Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall

It used to be that the marathon was the ultimate running event.  Just reading or hearing about the running zealots who throng Boston or New York on marathon day to run 26.2 miles would be enough to make anyone’s head spin in perplexity or envy.  In recent years, though, extreme running events have gained popularity, and it’s not unusual to see 50 and 100 mile foot races advertised, most of them over rough terrain and through utterly heinous weather conditions (Death Valley, anyone?).

In Born to Run, McDougall recounts his experiences with extreme runners and races in the United States, along with his excursions into northern Mexico in search of the Tarahumara Indians, a tribe renowned for their meditative ability for running great distances, and for traditionally trekking these journeys wearing homemade sandals.  Even more astounding is the area in which they run – the sheer cliffs and valleys of the Copper Canyon, one of the most rugged sections of the Sierra Madre Mountains.  While there, the author searches out an elusive American known to natives of the region as Caballo Blanco, an expat ex-boxer of questionable past who has largely adapted the Tarahumara way as his own.  With the help of Caballo, the author assembles an unlikely crew of American extreme runners for a foot race of 50 miles through the Copper Canyon.

Born to Run is a rollicking disjointed utterly fun read through a milieu of the running world of which most people (runners and non) are completely unaware.  The characters that inhabit the narrative are unforgettable – Barefoot Ted, an energetic talker whose foot problems disappear when he shucks his shoes, Billy and Jenn, two partying ex-lifeguards who almost prefer alcohol to running but are brilliant in their own right, and the Tarahumara themselves – a taciturn and elusive sort who make running a way of living.  

The author also philosophizes about the running world of today, the development of the running shoe and its pros and cons, and the mind frame of the long distance runner.  The book is definitely a must-read for running aficionados or even the armchair fan who likes a good yarn.

Other books of interest:

Barefoot Runner:  The Life of Marathon Champion Abebe Bikila by Paul Rambali

The Coolest Race on Earth:  Mud, Madmen, Glaciers, and Grannies at the Antarctica Marathon by John Hanc

C. C. Pyle’s Amazing Foot Race:  The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run across America by Geoff Williams 

(William Hicks, Information Services)

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