Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Week 38: Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall

Born to Run has received a lot of buzz since it came out and has a bit of a cult following. Its primary claim to fame is its role in publicizing the barefoot running movement. You may have heard of this phenomenon – the idea is that wearing minimalist footwear while running (hello, Vibram Five Fingers) or even running barefoot (hello, calluses) improves running performance. This is because modern running shoes are overly cushioned and allow our feet to simply exist within the shoe, as opposed to actively participating in each step. The idea is that if you wear more minimal shoes, the muscles and bones in your feet will become stronger, your ankles will become more stable, and you will naturally adopt a more efficient gait. If you are a runner, or read any sort of fitness magazine, you have probably heard these theories before. At first they seem like anathema, but this book will soon have you wondering, “Should I be spending more time barefoot?” Its arguments, while mostly anecdotal, are compelling. This is only one component of Born to Run, however. The book largely centers on a tribe of people known as the Tarahumara in Mexico. These people are known for their superior athletic skills (think running 150 mile races), their lack of injuries and their overall excellent health. The Tarahumara subsist on a typical diet of just corn, seeds, and grain alcohol, and they wear primitive sandals to run in. With this in mind, one might wonder how they are able to maintain such incredible health. Born to Run examines the Tarahumara, and more broadly, the running industry. It takes a close look at modern, Western medicine and makes some provocative suggestions surrounding running. The overriding theme of the book is instilling faith in one’s own body, to trust oneself’s natural form and movement. The book also follows an epic race between the Tarahumara people, and some American ultramarathoners who come to Mexico for a 100 mile race. Their battle is humorous and engaging, and it also sheds some light onto those crazy people who run 50 or 100 mile races. They don’t seem quite so daft after reading this book; they just seem like people who genuinely enjoy running. I came away from this book with an appreciation for a simple, no-nonsense approach to exercise, free of sponsored athletes and expensive equipment. This book will get you excited about running.

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