Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Book Review: Born to Run

I love the way that the internet exposes you to such a wide range of ideas and writings. I am really grateful to be connected, through blogs and websites, with so many people who point out new ideas and books.

A couple of weeks ago, Matt Metzgar's blog noted that he was reading a new book - Born to Run. He heaped praise on it. I trust Matt and value his opinion, so I thought it was worth risking the price. I ordered it from Amazon and have been totally blown away by the book.

Born to Run works on so many levels - it is a documentary and biography, it is science and sports journalism, it tells a human story with some eccentric characters and is transporting travel writing.

Spinning the structure of the book around an underground ultramarathon in Mexico, MacDougal, weaves together the story of a boxer (Caballo Blanco / White Horse)who drops out of the world and escapes to live among the Tarahumara Indians. The indians inhabit what is presented as a utopia. There are few diseases of civilisation, 60 year olds habitually run 40 miles or more. There is no money, great community spirit. The boxer dreams of racing these indians against some of the world's best ultramarathoners....and ultimately he does, an exciting and genuine race free of the commercialism and marketing that rides on the back of so many athletes.

Within this complex we learn about natural running style - similar to POSE running - and the disastrous history of running shoes. As shoes got more complex, runners got more injured.....yet the shoe companies keep churning out more and more complex and expensive shoes. We are shown the roots of human running - we are endurance athletes. We can run slowly for a log time. We are shown the gradual erosion of utopia as drugs and other corruptions - such as running shoes - seep into the society. We are shown how some of today's best runners share the running style and the more basically the joy of the Tarahumara. They are exuberant animals (incidentally Frank Forencich is hooked up with one of the key characters here - Barefoot Ted)

This is great writing. I read it quickly - could not put it down - and was genuinely disappointed when I reached the end.

Indeed it even inspired me to go for an easy run yesterday lunchtime! Not hard, not chronic cardio, just an easy gentle jog trying to run properly....Like Erwan does here

Thanks for the heads up Matt.


John Sifferman said...

This one is on my list to read!

Drs. Cynthia and David said...

I thoroughly enjoyed this book too and couldn't put it down either! I liked the chapter on persistence hunting too. It is hard to resist chasing after deer I see out on the trails. :) I wasn't sure what to think about the discussions about diet. He wasn't terribly dogmatic about any particular diet, but stressed natural foods (like pinole for the Tarahumara) rather than athletic supplements.

I don't understand the whole abhorence of "chronic cardio" on sites such as yours. It seems clear that using a high carb/omega-6 fatty acid laden diet to fuel high intensity workouts at the elite level played a role in Mark's burnout and associated ill health and injuries, but I wonder how much he is conflating exercise habits with dietary habits. More people are utilizing the low carb/paleo approach to fueling athletic endeavors now and maybe high carb fueling isn't necessary at all, even at the elite level. (See interview with Jonas Colting on Jimmy Moore's site.) And most people doing "cardio" workouts do not attempt the punishing mileage and intensity that Mark did to compete at the elite level. It seems really silly and unfair to criticize people because they do a little jogging. Sure upping the intensity or adding resistance work is good too, but even weight lifters know that some easy distance running (or other endurance exercise) helps develop capillary density, mitochondria and fat burning abilities.

Anyway, glad you enjoyed the book. Running trails is the best, and the wilder the better!


Matt Metzgar said...


Glad you liked it!