involved in The Greatest Race Ever, they were exactly as I pictured them in my head (well, give or take a few pounds and inches).
And it’s these people who really make the story worth reading. I feel like I have the dullest life ever after reading this book, because McDougall has brought together people who are full of amazing talent and incredible experiences, who aren’t afraid to take risks and have a blast YOLO-ing.
“You’ve got to make the oath right here, before we cross over to the other side,” Caballo insisted. “Back there is the way out. This is the way in. If you’re in, you’ve got to swear it.”
We shrugged, dropped our packs, and lifted our hands.
“If I get hurt, lost, or die,” Caballo began.
“If I get hurt, lost, or die,” we chanted.
“It’s my own damn fault.”
“It’s my own damn fault!”
If you like running and adventures, Born to Run is worth checking out. This book isn’t really about the technical aspects of better running; rather, it underscores the attitude that we should take while running. A love of running goes a long way, and the colorful characters in Born to Run show just that.
Have you read Born to Run? Are you a runner? If so, why do you run, and do you enjoy running?