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1 Beaverton Sports and Fitness- Running

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

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

 

 

Excerpt

To live with ghosts requires solitude.

—Anne Michaels, Fugitive Pieces

FOR DAYS, I’d been searching Mexico’s Sierra Madre for the phantom known as Caballo Blanco—the White Horse. I’d finally arrived at the end of the trail, in the last place I expected to find him—not deep in the wilderness he was said to haunt, but in the dim lobby of an old hotel on the edge of a dusty desert town. “Sí, El Caballo está,” the desk clerk said, nodding. Yes, the Horse is here.

“For real?” After hearing that I’d just missed him so many times, in so many bizarre locations, I’d begun to suspect that Caballo Blanco was nothing more than a fairy tale, a local Loch Ness mons - truo dreamed up to spook the kids and fool gullible gringos.

“He’s always back by five,” the clerk added. “It’s like a ritual.” I didn’t know whether to hug her in relief or high- five her in triumph. I checked my watch. That meant I’d actually lay eyes on the ghost in less than . . . hang on.

“But it’s already after six.”

The clerk shrugged. “Maybe he’s gone away.”

I sagged into an ancient sofa. I was filthy, famished, and defeated. I was exhausted, and so were my leads.

Some said Caballo Blanco was a fugitive; others heard he was a boxer who’d run off to punish himself after beating a man to death in the ring. No one knew his name, or age, or where he was from. He was like some Old West gunslinger whose only traces were tall tales and a whiff of cigarillo smoke. Descriptions and sightings were all over the map; villagers who lived impossible distances apart swore they’d seen him traveling on foot on the same day, and described him on a scale that swung wildly from “funny and simpático” to “freaky and gigantic.”

But in all versions of the Caballo Blanco legend, certain basic details were always the same: He’d come to Mexico years ago and trekked deep into the wild, impenetrable Barrancas del Cobre—the Copper Canyons—to live among the Tarahumara, a near- mythical tribe of Stone Age superathletes. The Tarahumara (pronounced Spanish- style by swallowing the “h”: Tara- oo- mara) may be the healthiest and most serene people on earth, and the greatest runners of all time.

When it comes to ultradistances, nothing can beat a Tarahumara runner—not a racehorse, not a cheetah, not an Olympic marathoner.

Very few outsiders have ever seen the Tarahumara in action, but amazing stories of their superhuman toughness and tranquillity have drifted out of the canyons for centuries. One explorer swore he saw a Tarahumara catch a deer with his bare hands, chasing the bounding animal until it finally dropped dead from exhaustion, “its hoofs falling off.” Another adventurer spent ten hours climbing up and over a Copper Canyon mountain by mule; a Tarahumara runner made the same trip in ninety minutes.

“Try this,” a Tarahumara woman once told an exhausted explorer who’d collapsed at the base of a mountain. She handed him a gourd full of a murky liquid. He swallowed a few gulps, and was amazed to feel new energy pulsing in his veins. He got to his feet and scaled the peak like an overcaffeinated Sherpa. The Tarahumara, the explorer would later report, also guarded the recipe to a special energy food that leaves them trim, powerful, and unstoppable: a few mouthfuls packed enough nutritional punch to let them run all day without rest.

But whatever secrets the Tarahumara are hiding, they’ve hidden them well. To this day, the Tarahumara live in the side of cliffs higher than a hawk’s nest in a land few have ever seen. The Barrancas are a lost world in the most remote wilderness in North America, a sort of a shorebound Bermuda Triangle known for swallowing the misfits and desperadoes who stray inside. Lots of bad things can happen down there, and probably will; survive the man- eating jaguars, deadly snakes, and blistering heat, and you’ve still got to deal with “canyon fever,” a potentially fatal freak- out brought on by the Barrancas’ desolate eeriness. The deeper you penetrate into the Barrancas, the more it feels like a crypt sliding shut around you. The walls tighten, shadows spread, phantom echoes whisper; every route out seems to end in sheer rock. Lost prospectors would be gripped by such madness and despair, they’d slash their own throats or hurl themselves off cliffs. Little surprise that few strangers have ever seen the Tarahumara’s homeland—let alone the Tarahumara.

But somehow the White Horse had made his way to the depths of the Barrancas. And there, it’s said, he was adopted by the Tarahumara as a friend and kindred spirit; a ghost among ghosts. He’d certainly mastered two Tarahumara skills—invisibility and extraordinary endurance—because even though he was spotted all over the canyons, no one seemed to know where he lived or when he might appear next. If anyone could translate the ancient secrets of the Tarahumara, I was told, it was this lone wanderer of the High Sierras.

I’d become so obsessed with finding Caballo Blanco that as I dozed on the hotel sofa, I could even imagine the sound of his voice.

“Probably like Yogi Bear ordering burritos at Taco Bell,” I mused. A guy like that, a wanderer who’d go anywhere but fit in nowhere, must live inside his own head and rarely hear his own voice. He’d make weird jokes and crack himself up. He’d have a booming laugh and atrocious Spanish. He’d be loud and chatty and . . . and . . .

Wait. I was hearing him. My eyes popped open to see a dusty cadaver in a tattered straw hat bantering with the desk clerk. Trail dust streaked his gaunt face like fading war paint, and the shocks of sun- bleached hair sticking out from under the hat could have been trimmed with a hunting knife. He looked like a castaway on a desert island, even to the way he seemed hungry for conversation with the bored clerk.

“Caballo?” I croaked.

The cadaver turned, smiling, and I felt like an idiot. He didn’t look wary; he looked confused, as any tourist would when confronted by a deranged man on a sofa suddenly hollering “Horse!”

This wasn’t Caballo. There was no Caballo. The whole thing was a hoax, and I’d fallen for it.

Then the cadaver spoke. “You know me?”

“Man!” I exploded, scrambling to my feet. “Am I glad to see you!”

The smile vanished. The cadaver’s eyes darted toward the door, making it clear that in another second, he would as well.

It all began with a simple question that no one in the world could answer.

That five-word puzzle led me to a photo of a very fast man in a very short skirt, and from there it only got stranger. Soon, I was dealing with a murder, drug guerrillas and a one-armed man with a cream-cheese cup strapped to his head. I met a beautiful, blonde forest ranger who slipped out of her clothes and found salvation by running naked in the Idaho forests, and a young surf babe in pigtails who ran straight toward her death in the desert. A talented young runner would die. Two others would barely escape with their lives.

I kept looking, and stumbled across the Barefoot Batman ... Naked Guy … Kalahari Bushmen ... the Toenail Amputee... a cult devoted to distance running and sex parties ... the Wild Man of the Blue Ridge Mountains ... and ultimately, the ancient tribe of the Tarahumara and their shadowy disciple, Caballo Blanco.

In the end, I got my answer, but only after I found myself in the middle of the greatest race the world would never see: the Ultimate Fighting Competition of footraces, an underground showdown pitting some of the best ultra-distance runners of our time against the best ultrarunners of all time, in a 50-mile race on hidden trails only Tarahumara feet had ever touched. I’d be startled to discover that the ancient saying of the Tao Te Ching — “The best runner leaves no trace” — wasn’t some gossamer koan, but real, concrete, how-to, training advice.

And all because in January, 2001, I asked my doctor this:

“How come my foot hurts?”

I’d gone to see one of the top sports-medicine specialists in the country because an invisible ice-pick was driving straight up through the sole of my foot. The week before, I’d been out for an easy, three-mile jog on a snowy farm road when I suddenly whinnied in pain, grabbing my right foot and screaming curses as I toppled over in the snow. When I got a grip on myself, I checked to see how badly I was bleeding. I must have impaled my foot on a sharp rock, I figured, or an old nail wedged in the ice. But there wasn’t a drop of blood, or even a hole in my shoe.

“Running is your problem,” Dr. Joe Torg confirmed when I limped into his Philadelphia examining room a few days later. He should know; Dr. Torg had not only helped create the entire field of sports medicine, but he also co-authored The Running Athlete, the definitive radiographic analysis of every conceivable running injury. He ran me through an X-Ray and watched me hobble around, then determined I’d aggravated my cuboid, a cluster of bones parallel to the arch which I hadn’t even known existed until it re-engineered itself into an internal Taser.

“But I’m barely running at all,” I said. “I’m doing, like, two or three miles every other day. And not even on asphalt. Mostly dirt roads.”

Didn’t matter. “The human body is not designed for that kind of abuse,” Dr. Torg replied.

But why? Antelope don’t get shin splints. Wolves don’t ice-pack their knees. I doubt that 80% of all wild mustangs are annually disabled with impact injuries. It reminded me of a proverb attributed to Roger Bannister, who, while simultaneously studying medicine, working as a clinical researcher and minting pithy parables, became the first man to break the 4-minute mile: "Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up,” Bannister said. “It knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn't matter whether you're a lion or a gazelle - when the sun comes up, you'd better be running."

So why should every other mammal on the planet be able to depend on its legs except us? Come to think of it, how could a guy like Bannister charge out of the lab every day, pound around a hard cinder track in thin leather slippers, and not only get faster, but never get hurt? How come some of us can be out there running all lion-like and Bannister-ish every morning when the sun comes up, while the rest of us need a fistful of Ibuprofen before we can put our feet on the floor?

But maybe there was a path back in time, a way to flip the internal switch that changes us all back into the Natural Born Runners we once were. Not just in history, but in our own lifetimes. Remember? Back when you were a kid and you had to be yelled at to slow down? Every game you played, you played at top-speed, sprinting like crazy as you kicked cans, freed-all and attacked jungle outposts in your neighbors’ backyards. Half the fun of doing anything was doing it at record pace, making it probably the last time in your life you’d ever be hassled for going too fast.

That was the real secret of the Tarahumara: they’d never forgotten what it felt like to love running. They remembered that running was mankind’s first fine art, our original act of inspired creation. 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.

Distance running was revered because it was indispensable; it was the way we survived and thrived and spread across the planet. You ran to eat and to avoid being eaten; you ran to find a mate and impress her, and with her you ran off to start a new life together. You had to love running, or you wouldn’t live to love anything else. And like everything else we love — everything we sentimentally call our “passions” and “desires” — it’s really an encoded ancestral necessity. We were born to run; we were born because we run. We’re all Running People, as the Tarahumara have always known.

Soon, I was setting off in search of the lost tribe of the Tarahumara and Caballo Blanco — who, I would discover, had a secret mission of his own.

From the Hardcover edition.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 28 comments:

Rao, January 30, 2013 (view all comments by Rao)
Un-put-down-able!! This enthralling read took me through the fascinating story of brilliant minds, enduring bodies and the sheer joy of running. Humans are born to run, argues Chris McDougall. He backs this persuasive narrative with gripping scientific facts, jaw dropping endurance sport narratives and an inside look at the only and only Tarahumara tribe. Quite literally, I could feel the wind in my hair as I read this and did not want it to end! And end it did, in rousing finish line style as I could not help but cheer the runners tearfully. Masterpiece!
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(1 of 2 readers found this comment helpful)
kcaryl, January 30, 2013 (view all comments by kcaryl)
Amazing book. My husband had been trying to get me to read it for awhile and when I finally agreed to start it I couldn't put it down. It has changed my approach to running and I have handed this book to other runners I know.
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(2 of 3 readers found this comment helpful)
oldrx, January 1, 2013 (view all comments by oldrx)
Very interesting book. Maybe the new shoes with the toes really work. Or maybe we could just go barefoot.
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(1 of 2 readers found this comment helpful)
View all 28 comments

Product Details

ISBN:
9780307279187
Author:
McDougall, Christopher
Publisher:
Vintage Books
Author:
Friedman, Steve
Author:
Beresini, Erin
Author:
Jurek, Scott
Subject:
Running & Jogging
Subject:
Anthropology - Cultural
Subject:
Special Interest - Adventure
Subject:
anthropology;cultural anthropology
Subject:
General Sports & Recreation
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Series:
Vintage
Publication Date:
20110331
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
8 pp b/w photos
Pages:
264
Dimensions:
8 x 5.31 in 1 lb

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Reference » Science Reference » General
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Sports and Outdoors » Sports and Fitness » Running » General
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Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen (Vintage) Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$10.50 In Stock
Product details 264 pages Vintage - English 9780307279187 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 , “Hugely entertaining....One of the most joyful and engaging books about running to appear for many years.”
"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 , “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 , Born to Run is funny, insightful, captivating, and a great and beautiful discovery.”
"Review" by , “A page-turner, taking the reader on an epic journey in search of the world’s greatest distance runners in an effort to uncover the secrets of their endurance.”
"Review" by , “Driven by an intense yet subtle curiosity, Christopher McDougall gamely treads across the continent to pierce the soul and science of long-distance running."
"Review" by , "One of the most entertaining running books ever."
"Review" by , “It’s a great book....A really gripping read....Unbelievable story....a really phenomenal book.”
"Synopsis" by , An epic adventure that began with one simple question: Why does my foot hurt? Isolated by Mexico's deadly Copper Canyons, the blissful Tarahumara Indians have honed the ability to run hundreds of miles without rest or injury. In a riveting narrative, award-winning journalist and often-injured runner Christopher McDougall sets out to discover their secrets. In the process, he takes his readers from science labs at Harvard to the sun-baked valleys and freezing peaks across North America, where ever-growing numbers of ultra-runners are pushing their bodies to the limit, and, finally, to a climactic race in the Copper Canyons that pits America's best ultra-runners against the tribe. McDougall's incredible story will not only engage your mind but inspire your body when you realize that you, indeed all of us, were born to run.
"Synopsis" by , An inspiring memoir from ultrarunner Scott Jurek, star of Born to Run, covering his remarkable running career, fueled, surprisingly, by an entirely plant-based diet.
"Synopsis" by ,
From a young journalist and seasoned athlete, a funny, fist-pumping ride through the wacky world of obstacle course racing (Tough Mudder, Spartan Race, etc)
"Synopsis" by , Aand#12288;fun, funny, fist-pumpingand#12288;romp through the thriving new fitness culture of obstacle course racingand#12288; Obstacle course racing is the fastest-growing sport in U.S. history. Every week, thousands of marathoners, CrossFitters, and casual weekend warriors shell out money to run through mud and fire, crawl under barbed wire, scramble over ten-foot walls, and dodge baton-wielding gladiators. Some even sprint through electrically charged wires only to suffer muscle-seizing shocks and faceplant in the muck. Inand#12288;Off Course, Outsideand#12288;journalist and endurance athlete Erin Beresini dives straight into this strange world to reveal a new subculture of military-inspired amateur competition and the industry thatand#8217;s rapidly growing to support it. Having reached a crossroads in her own athletic pursuits, Beresini embarked on aand#12288;journey to train and compete in several obstacle races herself, culminating in the worldand#8217;s first marathon-length event, the grueling Spartan Ultra Beast. Along the way, she met a wild cast of characters, from frat boys to housewives, fitness buffs to financiers to fanatics, and uncovered the sport's biggest scandals, lawsuits, and rivalries.and#12288; As Beresini inches ever closer to her goal and#8212; and gets pretty buff in the process and#8212; she also illuminates the history, psychology, science, and sociology of this new sport thatand#8217;s taking the endurance world by storm.
"Synopsis" by ,
and#8220;In pursuing the mental side of endurance, Jurek uncovers the most important secrets any runner can learn.and#8221;and#8212;Amby Burfoot, author of The Runnerand#8217;s Guide to the Meaning of Life

For nearly two decades, Scott Jurek has been a dominant forceand#8212;and darlingand#8212;in the grueling and growing sport of ultrarunning. Until recently he held the American 24-hour record and he was one of the elite runners profiled in the runaway bestseller Born to Run.

In Eat and Run, Jurek opens up about his life and career as a champion athlete with a plant-based diet and inspires runners at every level. From his Midwestern childhood hunting, fishing, and cooking for his meat-and-potatoes family to his slow transition to ultrarunning and veganism, Scottand#8217;s story shows the power of an iron will and blows apart the stereotypes of what athletes should eat to fuel optimal performance. Full of stories of competition as well as science and practical adviceand#8212;including his own recipesand#8212;Eat and Run will motivate readers and expand their food horizons.

and#8220;Jurekand#8217;s story and ideas should easily manage to speak to and cheer on anyone seeking to live life as fully as possible.and#8221;and#8212;Denver Post

and#8220;A shockingly honest, revealing, and inspiring memoir.and#8221;and#8212;Trail Runner

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