Monday, September 23, 2013

Book Review - Born To Run by Christopher McDougall

Running.  That word, for the last 20 years or so, has consistently been paired with the word "hate" every time I've mentioned the subject.  But I discovered it's not really running that I hate.  It's that I can't do it well - not since I was 10 anyway.  So, what if I change the way I think about running?  What if I look at it as something fun to do?  What if I could take away the fear of pain or injury?  What if I can find a way to do it, even at my age, and find pure joy?  I found a few answers to those questions in this book, Born to Run.

Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall, is certainly a book about running - but not just any ol' running though, in this book, we're talking ultra-marathons.  That's any distance greater than the 26.2 miles of a traditional marathon.  In Born to Run, the reader is taken on a journey into the Copper Canyons of Mexico to discover the Tarahumura Indians.  This tribe of reclusive Indians runs hundreds of miles without rest and is pretty much immune to the diseases of modern living.  

Pretty amazing, right?  I agree.  Here I am, can't even run a mile, and I'm inspired by people running 50 miles!  Even a hundred!  It's impossible not to get inspired by this book.

But first, let me tell you what I didn't really care for in Born to Run.  This book is all over the place.  One page you're in the present day, next page you're somewhere else 50 years ago and a few pages later you're 2 years ago.  It was a bit difficult to keep up with the wheres and whens.  This made the book a bit distracting for me and fairly easy to put down.  The information, the juicy stuff that I, as a flailing, yet aspiring runner, want to know, is scattered and often-times contradictive.  That said, I don't know how else this book could have been organized--how it could manage to cover the vast amount of information and back stories yet still produce an interesting read.  And Born to Run is certainly interesting.

The author is witty and entertaining.  There's also a good amount of running history that has been interspersed throughout the book.  But the best parts, for me, are the races.  One of my favorites is the Leadville 100 - one hundred miles of extreme Colorado Rocky Mountains' terrain - from elevations of 9,200 to 12,600 feet.  (I'd like to go see that one next year!)  The other race is what the entire book leads up to - a 50-mile race with the Tarahumura natives in their own back yard - the Copper Canyons of Mexico.  Both races are crazy dangerous and Chris McDougall knows how to tell a fantastic story.  He also trains for and runs in the Copper Canyon race.

Many people, from all walks of life, are introduced.  Scientists, exercise physiologists, doctors, runners from the past and present and even several Tarahumura Indians.  Each contributed to the story and helped tie it all together for a fun and informative adventure.

I liked that the author knows how I feel with running injuries and had gone to several doctors trying to solve the issues.  I feel kind of like he did - tell me I can't run and that's all I want to do!  

Other parts I found interesting... Plant-based diets - it was suggested that protein-rich diets may lead to cancer but plant-based diets reduce chances of cancer.  I haven't found much supporting evidence for that though - the best I can find so far is about a 14% lowered risk of cancer through a plant-based diet. The research quoted in the text is from the American Cancer Society and Dr. Robert Weinberg from MIT Cancer Research.  However, that research isn't only diet based, but lifestyle as well.  Overweight is bad ('cause I didn't know that already).  But you know for every supporter for reduced cancer through a plant-based diet, you can find someone else supporting a protein-based diet.  Which do you believe?  Oh, but as a side note, something I didn't know was that "chia" is a superfood.  Ch-ch-ch-chia!

Barefoot running is another interesting (and controversial) topic mentioned in the book.  There are many testimonies given that suggest we need to get rid of all the cushion and support of our current athletic shoes and run barefoot or at least in shoes that simulate bare feet (though not necessarily the ones that look like feet!).  I like the presentation of the information, I'm just not sure I completely believe it.  It's like this - we run differently when we run barefoot.  We run the way nature intended.  When we put on super cushioned shoes, we increase the impact of each step because our feet search for a solid stable surface.  Plus, there's this cushion/protection for our heel so we can run heel to toe, lengthen our stride and get better speed and distance.  This is apparently where so many running injuries occur - the impact.  

Running is something we can all do so it's a popular form of exercise.  The problem is that most of us weren't taught how to run correctly - we just take off and do it.  But "for every other sport, lessons are fundamental; you don't go out and start slashing away with a golf club or sliding down a mountain on skis until someone takes you through the steps and teaches you proper form."

Here's another interesting tidbit - no builder would put support under an arch, right?  What's the purpose of an arch if not to support.  So, maybe the arch of our foot is supposed to pronate or flatten out a bit - it's doing its job by supporting, but not rigidly so.  If we continue to support the arch artificially, then it will cease to function just like anything else that doesn't get used.  That's from the book - not my opinion, but it almost makes sense.  One guy (a doctor I think) mentioned that we should, instead, exercise the muscles in our feet and this will in-turn strengthen our arches.  One exercise I found on the web was picking up socks with your toes.  Another was calf raises.  Anyway, I think that this might work for those who are at their goal weight, but for now I'm sticking to support shoes.  I am doing the feet exercises though and as soon as I can find a place I feel safe running barefoot, I just might try it.  (Note:  A slow transition is necessary when going from decades of support to none at all - go straight from one to the other and you may as well make your doctor appointment before you go!)

I would definitely recommend "Born to Run" if you're even the slightest bit interested in running.  It will inspire you though, even if you aren't.  I'll certainly be looking for books about other runners found in this book - Scott Jurek and Ann Trason to name just two.  Check out this book from your local library - or through Amazon on your Kindle/Kindle app.  You might be surprised that you too were "born to run."

Well, that's it for me tonight.  I'll talk about my weekend and weigh-in and whatnot tomorrow! 


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