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Born to Run March 16, 2010

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Books, Reviews.
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Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never SeenCutting to the chase: Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Super Athletes, and the Greatest Race the World has Never Seen is a great book, whether or not you’re interested in running. In fact, chances are that if you aren’t, after you read it you soon will be.

On the surface, the book is about three things: first, the indigenous Mexican Tarahumara tribe whose prowess for distance running has achieved renown of near-mythical proportions; second, the life of Caballo Blanco, a runner with a mysterious past who has gone native and now lives mostly with the Tarahumara; finally, Caballo’s attempt to stage an ultramarathon pitting the Tarahumara against some of America’s elite ultrarunners. Weaving these themes together, the book inevitably offers various other anecdotes and insights into the science and psychology of running.

On a personal note, one aspect of the book I did enjoy was how it was paced very much like going for a run. It starts off a little rough, leaving the reader to wonder why we should care at all about McDougall’s interest in the Tarahumara and Caballo Blanco. Then it hits its stride, owing to several colorful anecdotes about ultramarathons like the Leadville 100 as well as profiles of several superathletes who participate in such events. The book picks up the pace around the time it starts to relate how Caballo’s “underground” ultramarathon begins to come together/unravel, with interesting departures into the movement towards “barefoot running” and the development of what ultimately would become the Nike Free line of shoes. Like many runs, the book threatens to falter before reaching the finish line, offering a relatively lengthy evolutionary perspective on running just when readers may be more interested in how Caballo’s race turns out (or doesn’t). That hurdle crossed, the book neatly wraps things up, and what started out as a winding lengthy story suddenly seemed to have gone by much more easily or quickly than expected.

Am I reading too much into it? Maybe. But you’ll know what I mean if you read Born to Run yourself. And you won’t regret it.

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