Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Running Down a Dream

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall
Reviewed by Diane K.M.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

You don't stop running because you get old; you get old because you stop running.

After hearing my running friends rave about this book for years, I finally got around to reading it. And now I owe them an apology, because I had gotten so sick of being preached at about chia seeds and running barefoot and vegetarianism and ultramarathons that I have been quietly rolling my eyes whenever anyone mentioned this friggin book.

But once I got into the story, all of my eye rolls stopped. Sure, there were a few groans about McDougall's punchy, magazine-writing style that doesn't always translate well to book form, but overall, this was an engrossing read. It covers a motley cast of outdoorsy characters from America and Mexico, including the elite runners of the elusive Tarahumara Indian tribe, several incredible foot races, research on running and training methods, and there is even a captivating digression into how the Bushmen of the Kalahari go hunting.

At its heart, the story is about human endurance, compassion for others, and the theory that our bodies were "born to run." There is a thoughtful chapter on the evolution of homo sapiens from other mammals, and the ways in which the human form is designed to be able to cover an incredible amount of distance.

"Know why people run marathons? Because running is rooted in our collective imagination, and our imagination is rooted in running. Language, art, science; space shuttles, Starry Night, intravascular surgery; they all had their roots in our ability to run. Running was the superpower that made us human -- which means it's a superpower all humans possess."

As mentioned, there are also sections on the nutritional power of chia seeds, vegetarianism, and a training theory that runners should spend more time barefoot to build up their strength. I won't lecture you about any of that as I had found it exhausting when others preached to me (there is a line between enthusiasm and evangelism), but I did find the information interesting and will take it under advisement.

Along the way, McDougall shares his own stories of running injuries and how he found different trainers to teach him ways to run more efficiently and with more joy. Yes, joy.

"How do you flip the internal switch that changes us all back into the Natural Born Runners we once were? Not just in history, but in our own lifetimes. Remember? Back when you were a kid and you had to be yelled at to slow down? Every game you played, you played at top speed, sprinting like crazy as you kicked cans, freed all, and attacked jungle outposts in your neighbors' backyards ... That was the real secret of the Tarahumara: they'd never forgotten what it felt like to love running. They remembered that running was mankind's first fine art, our original act of inspired creation. Way before we were scratching pictures on caves or beating rhythms on hollow trees, we were perfecting the art of combining our breath and mind and muscles into fluid self-propulsion over wild terrain ... Distance running was revered because it was indispensable; it was the way we survived and thrived and spread across the planet. You ran to eat and to avoid being eaten; you ran to find a mate and impress her, and with her you ran off to start a new life together. You had to love running, or you wouldn't live to love anything else."

The narrative builds to an amazing foot race in the blazing hot Copper Canyons of Mexico, with some top American athletes competing against a group of Tarahumara runners. Friends, I would be lying if I said I made it through that incredible story without getting choked up by the beauty of what happened that day. I could share quotes, but I think you need to read it in context and experience the grit and grace and humanity for yourself.

This book was so inspiring that I vowed to make an effort to go running more often. And I shall run with joy and compassion in my heart.

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