Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen outlines Christopher McDougall's quest to answer the question, "Why do my feet hurt?" After being told by one of the nation's most trusted sports medicine doctors that he should not run, McDougall is unsatisfied with the explanations for why running makes his feet hurt. In order to find the secret to running pain-free, he travels to Mexico's dangerous Copper Canyons to find the elusive Tarahumara Indians, who are considered the fastest long distance runners in the world.

After finding Caballo Blanco, a mysterious man from the US who lives among the Tarahumara, McDougall gets pulled into a quest to pit some of the best ultrarunners in the United States against the Tarahumara. An ultrarunner is an athlete who runs distances longer than the traditional marathon distance, 26.2 miles. The cast of characters includes several runners well known in the ultrarunning community. First, Scott Jurek, arguably the best ultramarathoner of all time, having won the grueling Badwater Ultramarathon (135 miles through Death Valley) twice and still holding the course record for the 100 mile Western States Endurance Run after seven consecutive wins. Jenn Shelton, a Virginia Beach native, and Barefoot Ted of Los Angelos, CA add a bit of color to the motley group of runners. Jenn and her surfer boyfriend, Billy "The Bonehead," party all the way through the adventure and still wake up raring to run. Barefoot Ted, a free spirit who believes the best way to run is barefoot provides comic relief to the dangerous journey into the Copper Canyons.

Interspersed in McDougall's narrative of the penultimate ultrarunning race are sections about his discussions with scientists at Harvard about the biomechanics of running. These sections were interesting because these scientists are finding that, while some people may insist otherwise, humans were indeed born for long distance running. Their theory is that early humans had to chase animals into exhaustion in order to eat.

McDougall's strength in Born to Run is the ability to place the reader on the sidelines of the races he describes. You can hear the footsteps of the runners advancing on one another and feel the burning heat of the Mexican sun. I found myself waiting with bated breath to find out who the winner would be. I listened to the Overdrive downloadable audio version of the book read by Fred Sanders, who is adept at pulling the listener into the story. Click here to search the VBPL catalog for Born to Run in print, CD audio book, and Overdrive downloadable audio formats.

If you enjoy Born to Run, you might also enjoy What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami's memoir on running and John Brant's Duel in the Sun: The Story of Alberto Salazar, Dick Beardsley, and America's Greatest Marathon. Any of these books should have you itching to lace up your running shoes and head out for a run.

Today we also have a book review featured on the Virginian-Pilot's Bookmark book blog.

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