Warning: there are spoilers in this review. I couldn’t help it because the topic was so fascinating to me.
The topic for March’s book club link-up was “biography of someone you’ve been wanting to learn more about.” I was stumped. I really had no idea what to choose. I landed on Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. I know it’s not technically a biography about someone I’ve been wanting to learn more about, but it is on the topic of something I’ve been interested in for some time now. I went in with an open mind, not having many expectations of what I’d learn or what stories would unfold. Admittedly, when I first started reading, despite my keen interest in the subject at hand, I was a little underwhelmed and the content seemed dry. It came highly recommended, however, so I stuck with it.
To say I was blown away by this book is a complete understatement. As I kept moving through the chapters, my interest was piqued more and more. I would say it really took off for me a little more than halfway through the book.
In this quick synopsis, I’m not even doing this book — or the science — justice so trust me when I say you should read this book.
If you know nothing about the story, Born to Run is written by Christopher McDougall, a man who had a burning question: why does my foot hurt? In his quest to figure out the issue afflicting him, he takes us on a journey to learn from the best of the best trail/ultra runners, tribal runners of people whose lifestyles are much like prehistoric ancestors, as well as doctors and scientists. The book opens, and focuses most attention, on the Tarahumara tribe in the Copper Canyons of Mexico. They are among the greatest runners of all time, and are also among the most reclusive people on the planet.
It also parallels some of the greatest modern day runners — Scott Jurek, Ann Trason, Jenn Shelton, Caballo Blanco — to name a few. McDougall touches on barefoot running in both tribal villages and the rise of the trend in America, and he briefly explores nutrition.
The story comes together toward the end to the Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert. And it’s at this point — in the midst of the evolutionary perspective and scientific hypotheses — that really drew me in. I waited almost the entire book to have the “YES!” moment, and I’m glad I stuck through it because for me, the yes moment was amazing.
“Louis found out only in his second, third, and fourth persistence hunts how lucky he’d gotten in the first; that debut kudu dropped after only two hours, but every one after that kept the Bushmen on the run for three to five hours (neatly corresponding, one might note, to how long it takes most people to run our latter-day version of prehistoric hunting, the marathon. Recreation has its reasons).”
Mind = BLOWN! You see, the science and evolution being studied by a very few men came to a head. Throughout their studies they found the modern day human is not a direct descendant of the Neanderthal. The Neanderthal couldn’t keep up with the environmental changes of going from a cold environment to a warm one. Humans as we know it are essentially a separate species. Our teeth and body composition also changed over a relatively quick period of time and it was hypothesized that we became runners to chase down food. Animals (dogs, zebra, kudu, cats) cool their bodies down by panting. They can’t run and pant at the same time. Humans cool down through sweat. And we can keep running while we sweat. Humans, therefore, could persistently hunt down their next meal. The theory goes that we were — did you guess? — born to run.
Born to Run concludes with a riveting trail ultra beginning and ending in Urique in the Copper Canyons. I held my breath more than a few times while reading about the race. The Caballo Blanco Ultramarathon, as it has come to be known, has continued since the release of this book in 2009, but was sadly canceled in 2015 based on concerns of violence related to drug gangs in the area. Hopefully the race will continue in years to come but that is yet to be known.
If you’re a runner, are at all interested in evolution or biology, or just want to learn more about the reclusive Tarahumara or Bushmen of the Kalahari — pick up this book! It’s fascinating stuff. Truly.
“The best runner leaves no tracks.”
~Tao Te Ching
Tell me… have you read Born to Run? Or another truly fascinating story on the subject?