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Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen (2009)

by Christopher McDougall

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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4,4242242,501 (4.22)118
McDougall reveals the secrets of the world's greatest distance runners--the Tarahumara Indians of Copper Canyon, Mexico--and how he trained for the challenge of a lifetime: a fifty-mile race through the heart of Tarahumara country pitting the tribe against an odd band of super-athletic Americans.
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» See also 118 mentions

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Showing 1-5 of 217 (next | show all)
Headline: I love this book; you should read it.

For a more considered analysis read on...

Born To Run is a great book. It's a fantastic story, backed up with a load of fascinating research. If you're at all interested in running or have a slight curiosity why you're not while others inexplicably are, you should get a lot out of this book. I assume this covers pretty much everyone, so.... Read This Book.

McDougall has constructed Born To Run very well, effortlessly linking sections on
topics as diverse as evolutionary biology, anthropology, diet, physiology, and a great deal of history about endurance running and runners, with the surprising story of the creation of the "Mas Locas" ("Most Crazy") endurance race in the Mexican Copper Canyons. Thanks in part to a cast of great characters, the story itself is really fun and interesting, and that threads its way through a bunch of eye-opening anecdotes, facts and theories. In particular, McDougall reaches the startling conclusion that, far from running being an unnatural activity that inevitably leads to injury, humans have specifically evolved to be the best long-distance runners on the planet.

A lot of the hype around this book has centred on McDougall's argument that modern running shoes cause many of the injuries associated with running, and that going barefoot is a healthier way to run (as it is what we evolved to do). While McDougall's case seems strong - to this layman at least - it is a relatively small component of the book. Indeed McDougall himself uses traditional trainers (Nike Pegasus) during the book (although has since started using minimal or no footwear).

McDougall is a magazine journalist, and this shows through at times. Occasionally he builds up a lead-in to the next section a little too much; once or twice the tension he creates is a little artificial; and he may at times grab over enthusiastically for a soundbite. As a review in the Washington Post notes, McDougall sometimes reports incidents as if he were there, when we know he wasn't. I don't think this is to the book's detriment - it's just its style; I found it noticeable, but that's all.

I genuinely think that this is a book that could change lives. McDougall takes pains to make running seem accessible; he manages to convey his initial frustration with running (with which many will empathise), but then also communicates the interest which keeps him pursuing it, despite advice from his doctors to give up. He comes across as an ingenuous and incuisitive, and occasionally callow, everyman, and throughout his sheer enthusiasm for his subject shines through. It is a winning mix, which should draw a wide range of readers into his engaging and frequently surprising book.

There was one section of Born To Run which really took me by surprise. If you haven't read the book and think you might, I'd suggest reading no more of this review - you will probably enjoy reading it there more than here.

Anyway - for those still with me - McDougall covers some theories about the importance of running to the evolution of Homo sapiens. The basic idea is that we evolved for endurance running so that we could hunt animals (which could run faster over short distances, but not over a sufficiently long distance), which he backs up with lots of tantalising and intriguing evidence.

So far, so "okay, interesting". One of the biologists who conceived this idea, and in lieu of direct evidence, wanted to put it to the test, and tried hunting deer simply by chasing them until they could run no more. The problem he found was that he would lose the deer he was chasing in the herd, where they could rest while another was hunted for a bit. The experiment failed utterly, and the basis of the running theory of human evolution looked shaky.

However, based on another person's experience with the Bushmen of the Kalahari, the theory was adapted: the hunters do not just chase, they also track. They pick a particular animal, following its footsteps and other markers, and make sure it is singled out so that it couldn't escape back into the herd.

This then implies that the ability to follow a single animal - tracking - would have been entwined with running as an evolutionary advantage; running or tracking on their own would not have been anything like as much benefit. Tracking involves reasoning, time projection, empathy... even imagination; in short, some of the basics of consciousness.

That is, to me, such a surprising conclusion that I think it's worth reiterating: the theory posits that the human mind evolved alongside, and in some ways as a direct consequence of, our evolved ability to run.

I have no idea whether this theory (clearly over-simplified here) is accepted or discredited or under review in the scientific community (although it is supported by the human brain showing massive development at the same time our bodies seem to have adapted to running).

Whichever way, it is a fascinating and surprising hypothesis, and elevates Born To Run from a sporting memoir to something loftier. McDougall goes from discussing his problems with training shoes, to profound thoughts about the origin of the species - literally from the banal to the sublime.
( )
  thisisstephenbetts | Nov 25, 2023 |
As a bare foot runner myself i've been meaning to read this book for a very long time, but it just kept on sitting in my to-read pile always being overlooked for some exciting fiction to read instead.   But now, finally, i dived in and got it read.

And it's really good.   Christopher has a way of writing that is just captivating and really takes the reader into the depths of the Copper Canyons to meet the Tarahumara and to experience a world that was left behind a long time ago.

To be able to look back in time in this way with the Tarahumara and to see just what super healthy, wonderful, running machines, Natural humans truly are when they're not pampered by modern appliances and poisoned by modern diets.

This book is a must for anyone who runs, especially for anyone who is even thinking about taking up running, and also for anyone remotely interested in Human evolution and what makes a Homo sapien so special amongst all other animals.

So if you haven't read it yet, just do so.   It's wonderfully written and a super page turning read meeting some really interesting characters (all true life characters) along the way.   It's not only a great read but a great journey.

And, having enjoyed his writing soooo much, i'm now very much looking forward to reading Christopher's other books.

Bye for now. ( )
  5t4n5 | Aug 9, 2023 |
Well, as a lifetime runner I loved this book. But it's a book that even non runners will love. It's informative, inspirational, and with a cast of strange but fascinating characters; often extremely funny. ( )
  kevinkevbo | Jul 14, 2023 |
I can't believe I only discovered this book in early 2023 after a lifetime of running dating back to the mid 1970s. As much as I knew about the sport and many of the characters woven into the larger story, Christopher McDougall tells a compelling story with so many examples to build a complete picture of distance running whether it is for sport, meditation, or survival. ( )
  John_Hughel | Apr 29, 2023 |
Ann Trason. The Tarahumara runners. Caballo Blanco. Scott Jurek. These names spark my running imagination. Then there is Mexico and the allure of a different country's culture. Christopher McDougall writes as if he has stepped beside you in the middle of a twenty mile run and launches into telling you of his adventures in the jungles of Mexico chasing the mythology of Gordy Ainsleigh. His tone is casual, conversational, and warm. The reporting reporter has been left behind for the moment, but he has an ulterior motive. Yes, he will tell you about a race you have probably never heard of, and he'll talk about people you are vaguely familiar with, but what he really wants to do is tell you about barefoot running. As a long-distance runner he was always injured. He learned of the Tarahumara runners and how they ran with only thin sandals, but they never knew a single injury. ( )
  SeriousGrace | Mar 7, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 217 (next | show all)
“Born to Run” is not the best book on the intricacies of the sport—my pick would be Timothy Noakes’s “Lore of Running”; for a training guide, I’d select Scott Douglas and Pete Pfitzinger’s “Advanced Marathoning”—but it’s certainly the most accessible and the best selling... the real virtue of McDougal’s book is that it reminded readers about our primal connection to running, the purest of sports. It reminded us that there are different ways to run—some of which hurt our bodies more than others. And it gave us new ways of appreciating distance running. It has, in other words, made hundreds of thousands of people look at the sport again
"Born to Run" uses every trick of creative nonfiction, a genre in which literary license is an indispensable part of truth-telling. McDougall has arranged and adrenalized his story for maximum narrative impact. Questions crop up about the timing of events and the science behind the drama, but it's best to keep pace with him and trust that -- separate from the narrative drama -- we're actually seeing a glimpse of running's past and how it may apply to the present and the future.

» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Christopher McDougallprimary authorall editionscalculated
Sanders, FredNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Awards and honors
The best runner leaves no tracks. - Tao Te Ching
To John and Jean McDougall, my parents, who gave me everything and keep on giving
First words
For days, I'd been searching Mexicon's Sierra Madre for the phantom known as Caballo Blanco - the White Horse
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
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Canonical LCC
McDougall reveals the secrets of the world's greatest distance runners--the Tarahumara Indians of Copper Canyon, Mexico--and how he trained for the challenge of a lifetime: a fifty-mile race through the heart of Tarahumara country pitting the tribe against an odd band of super-athletic Americans.

No library descriptions found.

Book description
El misterioso pueblo de los tarahumaras, un grupo de superatletas y la más increíble carrera jamás contada
Haiku summary
Running shoes are bad.
Run long, run easy, run fast.
Run each race for joy.

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