Saturday, January 18, 2014

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

"In Tarahumara Land, there was no crime, war, or theft. There was no corruption, obesity, drug addiction, greed, wife-beating, child abuse, heart disease, high blood pressure, or carbon emissions. They didn't get diabetes, or depressed, or even old: fifty-year-olds could outrun teenagers, and eighty-year-old great-grandads could hike marathon distances up mountainsides. Their cancer rates were barely detectable. The Tarahumara geniuses had even branched into economics, creating a one-of-a-kind financial system based on booze and random acts of kindness: instead of money, they traded favors and big tubs of corn beer."

"He'd figured out the body, so now it was on to the brain. Specifically: How do you make anyone actually want to do any of this [running]? How do you flip the internal switch that changes us all back into the Natural Born Runners we once were? Not just in history, but in our own lifetimes. Remember? Back when you were a kid and you had to be yelled at to slow down? Every game you played, you played at top speed, springing like crazy as you kicked cans freed all, and attacked jungle outposts in your neighbors' backyards. Half the fun of doing anything was doing it at record pace, making it probably the last time in your life you'd ever be hassled for going too fast. That was the real secret of the Tarahumara: they'd never forgotten what it felt like to love running."

If you are trying to flip your own internal switch to WANT to run, this is absolutely the book for you.  It covers a lot of ground (knee-slapper, I know). It is part cultural study of the Tarahumara, part history of the sport of running, part medical inquiry into why contemporary runners are so damaged and broken and injured, part history of ultra-racing (specifically Leadville), part history of the running shoe - but at its core, it is a narrative, and a very compelling one at that.

The Tarahumara, if you missed the best episode of Road Rules: Latin America where the producers pitted the six young Americans against them in one of their rarajipari races, are an indigenous tribe of Mexico known for wanting to be left alone, running long distances, and being super peaceful and awesome. [Sidenote: The episode aired in 2002 and amongst all the TV I've watched in my lifetime, I have never forgotten that episode - it was SO fascinating. The rarajipari race is done as a team with a wooden ball in the canyons of Mexico. Contestants kick the ball from the start to the finish. If the ball rolls down a ditch, you go down in the ditch and kick it up. If the ball gets stuck in a bush, you go in the bush and kick it out. If the ball goes in the river, your ass is going in the river. Of course, the Americans (who I now want to refer to as teenagers because OMG 20 year olds are so young) were not runners or athletes or in any way prepared for this, so it was a very short race (I think they did one section of the total race that the Tarahumara were actually doing), but I remember dirt, dust, sweat, red faces, dehydration, and misery.]

The book is incredibly biased towards POSE running (or running with a toe strike rather than a heel strike), minimal running shoes (rather than the gelled and arched and corrective shoes that have been popular), and against popular medical thought (orthotics for plantar fasciitis and the acceptance that running is a high-injury sport that some people are just not made for). I personally don't feel like I know enough about any of those sorts of things to have an opinion as to whether his bias is well supported (he has lots of experts weigh in and references research, but lacks the footnotes and endnotes for people to check up on his conclusions).

What I do know is that the book is an absolute page turner, and I think everyone who has ever been a runner or wants to be a runner would enjoy it. My history with running has always been an unrequited love - I want to love running, but running would never love me back. Sometimes it would tease me, sometimes I would mistake the signals it was sending me, but we could never get on the same page. Once or twice I have had a runner's high, but I just didn't really get it most of the time.

My dad has run 3 marathons before his knee surgery, my brother has done more 10ks than he can count, a short triathalon, and a Tough Mudder and is prepping to do the Spartan Challenge. My rockclimbing partner and one of my best friends was a crazy runner before his knee surgery. I totally want to BE a runner, but I just never liked running. My old coworker and I started running after school a few years ago, starting with walking a lap, running a lap, until we ran 5.25 miles which was my running highlight (she went on to do a muddy uphill 10k). Sometimes I would like it, but most of the time we'd have to gossip our way through it and cheer ourselves on. I mostly dropped it after that, but I would download podcasts on UltraRunning and run a handful of 3-milers because, again, I want to BE a runner so badly! Lately, I recently ran 5-miler because my boyfriend thinks we're doing a Tough Mudder. After reading this book, I was JONESING to run. Badly. Like, I was excited to go for a run. So I skipped Crossfit and tried to see if I could do 5.5 miles, and I could, and I did, and I felt not terrible afterwards (well, immediately afterward, I am still feeling sore).

I wanted to read something non-fiction, and it was between this and Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, and I am stoked that I picked up this one. I hope that I can keep the energy towards running that this book has given me and start doing at least a short run and a long run every week (and maybe even a Tough Mudder, who knows!)

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