Born to Run changed my life. Not in some “expanded my grasp on the nuances and variety of human emotional experience for a week or two” kind of way. No. Born to Run earned itself a spot in my day to day existence; this book made me a runner.
Born to Run is the story of humanity’s lost art: Running. Although he doesn’t necessarily make this the explicit focus of the book, Christopher McDougall’s argument is that humans are uniquely suited to long distance running in a way that other mammals are not. Where a dog or cheetah must take a breath for every step they take (as their hind legs come forward to compress their lungs), humans are able to work off of a more efficient 2:1 or 3:1 or 4:1 ratio. Standing on two feet instead of four means there is less surface area for the sun to hit, making us less susceptible to heat than our four legged counterparts. We are further aided in managing heat by having a great deal less fur than your typical mammal loping along in the sub-Saharan.
McDougall argues that these traits are what provided us enough of a foothold to withstand the pressures of evolution. Despite not having the foot speed to surprise and overtake our prey, we were instead able to essentially tire them to death, by engaging in a two to three day foot chase. The book’s title is also its message, running is an essential part of what got us here as a species, an essential part of who we all are.
This book is not all about breath ratios and the foot-powered big game hunting exploits of our ancestors, it is also about people who live their lives according to the title. McDougall explores the world of the Tarahumara Indians, whom, living in remote Mexico still run in a manner reminiscent of our ancestors: barefoot and far. We are taken into the wild subculture of the American Ultramarathoners (races longer than 23.6 miles, often substantially longer, often in what should be described as near suicidal conditions). Born to Run is a read of the can’t-stop-my-hand-from-turning-pages variety. It is filled with exploits and characters that will keep you up late into the night.
Born to Run entered my system slowly. After an all night read, I found myself lacing up my trainers and going out for a red-faced and breathless one kilometer stumble. That stumble became easier and I found myself going further and further. Running has become the highlight of my day, 45 minutes to myself to just put one foot in front of the other. Recently, I find myself toying with the idea of running the Toronto marathon in October. I’m not saying that this will be the case for everybody, lest it discourage you, but it is an incredible experience to have a book change the texture of your day to day life and I am hoping you’ll feel the same way.
If you liked Born to Run you might also enjoy:
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami: Equal parts training log, travelogue, and reminiscence, this revealing memoir covers Haruki Murakami’s four-month preparation for the 2005 New York City Marathon and includes settings ranging from Tokyo’s Jingu Gaien gardens, where he once shared the course with an Olympian, to the Charles River in Boston among young women who outpace him.
Which Comes First, Cardio or Weights?: Workout myths, Training truths, and Other Surprising Discoveries from the Science of Exercise by Alex Hutchinson: This myth-busting book covers the full spectrum of exercise science and offers the latest in research from around the globe, as well as helpful diagrams and plenty of practical tips on using proven science to improve fitness, reach weight loss goals, and achieve better competition results.
Barefoot Running by Michael Sandler with Jessica Lee: How could something we have for free—our bare feet—be better for running than $150 shoes? The truth is that running in shoes is high-impact, unstable, and inflexible. Shoes promote a heel-centric ground strike, which weakens your feet, knees, and hips, and leads to common running injuries. In contrast, barefoot running is low-impact, forefoot-centric, stable, and beneficial to your body. It encourages proper form and strengthens your feet in miraculous ways.
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