Apr 23, 2019

Born to Run

Revisiting Christopher McDougall's classic running book ten years later

I remember when Born to Run first came out back in 2009. On weekly group runs I listened to stories of the Tarahumara Indians and Barefoot Ted passed around. Of people extolling the virtues of forefoot running. I even tried barefoot running for a short while to see what it was all about. But somehow I was too busy at the time and never actually read the book. This month I finally had a chance to open it up.

Ten years after its initial publication Born to Run remains a top book for runners. The barefoot running craze came and went, Caballo Blanco rode into the sunset, and obscure ultramarathoners have parlayed their Copper Canyon fame into apparel companies. But how does the actual book hold up after a decade?

In Born to Run McDougall spins a yarn of an injury prone runner who becomes inspired with a new love of running. The quest starts after discovering an unknown tribe of Mexican Indians that can run hundreds of miles without rest or injury. Relying on the unfamiliar and exotic to suck the reader in, McDougall tells an entertaining and inspiring tale that meanders through a cast of quirky characters (ok, that's being polite, many are downright strange). The book is written in a conversational storytelling style, littered with light profanity, that allows the reader to give the author a bit of leeway about the truthiness of events. It's understood that this isn't Real Actual Dialogue™, and don't bother fact checking.

Moreover many things that seemed exciting and new in 2009 became commonplace in the last decade. Back then Vibram Five Fingers were so new that McDougall felt the need explain them to the reader (it's like gloves, for your feet!!) — a description that seems charmingly innocent in light of the class action lawsuit settled five years later. I actually had to google to see if they were still in business (they are: Vibram Affiliate Link).

...when I put the book down after the exciting climax (I won't reveal spoilers here) I was inspired to get out on my feet.

Barefoot running may not be as trendy as it was, but you'd be hard pressed to find a runner who hasn't at least heard of it. And you can buy sandals from Barefoot Ted himself! The mysterious Caballo Blanco got his own documentary posthumously in 2015. Scott Jurek went on to set a speed record thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail.

And what about the Tarahumara? The Copper Canyon Ultra is now a well known event that draws 700 locals and 150 visitors from Mexico and abroad.

As a result, someone plugged into the ultra running world reading this book 10 years later may be slightly less entertained. Still, it does provide an entertaining read, and when I put the book down after the exciting climax (I won't reveal spoilers here) I was inspired to get out on my feet. There's plenty of books on training technique, physiology and whatnot, but how many can actually inspire you? It's easy to see why Born to Run is a classic.

Grab a copy of Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen from Amazon.com.