Monday, July 25, 2011

Baby, We Were Born to Run

Just finished Christopher McDougall's wonderful book, Born to Run. Part travelogue, part lesson in human evolution, part runner's spiritual guide, and part inspirational tale, it's a fast-paced read filled with some of the most interesting characters ever committed to page.

McDougall's personal quest to become a better runner serves as the everyman's intro into the fascinating--and insane--world of ultrarunning. The narrative is a journey that takes us from Leadville, Colorado, back in time to the dangerous savannas of pre-historic Africa, and to Copper Canyon in Northern Mexico, where the reclusive Tarahumara (Raramuri) people live, entirely cut off from the modern world.

The athletes that populate McDougall's tale are runners in the most extreme sense. Several of the characters competed in the Leadville 100 (that's 100 miles), and the book is capped off with what McDougall refers to in the subtitle as the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen, a mere 50-miler through the sweltering heat, up and down the tricky passes of Chihuahua, Mexico.

My favorite thread of the book deals with man's evolution into a long-distance runner and persistence hunting. I first encountered this theory way back in college and wasn't quite sold. But McDougall, and the scientists he introduces us to, make a strong case for it in this book. The idea is this: before man was intelligent enough to create throwing weapons, he chased his quadruped prey over long distances, till said prey was too crapped out to run any farther. Without going into the specifics of why this might have been so, I will say it's an intriguing theory--that man evolved not to run fast, but to run far. It sounds crazy till you hear about those long-distance races pitting human beings against horses, with man typically emerging the victor.

Another interesting thread in the book is the barefoot running trend. I won't bore you with the specifics, but I got the itch to give it a try. The immediate change in my mechanics while running barefoot was scary, and scarily instinctual. Almost like I was meant to run that way...

Inspiration drips off every page of the book as the characters push themselves beyond all reasonable limits. If, by the end, you don't feel like going for a run, then you just ain't human.

5 comments:

seana said...

This has been a huge book in Santa Cruz, even when it was in hardback. We've all been slightly mystified as to why there was such a huge audience for it. There are a lot of runners in this town, but not that many.

Did you ever see the film, Fast Runner? I'm not a runner, but I loved that movie.

Brian O'Rourke said...

Seana -

Without getting all pseudo-scientific, I think the book has such a big audience because we were born runners. At least, that was my takeaway from the story.

I haven't heard of Fast Runner but am putting it in the Netflix queue. Thanks for the rec!

seana said...

I am not really sure if I've done well by anyone who entered the Tough Mudder about this movie. Wouldn't want you getting any ideas...

Jenna said...

Ok, I'm officially starting this book on the train this morning. I'm also in the midst of reading Summer of the Bear, which I am starting to get into, but if I have any hope of getting through the 20+ books I have out from the library, it is time to start doubling up.

I can confirm that Brian has taken the advice of Born to Run very seriously and is even trying to talk me into letting Fiona be perpetually barefoot!

seana said...

That sounds like it could be a problem come winter back there...