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

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

 

 

Author Q & A

Q: BORN TO RUN explores the life and running habits of the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico’s Copper Canyon, arguably the greatest distance runners in the world. What are some of the secrets you learned from them?

A: The key secret hit me like a thunderbolt. It was so simple, yet such a jolt. It was this: everything I’d been taught about running was wrong. We treat running in the modern world the same way we treat childbirth – it’s going to hurt, and requires special exercises and equipment, and the best you can hope for is to get it over with quickly with minimal damage.

Then I meet the Tarahumara, and they’re having a blast. They remember what it’s like to love running, and it lets them blaze through the canyons like dolphins rocketing through waves. For them, running isn’t work. It isn’t a punishment for eating. It’s fine art, like it was for our ancestors. Way before we were scratching pictures on caves or beating rhythms on hollow trees, we were perfecting the art of combining our breath and mind and muscles into fluid self-propulsion over wild terrain. And when our ancestors finally did make their first cave paintings, what were the first designs? A downward slash, lightning bolts through the bottom and middle — behold, the Running Man.

The Tarahumara have a saying: “Children run before they can walk.” Watch any four-year-old – they do everything at full speed, and it’s all about fun. That’s the most important thing I picked up from my time in the Copper Canyons, the understanding that running can be fast and fun and spontaneous, and when it is, you feel like you can go forever. But all of that begins with your feet. Strange as it sounds, the Tarahumara taught me to change my relationship with the ground. Instead of hammering down on my heels, the way I’d been taught all my life, I learned to run lightly and gently on the balls of my feet. The day I mastered it was the last day I was ever injured.

Q: You trained for your first ultramarathon—a race organized by the mysterious gringo expat Caballo Blanco between the Tarahumara and some of America’s top ultrarunners—while researching and writing this book. What was your training like?

A: It really started as kind of a dare. Just by chance, I’d met an adventure-sports coach from Jackson Hole, Wyoming named Eric Orton. Eric’s specialty is tearing endurance sports down to their basic components and looking for transferable skills. He studies rock climbing to find shoulder techniques for kayakers, and applies Nordic skiing’s smooth propulsion to mountain biking. What he’s looking for are basic engineering principles, because he’s convinced that the next big leap forward in fitness won’t come from strength or technology, but plain, simple durability. With some 70% of all runners getting hurt every year, the athlete who can stay healthy and avoid injury will leave the competition behind.

So naturally, Eric idolized the Tarahumara. Any tribe that has 90-year-old men running across mountaintops obviously has a few training tips up its sleeve. But since Eric had never actually met the Tarahumara, he had to deduce their methods by pure reasoning. His starting point was uncertainty; he assumed that the Tarahumara step into the unknown every time they leave their caves, because they never know how fast they’ll have to sprint after a rabbit or how tricky the climbing will be if they’re caught in a storm. They never even know how long a race will be until they step up to the starting line – the distance is only determined in a last-minute bout of negotiating and could stretch anywhere from 50 miles to 200-plus.

Eric figured shock and awe was the best way for me to build durability and mimic Tarahumara-style running. He’d throw something new at me every day – hopping drills, lunges, mile intervals – and lots and lots of hills. There was no such thing, really, as long, slow distance – he’d have me mix lots of hill repeats and short bursts of speed into every mega-long run.

I didn’t think I could do it without breaking down, and I told Eric that from the start. I basically defied him to turn me into a runner. And by the end of nine months, I was cranking out four hour runs without a problem.

Q: You’re a six foot four inches tall, 200-plus pound guy – not anyone’s typical vision of a distance runner, yet you’ve completed ultra marathons and are training for more. Is there a body type for running, as many of us assume, or are all humans built to run?

A: Yeah, I’m a big’un. But isn’t it sad that’s even a reasonable question? I bought into that bull for a loooong time. Why wouldn’t I? I was constantly being told by people who should know better that “some bodies aren’t designed for running.” One of the best sports medicine physicians in the country told me exactly that – that the reason I was constantly getting hurt is because I was too big to handle the impact shock from my feet hitting the ground. Just recently, I interviewed a nationally-known sports podiatrist who said, “You know, we didn’t ALL evolve to run away from saber-toothed tigers.” Meaning, what? That anyone who isn’t sleek as a Kenyan marathoner should be extinct? It’s such illogical blather – all kinds of body types exist today, so obviously they DID evolve to move quickly on their feet. It’s really awful that so many doctors are reinforcing this learned helplessness, this idea that you have to be some kind of elite being to handle such a basic, universal movement.

Q: If humans are born to run, as you argue, what’s your advice for a runner who is looking to make the leap from shorter road races to marathons, or marathons to ultramarathons? Is running really for everyone?

A: I think ultrarunning is America’s hope for the future. Honestly. The ultrarunners have got a hold of some powerful wisdom. You can see it at the starting line of any ultra race. I showed up at the Leadville Trail 100 expecting to see a bunch of hollow-eyed Skeletors, and instead it was, “Whoah! Get a load of the hotties!” Ultra runners tend to be amazingly healthy, youthful and – believe it or not – good looking. I couldn’t figure out why, until one runner explained that throughout history, the four basic ingredients for optimal health have been clean air, good food, fresh water and low stress. And that, to a T, describes the daily life of an ultrarunner. They’re out in the woods for hours at a time, breathing pine-scented breezes, eating small bursts of digestible food, downing water by the gallons, and feeling their stress melt away with the miles. But here’s the real key to that kingdom: you have to relax and enjoy the run. No one cares how fast you run 50 miles, so ultrarunners don’t really stress about times. They’re out to enjoy the run and finish strong, not shave a few inconsequential seconds off a personal best. And that’s the best way to transition up to big mileage races: as coach Eric told me, “If it feels like work, you’re working too hard.”

Q: You write that distance running is the great equalizer of age and gender. Can you explain?

A: Okay, I’ll answer that question with a question: Starting at age nineteen, runners get faster every year until they hit their peak at twenty- seven. After twenty- seven, they start to decline. So if it takes you eight year to reach your peak, how many years does it take for you to regress back to the same speed you were running at nineteen?

Go ahead, guess all you want. No one I’ve asked has ever come close. It’s in the book, so I won’t give it away, but I guarantee when you hear the answer, you’ll say, “No way. THAT old?” Now, factor in this: ultra races are the only sport in the world in which women can go toe-to-toe with men and hand them their heads. Ann Trason and Krissy Moehl often beat every man in the field in some ultraraces, while Emily Baer recently finished in the Top 10 at the Hardrock 100 while stopping to breastfeed her baby at the water stations.

So how’s that possible? According to a new body of research, it’s because humans are the greatest distance runners on earth. We may not be fast, but we’re born with such remarkable natural endurance that humans are fully capable of outrunning horses, cheetahs and antelopes. That’s because we once hunted in packs and on foot; all of us, men and women alike, young and old together.

Q: In BORN TO RUN, you ask the question: If humans are born to run, why do so many of us hate it?

A: Because our brains are crafty. They’re schemers. The brain’s job is to figure out the most fuelefficient way to run the machines, so it’s always looking for ways to rest and store up energy. For about two million years, that was a great strategy – our brains convinced us to only run when we absolutely had to, which meant we’d always have fuel on hand in an emergency. But now that we’ve created a lifestyle that almost never forces us to rely on leg-power, that lingering fuelefficient function of our brains could be the downfall of our species. We’re literally lazing ourselves to death.

Q: One of the fascinating parts of BORN TO RUN is your report on how the ultrarunners eat –salad for breakfast, wraps with hummus mid-run, or pizza and beer the night before a run. As a runner with a lot of miles behind him, what are your thoughts on nutrition for running?

A: Live every day like you’re on the lam. If you’ve got to be ready to pick up and haul butt at a moment’s notice, you’re not going to be loading up on gut-busting meals. I thought I’d have to go on some kind of prison-camp diet to get ready for an ultra, but the best advice I got came from coach Eric, who told me to just worry about the running and the eating would take care of itself. And he was right, sort of. I instinctively began eating smaller, more digestible meals as my miles increased, but then I went behind his back and consulted with the great Dr. Ruth Heidrich, an Ironman triathlete who lives on a vegan diet. She’s the one who gave me the idea of having salad for breakfast, and it’s a fantastic tip. The truth is, many of the greatest endurance athletes of all time lived on fruits and vegetables. You can get away with garbage for a while, but you pay for it in the long haul. In the book, I describe how Jenn Shelton and Billy “Bonehead” Barnett like to chow pizza and Mountain Dew in the middle of 100-mile races, but Jenn is also a vegetarian who most days lives on veggie burgers and grapes.

Q: As you report in BORN TO RUN, Dr. Dan Lieberman is a scientist at Harvard who is currently studying the effects of barefoot running. What exactly is barefoot running and the theories behind it?

A: The logic almost smacks you in the face. We’ve accepted this notion that running requires specialized, protective footwear, but Dr. Lieberman points out the absurdity of that idea. For nearly 2 million years, we got along just fine with bare feet. So why, all of a sudden, do we need foam under our feet? And it’s not because of asphalt — hard surfaces have been around forever. The Tarahumara still run mega-miles on stony canyon trails. Dr. Lieberman is convinced that running shoes aren’t just useless, but dangerous — he believes they cause many of the injuries they’re supposed to be preventing.

Q: You take a pretty strong stand against the traditional running shoe companies in BORN TO RUN, and are currently running “barefoot” in Vibram FiveFingers. Can you tell me a little more about what the shoe companies are doing to our bodies?

A: Here’s a story I don’t tell in the book. While I was writing it, I was mortified to suddenly come down with a case of plantars fasciitis, a nagging heel pain that’s the vampire bite of running injuries. Once you get it, you never get rid of it. I knew the problem couldn’t be my running style, because I was sure I’d already perfected Tarahumara-style technique. I saw a series of top podiatrists, therapists and sports-medicine doctors and nothing helped. This went on for more than a year. Then I visited a barefoot-style running coach who cured me in three minutes. True story. Three minutes. He videotaped me running, showed me what I was doing wrong, and the pain vanished. It wasn’t an inflammation, as every doctor had told me. It was an imbalance, caused by running shoes. I’d tried to split the difference between barefoot and shod by wearing a neutral running shoe, but even that amount of cushioning had caused me to lose my feel for the ground. I’d regressed back to my sloppy old style. The second I lost the shoes, the plantars fasciitis vanished.

That’s my argument against shoes. I’d love to hear the argument in favor of them. Do you know there is not a single study that shows that running shoes do anything to prevent injuries? Not one. They’ve been around for 40 years, and as far as anyone can tell, they do nothing except look cool and lighten your wallet.

Q: Logistically, how did you organize your research and experiences while writing BORN TO RUN?

A: Trial and error, heavy on the error. I wrote nearly half the book before realizing I hadn’t even gotten to the Tarahumara yet. I shredded that draft and started over. This time, I was halfway in before my agent pointed out that I was writing about the wrong race, in the wrong country, in the wrong century. I’d gotten totally absorbed in the history of Leadville, Colorado, home to one of the wildest ultraraces on earth, not to mention a tradition that exists today of miners running marathons over mountain passes alongside packmules. Back to the shredder, back to the beginning. The problem with writing about running is also the delight – dig into the history a little, and you’ll find a fantastic amount of lost lore and incredible characters. Choosing and organizing was a bear. In the end, I managed to navigate by three key elements I wanted to get across: the joy of Tarahumara running; the evidence that we were all born to not only run, but love it; and the unreal drama that explodes when you turn a pack of ultrarunners loose on virgin trail.

Q: In this difficult financial time, we’re experiencing yet another surge in the popularity of running. Can you explain this?

A: When things look worst, we run the most. Three times, America has seen distance-running skyrocket and it’s always in the midst of a national crisis. The first boom came during the Great Depression; the next was in the ‘70s, when we were struggling to recover from a recession, race riots, assassinations, a criminal President and an awful war. And the third boom? One year after the Sept. 11 attacks, trailrunning suddenly became the fastest-growing outdoor sport in the country. I think there’s a trigger in the human psyche that activates our first and greatest survival skill whenever we see the shadow of approaching raptors.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 12 comments:

JoshO, January 3, 2013 (view all comments by JoshO)
Interestingly informative, but very engrossing. I couldn't put it down!
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(1 of 2 readers found this comment helpful)
David Ott, January 1, 2012 (view all comments by David Ott)
This book, although non fiction, houses within it exciting and sometimes suspenseful stories and adventures as is moves towards the final race. In addition, it dispenses valuable and well researched information to both encourage and inspire anyone to run as it shares more truthful knowledge about shoes, diet, mental and physical preparation. It approaches running from the perspective of mind, body, emotion and spirit and demonstrates how a tribe in a remote part of Mexico knows how to put these components together intuitively to live a more peaceful and joyful life. It explains how and why we as homo sapiens were able to advance as a species more fully because of our unique ability to run and outdistance other mamals and how, through this ability, we survived both climate and predators. If you are into running at any level I think you will enjoy and appreciate this book. Even if you are not, it may encourage you to begin in a relaxed way that will bring you more joy and peace in this rather insane world.
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(1 of 2 readers found this comment helpful)
MizzMouse, January 16, 2011 (view all comments by MizzMouse)
I love this book so much that I don’t even know where to start. If you can read it and not be amazed by the human spirit and inspired to run, you must be dead!
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780307266309
Author:
McDougall, Christopher
Publisher:
Knopf Publishing Group
Author:
Powell, Robert Andrew
Author:
Jurek, Scott
Author:
Friedman, Steve
Subject:
Running & Jogging
Subject:
Special Interest - Adventure
Subject:
Anthropology - Cultural
Subject:
Athletes -- United States.
Subject:
Long-distance runners - United States
Subject:
Sports and Fitness-Running
Subject:
Sports
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
20090531
Binding:
HARDCOVER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
Two 8-page color inserts
Pages:
272
Dimensions:
9 x 6 in 1.08 lb

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Related Subjects


Featured Titles » Culture
History and Social Science » Anthropology » Cultural Anthropology
Sports and Outdoors » Outdoors » Lore and Survival
Sports and Outdoors » Sports and Fitness » Running » General

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$15.95 In Stock
Product details 272 pages Knopf Publishing Group - English 9780307266309 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

Born to Run is the one of those books you just can't keep to yourself. In fact, it's probably the one title I've recommended more than any other in the last two years. It has a little bit of everything: adventure, travel, history, science, and sport, all wrapped up in a fun, quick-reading package. Trust me. After reading this book, you will not be able to stop talking about it.

"Review" by , "Compelling. . . . Entertaining. . . . [McDougall] uses an extended portrait of one of the world's least known cultures, the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico's Copper Canyons, to put modern American running under an exacting magnifying glass."
"Review" by , "Equal parts quest, physiology treatise, and running history. . . . [McDougall] seeks to learn the secrets of the Tarahumara the old-fashioned way: He tracks them down. . . . The climactic race reads like a sprint. . . . It simply makes you want to run."
"Review" by , "Galloping along through a multi-faceted landscape that is by turns exhilarating, funny and weirdly absorbing, Born to Run is a breathless read, but sheer endorphinous pleasure."
"Review" by , "I love Christopher McDougall's Born To Run! The book is wonderful. It's funny, insightful, captivating, and a great and beautiful discovery. There are lessons here that translate to realms beyond running. The book inspires anyone who those seeks to live more fully or to run faster."
"Review" by , "Born to Run is a fascinating and inspiring true adventure story, based on humans pushing themselves to the limits. A brilliantly written account of extraordinary endurance, far from home — that also explains how anyone can run better — it's destined to become a classic."
"Review" by , "Quite simply the best book you'll ever read about running. . . . Brilliant, and brilliantly life-affirming."
"Synopsis" by , A moving memoir about a man who at the lowest point in his life decides to turn everything around, signing up for his first marathon and—one foot after another—begins a life-altering adventure.

"Synopsis" by , Ultrarunner and star of Born to Run, Scott Jurek's Eat and Run, an inspiring memoir of Jurek's remarkable running career, fueled, surprisingly, by an entirely plant-based diet.
"Synopsis" by , Part adventure, part extreme sports, all inspiration, Born to Run is a riveting story about one journalist's quest to discover the secrets of the world's greatest distance runners — a reclusive Indian tribe living deep in the Copper Canyon of northern Mexico.

Isolated by near-impenetrable terrain, the Tarahumara Indians are one of the most healthy and serene people on the planet and perhaps the greatest runners — able to cover hundreds of miles without rest. With the help of a man called Caballo Blanco — an almost mythical Westerner who lives among the tribe — Christopher McDougall was able not only to uncover the secrets of the Tarahumara but to join them on a fifty-mile trail race through this rugged landscape with an international gathering of ultramarathoners.

In a razor-sharp narrative McDougall describes the growing worldwide popularity of this grueling new sport, takes us through the dizzying preparations for the climactic race with the Tarahumara, and chronicles the truly awesome event itself. It's a story filled with surprise, near-death experiences, crazy prerace drinking sessions, obsessed — some would say mad — runners, and, of course, the Tarahumara themselves, who make it all look easy.

Galvanizing from start to finish, Born to Run will leave you breathless.

"Synopsis" by , For nearly two decades, Scott Jurek has been a dominant forceand#8212;and darlingand#8212;in the grueling and growing sport of ultrarunning. In 1999, as a complete unknown, he took the lead of the Western States Endurance Run, a 100-mile traverse over the old Gold Rush trails of the California Sierra Nevada. He won that race seven years in a row, setting a course record along the way. Twice he won the Badwater Ultramarathon, a 135-mile and#8220;jauntand#8221; through Death Valley. Recently he set an American record of 165.7 miles in 24 hoursand#8212;6 1/2 marathons in one day. And he was one of the elite runners who traveled to Mexico to run with the Tarahumara Indians, as profiled in the bestseller Born to Run. His accomplishments are nothing short of extraordinary, but that he has achieved all of this on a plant-based diet makes his story all the more so.

In Eat and Run, Scott Jurek opens up about his life and careerand#8212;as an elite athlete and a veganand#8212;and inspires runners at every level. From his Midwestern childhood hunting, fishing, and cooking for his meat-and-potatoes family, to his early beginnings in running (he hated it), to his slow transition to ultrarunning and veganism, to his world-spanning, record-breaking races, Scottand#8217;s story shows the power of an iron will and blows apart all the stereotypes of what athletes should eat to fuel optimal performance. Chock-full of incredible, on-the-brink stories of endurance and competition, fascinating science, and accessible practical adviceand#8212;including his own favorite plant-based recipesand#8212;Eat and Run will motivate everyone to and#8220;go the distance,and#8221; whether that means getting out for that first run, expandingand#160;your food horizons, or simply exploring the limits ofand#160;your own potential.

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