Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Book Review: Born to Run

I just finished reading Christopher McDougall's Born to Run: A hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen. It's about an indigenous tribe in the remote Copper Canyon in Mexico, the members of which like to run a lot. A crazy American dude has lived there for years and got some of the cooler American runners to go down there for a race. There's also discussion of the proper motivation for running (joy not money), proper form (landing on your forefoot like you would barefoot, not your heel) and evolution (we evolved running down game that can't sweat as well as we can). That sounds like lots of tangents, but they fit together well.

I liked it a lot more than I expected. I didn't really like an appearance by the author on a morning news show in which he seemed like a big tool pushing his pseudo-spiritual BS about barefoot running, but the dude totally knows how to spin a yarn. And he actually knows his stuff when it comes to ultras--both who are the best runners young and old, and who among those are the best all-around human beings.

Yes, there is some bad science in the book, but it only really bothered me in one chapter. He cites several studies showing that fancy motion-control/cushion/stability/whatever running shoes don't help prevent injury, the stupidest of which was a study that asked all the competitors in a big race about injury history and how much they spend on shoes, and what do you know, people with more expensive shoes got more injuries! (Right now I am rolling my eyes, swearing a lot, and feeling very misanthropic just thinking about this.) Of course they did. But did the spendy shoes cause the injuries? You don't know that. Perhaps people with previous injuries were more willing to spend money on shoes; this study doesn't tell you jack sh--. Anyway.

So aside from that, the book was way less BS than I expected. It was just a great adventure story about people running long distances and living an adventurous, non-corporate, non-consumerist lifestyle for the right reason--because they love it. I recommend it.


  1. Good to hear it, because I'm #4 on the library hold list at the moment but, after reading the first two chapters over break, I wasn't sure if the book was going to be wonderful or terrible. I'm glad it leans more towards the former.

  2. Well I'll make sure and return my copy soon then. I should probably mention that I think the fact that I know (of) a bunch of the characters probably plays a small role in my enjoyment.

  3. I loved the book yet feel biased since I had been exploring "minimalist" footwear long before reading it. Pretty wild the impact the book has been having in the running community...any opinion on whether that impact has been overall positive or negative?

  4. Can you be more specific? Footwear changes or other? I haven't run a race since October, so I haven't noticed. The surge in popularity pre-dates the book. I feel some NIMBY-esque elitism about that when I can't get into races I want to do, at the same time fully realizing how silly of me that is.

  5. Do you feel that the minimalist/barefoot trend has had a positive effect on runners and running as a whole, or has it done more harm than good? Obviously people come at this question from a variety of different backgrounds, experiences, etc. Also, I realize it's a very general question, but one that many are passionate about on one side or the other. I'm just wondering if you have an opinion and what it is...

  6. Well, my firsthand experience is very limited. I've only run in my VFF KSO's a couple times, and I've only talked with one friend with experience. As far as wider evidence, I find the observational studies I've heard of problematic (see the blog entry), but I actually find a lot of the evolutionary and physiological evidence pretty convincing.

    Oh, and in my previous comment I mean popularity of the sport in general, not barefoot/minimalist shoes, in case that wasn't clear.