Believe we were ‘Born to Run’
Before picking up Born to Run I had never read a book about running. I thought books about running would be full of torturous workouts, the innermost thoughts of lonely runners pounding pavements and something about achieving goals. What else could there be to write about? You get up, you put your trainers on and you run. By doing that, and only that, in some people’s eyes, you already achieve.
But then again, Born to Run is about more than that. It’s about evolution, biomechanics, nutrition, history, conflict, secrets and some crazy yet wonderful characters the writer didn’t even have to dream up. Reading on page six about a cult devoted to “distance running and sex parties” does shake up boring runner stereotypes. And you devotedly keep turning the page.
First and foremost, McDougall takes us on a journey to our own running past; to how we got here, standing in our Nike running gear; and leaves us alone to kick off our shoes and take our first barefoot steps for ourselves. Science, opinion and experience interweave and you are left, not with a chanting chorus and drum beating for barefoot running, but with the simple question to ask of yourself; Why not?
McDougall doesn’t preach. He’s almost as excited and incredulous about what he finds out as you are. This is because of the most important part of this book: the writer is not merely an observer in this world. He might start out as so, but very soon he becomes a fully fledged pilgrim. And he doesn’t take it half-heartedly, he dives right in. Where once he was a reader, writer and admirer of ultra marathonistas, then he becomes one. And that leaves you room to marvel and admire all that he is learning on his journey to the greatest race the world has never seen.
The best parts of the book are, without a doubt, the stories and personalities of the Tarahumara. Delights such as: “They like to be visible only when they decide to be” and the description of Arnulfo, the most feared of Tarahumara runners: “It’s hard to keep your eyes off a guy as good-looking as Arnulfo. He was brown as polished leather… whimsical dark eyes that glinted with bemused self-confidence… he reminded me of all the early Beatles… shrewd, amused, quietly handsome composite of raw strength.”
The last gem in this book is the thriller finish. You’ve travelled to Africa; you’ve talked with the scientists; you’ve learnt the names of more than a handful of wonderful and surprising ultra athletes. And then, he brings you back to the start of his quest; the only place he can finish it off. He joins the Tarahumara and some of the best ultra-runners in a 50-mile race through the Copper Canyon Mountains, a hostile terrain and often dangerous place. Who will win? Who will even finish? Will one personality outshine another and suffer the consequences?
The home straight has got it all: guts, love, strength, revenge, hope, despair, pain. And then, glory. McDougall proves the saying right. Runners just do it. They go for the finishing line even though someone else has reached it first. And he proves that it is just as important for the super human athletes as it is for the normal runner who is just doing something not that normal.
But then that’s the point. It can be. Normal, that is. Old or young, experienced or not, fat or thin: Born to Run teaches you that no matter what and where you are now, you came from a place where you were born to run.
And: it’s not that hard.