I recently finished reading Born To Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall. After about two chapters, I was into the book and it invigorated me to keep reading to learn about ultramarathoning. Now that’s not to say I’m ready to dive into those types of distances but the book opened my eyes to a whole other world of long distance running.
The book opens around the author’s journey to find a man known as Caballo Blanco–the white horse, who is a lone wanderer through Mexico’s Sierra Madre. Caballo Blanco is finally found and with him enters a hidden tribe known as the Tarahumara Indians, an ancient people who live deep in Mexico’s Copper Canyons. In this rugged setting, these people have learned to be true runners; they run in what are essentially sandals, and they go far distances like it’s no big deal.
As the author attempts to find what makes all of us Running People, he brings some of the Tarahumara to race in the Leadville Ultramarathon in Michigan. Then he joins with the Caballo Blanco to plan the first ever ultramarathon race in the Tarahumara’s homeland. This race is about the basics–one void of sponsors and publicity–simply a race for a race’s sake.
Along the way, key characters enter the story; some are a part of the building to the race at the end and others help to provide background on how we got this far in the evolution of running. It was neat to see names like Scott Jurek and even a mention of Oscar Pistorius (the parapalegic who ran in the London Olympics) pop from the page. As I read I was constantly curling pages over and here are a few of the quotes and ideas that I most loved:
“Perhaps all our troubles–all the violence, obesity, illness, depression, and greed we can’t overcome–began when we stopped living as Running People. Deny your nature, and it will erupt in some other, uglier way.”
Coach Jim Vigil who coached marathoner Deena Castor had a “magic formula” for running, which by the way has absolutely nothing to do with running and in a sense mirrored the Tarahumara lifestyle:
- “Practice abundance by giving back.”
- “Improve personal relationships.”
- “Show integrity to your value system.”
- “Eat as though you were a poor person.”
And the barefoot movement was highlighted throughout the book and given a face through the character of Barefoot Ted who loves his Five Fingers shoes. Stanford head coach Vin Lananna is a huge believer in the movement and said this in the book: “We’ve shielded our feet from their natural position by providing more and more support…people went thousands of years without shoes. I think you try to do all these corrective things with shoes and you overcompensate. You fix things that don’t need fixing. If you strengthen the foot by going barefoot, I think you reduce the risk of Achilles and knee and plantar fascia problems.” In this section of the book one will get a whole host of information about the shoe industry movement and how it really exists for a profit purpose (of course!) and that the more minimal shoe the better, after all the book defines painful truth no. 2 as: Feet like a good beating. Our feet need to develop a relationship with the ground so the more we prevent that from happening the more likely other parts of our body will start to overcompensate which then can lead to injury.
Lastly, I found the section that highlights the mind-body conflict that we have as humans to be intriguing. After all, if we were all born to run why do so many people hate it so much and refuse to take part in the sport? As the book states, “only recently have we come up with the technology to turn lazing around into a way of life; we’ve taken our sinewy, durable, hunter-gatherer bodies and plunked them into an artificial world of leisure…if you’ve ever spent a long weekend watching TV on the sofa, you know the feeling, because down here on earth, we’ve created our own zero-gravity bubble; we’ve taken away the jobs our bodies were meant to do, and we’re paying for it. Nearly every top killer in the Western world–heart disease, stroke, diabetes, depression, hypertension, and a dozen forms of cancer–was unknown to our ancestors…[we] could literally halt epidemics in their tracks with this one remedy…just move your legs. Because if you don’t think you were born to run, you’re not only denying history. You’re denying who you are.”
The characters (and there are a lot of characters!) in this book and the weaving together of stories about the running movement and a hidden tribe made for a remarkable story that runners and non-runners alike will appreciate. I invite you to enter into a world of pinole, barefoot running and love for mankind. You’ll find it all in this one!