Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

By Audrey Andrews | July 13th, 2020

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall jumped to the top of my to-be-read list after finishing Scott Jurek’s Eat & Run. Born to Run inspired quite a following after its release and remains a topic of discussion over ten years post-publish. While McDougall is undoubtedly a talented writer, Born to Run sometimes feels as if he is grasping for an awe-factor already there.

The book’s premise is a race between the Tarahumara (Rarámuri) and the best ultrarunners the United States has to offer. McDougall became wound up in the race’s organization as a result of research for a story he was writing. McDougall enjoyed running and wanted to be a “good” runner, but always found himself injured. In addition to relaying the race itself, McDougall digs into what makes the Tarahumara (Rarámuri) arguably the world’s best ultrarunners.

As the title suggests, homo sapiens are born to run. Millions of years of evolution gave us all the ideal endurance running body. Persistence hunting is theorized to have allowed us to flourish without weapons to kill. Instead of shooting a deer, we chased and chased until it dropped. Although many animals are faster than humans in short sprints, we can run much farther. Our ability to sweat allows us to release heat; as long as we have water, we can run. Our head has a tendon just for keeping it stable while running. Our chests and posture allow us breathing flexibility.

McDougall explains, however, that modern western running technique is not the best. Foremost, overly-cushioned shoes allow runners to impact the ground with much more force than running with our bare feet. Although foot protection is good, a little goes a long way. As many cross country coaches advocate, a bit of barefoot running in the grass does wonders for form. Essentially, a runner is forced to run with less impact. As a result, their legs take less of a beating and they stand up straighter. I won’t be running a marathon barefoot anytime soon, but I will make a point to incorporate barefoot strides a more.

Perhaps the most common critique of Born to Run is McDougall’s trivialization and romanticization of the Tarahumara (Rarámuri). I find this critique accurate. There is no doubt the Tarahumara (Rarámuri) are outstanding runners, but McDougall does little to recognize the massive challenges they face to keep their culture alive. I do, however, believe McDougall holds immense respect and admiration for the Tarahumara (Rarámuri).

Overall, Born to Run is a solid read for both runners and non-runners. The book boasts much acclaim and McDougall has found further success with more recent releases like Running with Sherman. I suppose the trouble with so much hype is that the book is rarely quite as good as imagined.

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