Christopher McDougall on his book “Born to Run”

A video and transcript of Christopher McDougall talking about his book Born to Run, including a brief synopsis of what the book is about (the Tarahumara Indians)

Christopher McDougall Born to Run
Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run(reviewed 7/7/09)

There’s a bit of a buzz going around about Christopher McDougall’s recently published book Born to Run. The book has only been out for a month and already has over thirty amazon reviews, almost all of which give the book five stars (out of five). You might remember McDougall’s from his Telegraph article on the “painful truth” about sneakers. Therein, McDougall suggests that the chronic injuries plaguing runners come from the overengineered-but-biomechanically-backward modern trainers or running shoes marketed by shoe giants like Nike.

On Amazon there is a brief interview with McDougall. You can watch it here:

Here’s McDougall’s revelation transcribed from the video:

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.

I’m reminded of how sometimes when walking about in my Five Fingers I get a sudden urge to run. Perhaps the enhanced feedback my feet get from being effectively barefoot triggers some primal instinct to take off rather than just walk.

Also on the video is a brief video by McDougall where he demonstrates running in some very basic-looking sandals — they are called huaraches. Towards the end, though he doesn’t talk about them, you see him putting on some grey fivefinger Sprints!

I haven’t had the time to read anything lately, but I’ve added Born to Run to my Amazon wish list and hope to pick up a copy soon. If you’ve read it, please comment below and let me know what you thought about the book! Update I finished reading Born to Run and it was fantastic! Read my full review here!

By Justin

Justin Owings is a deadlifting dad of three, working from Atlanta. When he's not chasing his three kids around, you'll find him trying to understand systems, risk, and human behavior.

8 replies on “Christopher McDougall on his book “Born to Run””

The book is phenomenal! It is the best non-fiction book I have ever read. My spouse, who’s an ultramarathoner, is reading it right now and he can’t put it down. My friends that I’ve told about it want to read it.

It’s a great story and a fountain of information about running: from its beginnings, why we run, why we get hurt running, and is all tied to the story of the greatest ultramarathon race with the greatest characters (who are all real people).

I loved it and can’t wait to read it again.

Christopher McDougall is definitely running in huaraches in the video and then changes to VFFs.

It is the best book I’ve read in quite some time. I couldn’t put it down. The last time I read a book this quickly was The Da Vinci Code and I think Christopher McDougall is a better writer than Dan Brown. It reads very much like a Jon Krakauer book: one central story thread with many smaller diverging storylines that contribute to the greater whole.

It was Christopher McDougall’s article in Men’s Health a few years ago that got me interested in barefoot running to begin with. That article was like a preview of what became “Born to Run.”

I particularly liked the background on the history of American runners since Nike started in the 70’s as well as the anthropological evidence that essentially claims that the “Great Leap Forward” was largely due to our ability to run long distances.

It inspired me to get out there and try to get in really good running shape and set out on my current goal ( My wife is reading it now and I think it helped convince her to get her own pair of Vibram Five Fingers this week.

I’m about 2/3 into it, and it’s a tough book to put down. It works well on multiple levels, and is easily the best thing I’ve read in years.

If this book doesn’t excite you about running, then you don’t have a pulse.

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