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

Christopher McDougall, ever a fan of epic subtitles, presents us with his second work: Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen. This 2011 non-fiction is a quick read by an ultramarathon legend.

Plagued by chronic and frequent running injuries, McDougall seeks a solution to his pains. He reads about a reclusive tribe of ultra runners that regularly knock out 100+ mile runs spanning several days. The Tarahumara tribe in the Mexican Copper Canyons remains a mystery to much of the modern world, but McDougall adventures to the remote community to shed light on their amazing talents as long distance runners. Fueled by tortillas and beans, McDougall and friends run mile upon mile through the remote landscape, chasing a runner’s high like no other.

I fell for the adventure-style story pretty early on. I’m a sucker for a good quest, especially when it also features another one of my hobbies: running.

Born to Run meshes the sporting world with history and cultural studies. Inspiring, motivating, and enlightening. I especially enjoyed several refreshing chapters elaborate on human evolution and anatomy that provide a respite from the unwinding tale of long distance running.

Do the world’s greatest distance runners know the secret to life-long health and fitness? To find out, McDougall ventures into the world of sports medicine and the cutting edge science of top tier running shoes. Or rather, the lack of running shoes. Barefoot running introduces a controversial topic that quite frankly feels preachy and know-it-all-ish. McDougall incorporates some misleading statistics that may leave knowledgeable readers unsettled or offended.

McDougall writes with efficiency and clarity, revealing himself to be a loyal friend and a curious explorer. Grit and passion seem to fuel him as much as any protein powder or energy gel.

The book culminates in a foot race between the modern world’s ultrarunner elites and the humble Tarahumara runners: The Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen. I was left with a feeling of pride and excitement for all of the runners. What a joy it must be to pursue a passion so freely. Sportsmanship and adventure are recurring themes that flow along with the sports science and cultural context.

My recommendation: listen to the audiobook version on those long distance training runs to maximize motivation. After all, what’s a 10 mile training run when McDougall is running 100 miles as ‘just another day at the office?’

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