“Born To Run” book review and takeaways

While Born to Run will inspire most athletes, anybody can benefit from the story of the Tarahumara running tribe, and lessons imparted in this informative and entertaining read.

The storylines kept the book moving and easy to follow with a narrative that provided a smooth canvass for convincing research and historical analysis of seemingly every aspect of running.

Born to Run tells of author Christopher McDougall’s journey to develop as a runner paired with the story of the ultimate ultramarathon that pitted the world’s best ultra runners against the secretive Tarahumara tribesmen of Mexico’s treacherous Copper Canyons.

The book is fast, fun and easy to digest, but the studies and research intertwined with the story provided the most value for me (see takeaways below).

The only gripe I’ll mention is with the book’s unceremonious ending (spoiler alert).

I understand that a book like this may not have been aimed primarily at gripping the reader or tugging at emotion or drama. However, it seems like McDougall made attempts at sensationalizing scenes, especially with the book’s most colorful character, Caballo Blanco.

That’s fine, but I don’t understand why he left that out at the conclusion. After attempts at drama throughout the book, I was expecting more of a knockout punch to bring it all together and leave me revelling in the story for a few hours after turning the last page.

Instead, the story just ended when the race ended and left me wishing for a more ceremonious closing.

That being said, it’s a minor setback and shouldn’t deter anybody from reading this book. I’m a better runner after reading Born to Run and would recommend it to anyone who runs, who is thinking about running or who has decided to stop running.

Here are my top takeaways:

Good shoes are bad shoes. One of the most interesting sections of this book was the story behind athletic shoes as we know them today and the argument against running in expensive, cushioned shoes. Basically (and I’m unfairly summarizing here) our feet and bodies were made for endurance running. The cushioning in most of today’s athletic shoes do more harm than good by weakening our body’s natural running equipment, encouraging improper form and increasing the amount of impact and force exerted on our joints. It was interesting to read that the founders of Nike basically said that humans are running incorrectly, and the only way for them to run correctly is by buying a pair of their shoes.

Even though I spent a good part of my childhood and adolescence begging for the latest in Nike Air Max shoe technology, since reading this book, I’ve subscribed to this minimalist approach and now run in my old beat-up Converse All Stars (coincidentally, also owned by Nike; Phil Knight…you genius, you.) I’d like to eventually work up to barefoot running, but for now, I feel good in my cons.

Eat like you’re poor. The book emphasizes this point repeatedly and it follows suit with the minimalist, cave-man style of training that it preaches. Don’t stuff yourself; eat vegetables, fruits and nuts (nothing new here). Along those lines, this book introduced me to Chia seeds: a kind of miracle food that provides protein, carbs, omega-3 fatty acids and energy. When I took my first dosage I felt surprisingly invigorated during a stretch of a workout where I usually get sluggy. I now incorporate Chia seeds into meals about every other day as either an added ingredient in a smoothie or a quick after-work snack before exercising.

We have evolved to run long distances. The book details studies that researched how man was able to eat so much meat during a period well before the first weapons (e.g. arrowheads, spears…etc.) were invented. How did they kill these animals without weapons? Persistence hunting. Man evolved to outlast animals in long races. Our bodies’ natural cooling mechanisms, breathing techniques and ability to conserve energy allowed us to keep pace with the animal until it overheated, wore down and collapsed.

Embrace the pain and be happy. Some of the Tarahumara runners described in the book ran with smiles on their faces, deriving sheer joy from hours of running in sometimes brutal elements. Call it a runner’s high, call it spiritual enlightenment, running set them free in a sense and if you approach running from this perspective, the fatigue and pain you feel will only add to the rush you get from picking up the pace and pushing through it.

Run with good form. When your feet hit the ground, they should land directly underneath your hips and on the ball of the foot (not the heel). Think of running as a series of controlled falls forward, with your feet and legs acting as sweeping propellers. Bend your knees, keep your head steady, your arms light and your breathing controlled and constant.

If a cave man can do it, so can you. Caballo Blanco, Jenn and Billy, Arnulfo and the other characters in the book ran with minimal niceties, if any. I’m not saying that you should go out and try to run 100 miles tomorrow, but with the proper training and education you’ll shed the excuses, learn what’s important, and trim the fat.(This book is a good place to start.)