As someone who loves running books, I was excited to read Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen. The book, written by Christopher McDougall explores the running culture of the Tarahumara, an Indian tribe in Mexico, known for their amazing endurance and running abilities. The book also touches on the culture and occasional quirkiness of ultrarunning.
When I started reading the book, I was about to be thrown into my first ultrarunning experience, not as a runner, but as an ultra- coach. I read with extra enthusiasm to really understand and hopefully absorb some of the culture. I wasn’t disappointed. McDougall introduces the reader to well-known ultrarunners, brings them into the culture of an ultramarathon race situation, as well as to an understanding of the passion needed to be successful in the undertaking of one of these life altering races.
McDougall infuses the book with many interesting notes and timely topics that appeal to runners across the board. For example, he argues that the sport of distance running becomes more popular during hard economic times because people are literally running away from their problems. He also talks about the business of running and the sometimes negative effects that the shoe companies can have on the sport.
Personally, one of the most interesting aspects of this book was the focus on barefoot running. Truthfully, reading it made me want to get out there and try the Nike Free or hop on the field for some barefoot striders, something I haven’t done since college. After chatting with my coach, who told me that the “running shoe is a wonderful invention.” I decided against it.
On the first day of my ultra-practice, I noticed that one of my athletes had the Vibram FiveFinger shoes on for practice, which offer no support, and are just one small step up from barefoot running. Our practices typically go through technically challenging trails, with a lot of rocks and rough terrain. Unfortunately, he ended up with a third metatarsal stress fracture, and has decided to go back to his normal training shoes upon his return to running.
As much as I enjoy reading running books, I often wonder how much of an effect they have on the culture of the sport, much like a shoe company such as Vibram or Nike. Reading a book like this, makes me want to sign-up and train for an ultra tomorrow, or even think about training in shoes that may not be appropriate for my training. Like the book states, these ultramarathons have exploded out of obscurity, but I wonder how much of that is being driven by books and even some smaller, niche publications.
Overall, I think this was an enjoyable read that was easy to follow, and will appeal to everyone from the casual runner to the competitive ultrarunner. If anything, this will be a book that will be discussed in the running community for awhile. Not only have most of my trail running athletes read it, but I have heard it being discussed on the past few long runs at my road running club.
Trail Goat’s Discussion Questions
- If you’ve read the book:
- What’s your overall impression?
- Who were your favorite characters?
- Did you agree with McDougall’s premise that less is more in the running shoe category?
- Do you think the book is dangerous to individuals? To the sport of ultrarunning?
- If you haven’t read the book, do you plan to do so?