Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

I picked up this book a few months ago because so many people (including Alex's Mom) recommended it to me. And they weren't wrong. This book is phenomenal. I really, really loved it (and Alex did, too - we normally don't exactly see eye-to-eye on reading materials, either). This book is by Chris McDougall, a former AP reporter who now writes for magazines like Men's Health and Runner's World. His journey begins when he injures himself running and ends with him running a 50 mile odyssey through the Mexican Copper Canyons. What lies in between is a story of adventure, intrigue, amazing human abilities, a little bit of science and a whole lot of heart and soul. McDougall had heard about a group of native Mexicans called the Tarahumara who are phenomenal runners. They live in the Copper Canyon, basically in the middle of nowhere, and they are known for running extreme distances (not like a marathon, like 4 or 8 marathons, or 100-200 miles at a time!). McDougall begins by asking how a group of people who live in harsh conditions and arguably don't have access to our technologies (shoes, nutrition, etc.) can run such extreme distances without the injuries and setbacks that he has faced during his running lifetime. And it's not just him who has faced these setbacks - it's many other runners, too. So, he sets out to find out the "secrets" of the Tarahumara, and he comes upon a number of characters along the way.
There were several things that I loved about this book: mainly the emphasis on the idea that everyone struggles with their running. Everyone starts somewhere and ends up somewhere else. While his book obviously includes some of the most well known people in ultrarunning (races of much farther than a marathon, like 50-100 miles), it's written in such a way that I could identify with the characters, and with their dilemmas. While most of us wouldn't just head out for a 20 mile run "for the fun of it", I could identify with using running (or anything sport or exercise, really) to make me a better person. I loved that some of the best ultrarunners are women, and some of them discovered they were great ultrarunners at a later stage in life, not when they were a teenager. I liked that ultrarunners walk as part of running. Granted, I walk as part of a 30 minute run sometimes, but it still made me feel OK about walking (instead of beating myself up over it). Ultrarunners have to listen to their bodies much more than a regular athlete, developing strategies for dealing with fatigue, hunger, motivation - which are all things I have to deal with, but perhaps in not such an extreme state. And to a certain extent, this book embodies the search for that feeling you had when you ran as a kid. I remember getting a jolt of energy, and just taking off, running as fast as I could, and just loving it. I didn't really think about my butt bouncing, or how much farther I had to go, or anything like that. I just ran. And when I got tired, I stopped, and then I ran some more. I don't do that anymore (and I haven't in a long, long time). Some of these people run for the sheer joy of it. And this book is, to a certain extent, how to regain that joy, and how to tap into that feeling during running.
This book reminded me that running can be a form of meditation. It never has to be perfect, and I don't have to run as fast or as far as anyone else. It reminded me to listen to my body, to feed it and care for it, and to sometime push it beyond its limits (they're always farther than you think). Human beings literally evolved to run, and it reminded me that we all have the ability to run, even if you think you don't. And it also reminded me that running isn't work. It's not a chore. It's a necessity in my life, and one that I don't want to lose. And it reminded me that running, throughout the book and beyond, is a metaphor for life. It's not always easy, and sometimes it's a struggle. But it's more fun to challenge yourself in life, to take risks and push your limits, than to limit yourself.
Read this book, even if you're not a runner. It just might turn you into one!

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