This blog is now retired. My new site is at: Predictably Irrational.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall

When I started reading this book, I thought: this sounds *so* familiar.

I know I didn't read this book before. But the words were something I did read or heard. I had images in my head of primitive runners, running up a steep mountain. Why?

Was this a documentary that I had seen?

My BFF had read this and I would hear excerpts of it during our runs. But not word-for-word text from the novel, nor did he provide any images. So why did I have such vivid memories of reading this text before?

Because he wrote an article, which became the basis of this book, in Runner's World, along with images.

Whew. I thought I was psychic or something.

I tried searching for it to link to it from this post, but to no avail.  

I was enthralled by that article.  And I was enthralled by this book.

It's not what you think either.  It's not a book to get you to run, or if you run, to get you to run barefoot.

It's a book about several people: Micah True, aka Caballo Blanco; Chris McDougall himself; and the Tarahumara Indians.

It also includes many other "characters" - ultra runners - runners who run way more miles than I will ever consider.  Running not only up to or over 100 miles for ONE race, but some in the worst conditions one could imagine: the desert conditions of Badwater or running up and down mountains in Leadville.

It's also a history lesson about the Tarahumara Indians of Copper Canyon from Northern Mexico.  A fascinating, somewhat 'primitive', people, whose population is dwindling from the continued invasion of 21st century drug-influenced-government-influence over the Tarahumara's native lands.  Roads are paving their way through the canyon, negatively affecting the trails that are run by these Indian super-runners.  Or worse, converting Tarahumara communities into 'non-primitive' communities and introducing the materials of this day and age to them, another step into extinction of a tribe.

It's also provides insight to the shoe industry, and the technological 'advances' that they have made in providing runners better shoes.  NOT.  But it does provide an amazing amount of research that makes sense to a non-medical-anthropological person like me.

It is so much more than a book about running.  Inspiration.  Determination.  Crazy mother fuckers who run an insane amount of miles.  I loved it and Chris McDougall has a great sense of humor and writing style to make this an easy, enjoyable read.  I loved his self-deprecation as it's something I tend to do...although he's self deprecating about running 50 miles and I tend to do the same for five miles.

Some aspects of the book I enjoyed the most: learning about the engineering of our foot vs. the engineering of those $100 running shoes; neanderthals are actually a parallel species to homo sapiens (us) and were actually, on paper, a superior species to us; Billy and Jenn and their drunken antics that never stopped them from running ultra-distances; how bad SAD - standard American Diet - is (this is the third item that has brought me more attention to this in the past month; more on that in another post); the make-up of cheetahs and jackrabbits; and most of all, the final few chapters bringing to life the greatest race that ever took place: a 50 miler through the canyon with super-athletes from the US, against the Tarahumara Indians.

The end of it made me immensely happy and proud: the local communities excited by this race that was loosely put together by a lone, hermit American living out in the canyon (Caballo blanco - the White Horse), came together to celebrate this race...decorating the town, scattering people throughout the trail to provide water...cheering each person on during the run and then welcoming them as they crossed the finish line.  This touched me so incredibly. 

Two funny parts to the book that I want to mention:
Billy and Jenn, a couple of East Coast ultra-runners, met up with McDougall and a few others to head out to Mexico for this race that Caballo Blanco was putting together.

The young couple drink all night long and Jenn gets rowdy enough that the group is warned that if she doesn't behave, they will be kicked out of the hotel.  Chris and the gang make sure she gets into bed and gets to sleep.  They have an early start to get to Mexico in the AM.

But around 3AM, the front desk calls the room and asks Chris (who answers) to please come down and bring his lady friend back to the room.  He is shocked because she was passed out cold last he knew. 

But nope.  There she was, in the hotel lobby, drunk and nearly naked, after crashing a wedding party.  He got her back into the room around 3:30; 90 minutes before 'get-up-and-go' time.  Chris tells the others to go ahead without him, he'll stay behind and help Jenn and Billy sober up and see if they are able to go.  He left on time.  Billy and Jenn managed to be up and ready to go, as if nothing unusual ever happened the night before.

The other funny story happens during the big race.  Barefoot Ted - a hyper, talkative ultra-runner, nearing the end of the race, runs into Chris, who is struggling against dehydration and fatigue.  He goes on and on about how he pissed into a bottle to save for later, as hydration for the rest of his run.  But when he tasted it, he had a fit:
It was the worst! The worst-tasting urine I've ever tasted in my entire life.  You could bottle this stuff and sell it to bring people back from the dead.  I know you can drink urine, but not if it's been heated and shaken in your kidneys for forty miles.
Perhaps you have to read this to appreciate the hilarity of both these items.  There is so much more packed into these 281 pages.  An amazing novel that's worth your time to read.

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