Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Must read book: Born to run

Born to run by Christopher McDougall is one of those books that I would never have picked up in a million years, were it not on the Page Turners reading list for this year. But boy am I glad that I did. It's the type of book that has you questioning all manner of things that you've always taken for granted, providing enlightenment as well as entertainment.

On the surface, it's a true account of an amateur 50-mile 'ultra-marathon' race staged in deepest Mexico (the Copper Canyons), pitting several of America's elite ultra-marathoners against a tribe of Mexicans known as the Tarahumara. The people who take part are all fascinating and brilliantly drawn, with their own back stories and reasons for being there.

But it's so much more than an account of a single race. The author (a journalist and recreational runner) became involved in this incredible and unique event following from his investigation into his own running aches and pains, leading him to chat to various doctors, specialists, running coaches, athletes, race directors, recluses, academics and so forth (see embedded U-Tube video below). Soon, his own story fades into relative insignificance, as he recounts the stories of ultra-marathons and the amazing natural talents of the Tarahumara, explores the benefits of barefoot running and points the finger at Nike, explains the art of persistence hunting (it turns out that humans are among the only mammals that can run and breathe at the same time), discusses what we really should be eating . . .

There is so much in this book. Its main point is I think that humans are actually designed for distance/endurance running, but that modern footwear (thanks to Nike) has changed the way we run for the worse, leading to higher risk of injury. If everyone runs like the Tarahumara (right down to the sandals - or 'barefoot'), they will not only almost eliminate the risk of injury, they will actually enjoy the whole experience of running!

Having recently completed the Oxfam Trailwalker event no doubt increased my enjoyment of this book, despite the fact that we walked rather than ran. But I can honestly recommend it to anyone remotely interested in any form of physical activity -- or anyone with biomechanical feet issues. I am not a runner, and have never have been, and this book actually has me contemplating taking it up. It is easy to read, and vastly entertaining. McDougall's 'men's magazine' style did annoy me at first, but my irritation faded in the second half of the book as the interest-factor really picked up.


  1. i’m so pleased you’ve reacted this way to this book.
    i know that when i finished it, i just wanted to push it onto everyone i knew - it’s a real call-to-movement. powerful stuff.
    if you are serious about taking up running, i know of a couple of people who’ve used the “couch to 5k” program (nine week program designed for novice runners) to get started.
    don’t know if you’ve come across it, but i thought i’d put it out there.

  2. yes, have heard of and considered C25K. One day maybe!