I finally finished it! I have been wanting to read Born to Run by Christopher McDougall for a few years now, based on the recommendation of a good friend, the lovely, globe-trotting proprietress of Musings from an American-Nepali Household.
The day I brought it home, I had been looking for another running book at the library – What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami, which I had seen briefly but appealingly reviewed by another blogger. Since the library didn’t have it, I just wandered over to the shelf where I would have found it and took a gander at the books with the same call numbers. (This is a favorite method of mine when looking for nonfiction works on a particular subject. I’d rather look at the spines than a list on a computer screen.)
At that point, Born To Run jumped out at me, not just because of the enticing combination of yellow text on a blue background, but because I remembered the title from way back when. I’m not usually one to turn down a serendipitous encounter with a book on my to-read list, so I took it off the shelf and made it mine for a couple of weeks.
What an adventure in reading this was! Nonfiction books filled with history and scientific studies tend to be a touch on the boring side, their authors having seemingly all agreed to use dry, uninspired prose, and to describe every detail at exhausting length. Christopher McDougall obviously did not get this memo. This book was clearly a labor of love, the author’s curiosity and passion shining through on every page. It was neither overly academic nor dumbed down, but written at a comfortable level.
There is a wealth of information in this book, but it reads like a fun story about a whole ensemble cast of unique and genuinely likable characters. Since they aren’t characters, but real people, it’s interesting how there did not seem to be a single individual I wouldn’t have enjoyed chatting with. Perhaps McDougall was sympathetic to everyone even while portraying some of them at their worst, but I wonder if perhaps there isn’t some truth to his tentative theory that running makes people nicer. (From Chapter 27 – “My personality had even changed: The grouchiness and temper I’d considered part of my Irish-Italian DNA had ebbed so much that my wife remarked, ‘Hey, if this comes from ultrarunning, I’ll tie your shoes for you.’ I knew aerobic exercise was a powerful antidepressant, but I hadn’t realized it could be so profoundly mood stabilizing and — I hate to use the word — meditative.”)
Born To Run really is a story, though, in essence. It’s not exactly a memoir, but a narrative of the author’s quest to find out the answer to a complex question about why tribal people with minimal foot protection, surrounded by extreme terrain, can run continuously for actual days without injury, while runners in first-world countries with top-of-the-line equipment get hurt regularly, without fail. As McDougall begins to find answers (and some non-answers), more questions are raised, the issue becomes deeper, and his drive to figure it all out only grows stronger.
He becomes a better runner in the process, makes some surprising revelations, and forms more than a few friendships with some remarkable people. I felt like I was on the journey with him, making those discoveries alongside him, having a wonderful shared experience. He overturned some of my beliefs about early humans and our evolution as a species, and amazed me by showing me what our incredible bodies are capable of.
I haven’t even begun to touch upon everything covered in this book – I couldn’t possibly, not without writing another book of my own, because McDougall didn’t waste a single page. It’s not a long book, but it is a full one. Born To Run is exciting, humorous, and bursting at the seams with eye-opening information.
I originally said that I would recommend this to all runners, but now I’ve changed my mind. I recommend this book to everyone, because once you read it, you’ll see that everyone is, in fact, a runner.