Born to Run, Christopher McDougall

After finishing The Night Circus last week, I realized I was pretty well screwed. You can’t just read a book like that and expect to jump right into something else without a harsh comparison ruining the second one for you…or at least that’s what I’ve found; usually the book I try to read after an incredible story leaves me feeling bored and antsy.

On top of that, I came down with a nasty cold Thursday night that lasted well into Sunday. So there I was on Friday night, missing a poker party, missing the Circus, missing my husband (who was at the poker party), missing the ability to breathe through my nose – basically a grumpy, sore-throated mess – and a cover from my pile of “I swear I have the best intentions of getting to you” books caught my eye, Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen. The magic of The Night Circus, flowing in and out of a world of dreams as it does, was the perfect segue into this book, a story of a gentle, hidden tribe of people living in a place on earth very nearly as dream-like as fiction.

Two years ago on a drive across the country, David and I had heard McDougall interviewed about his book on NPR, and as a newbie runner, just weeks into the Couch to 5k, I was fascinated. He was talking about barefoot running, ultra-marathons, and a tribe in Mexico called the  Tarahumara, as well as concepts in running I couldn’t imagine performing myself but which I desperately strived for.

You see, I love to run. I’ve always wanted to be a runner, but I come from a family that loves, well, books. I was a terribly uncoordinated kid, and I didn’t like competitive sports. I always felt awkward and embarrassed in gym class. I was chubby, slow, and completely clueless about what true athleticism was. I would watch the Boston Marathon in college, calling in sick to work and skipping class to see how both the men and women’s races unfold. I was obsessed, always looking in at a world I wanted to belong to but never could.

In 2009 though, I quit my job teaching preschool to write full-time and decided to try a whole new life on for size. I started doing yoga (I am hilariously inflexible, but even I have found that practice makes…well, not perfect, but improvement) and I took on the C to 5K challenge. All the runners I knew were strong, lean, and long-legged. They never seemed to sweat. They looked effortless as they flew past me down the trails. I, on the other hand, sweat just thinking about running; my entire head gets flushed bright red after about five minutes, and I’m slow. The only thing I’ve got going for me is a natural mid-foot stride, a product, I assume, of the fact that I almost never wear shoes and consequently have strong, flexible feet. That, and, well, I absolutely stupid love it.

I don’t run because my doctor tells me to, or because I’m good at it. In fact, after a year and a half, I still average a 12 minute mile on my good days – a pace that has been referred to as “glacial,” “laughable,” and “pointless” on varying occasions. The thing is, I can run four and half miles at that glacial pace without my heart rate going over 160bpm and without stopping, and that makes me a runner, no matter what anyone else says. So when I picked up Born to Run, a book that’s been on my shelf since Christmas and on my mind for two years before that, I didn’t appreciate that I would be seeing on the page what has long been printed on my soul – that we are a running people and that we are ALL born to run.

When I was very young, I read Anne of Green Gables and was first introduced to the idea of a “kindred spirit,” of a person who could think and feel as I do. I’ve met several such people in my life, but I’d never found one who felt about running the way I do – that it’s not a job, not a way to lose weight or to compete, but rather that it’s about this explosive bodily joy that can’t be contained.

The men and women in this book are superb, world-renowned athletes. Even McDougall managed to train in the ways of the Tarahumara tribe and transform himself from an aging middle-of-the-packer with bad knees into the kind of runner who could complete a 50 mile death trail race in one of the most remote locations in the world. It’s all a little mysterious. There’s definitely a liberal sprinkling of magic in his story. But last night, while the rest of the country was watching the Superbowl, I couldn’t tear myself away from this story. I couldn’t stop myself from believing that with enough effort, I could become this kind of runner too – light, effortless, compassionate, and joyful…

Christopher McDougall can be found here:

4 thoughts on “Born to Run, Christopher McDougall

  1. This book was such a good read, and I’m quite sorry that I lost my copy of the book in the midst of moving multiple times. I never knew you loved running. That is fantastic! There is nothing wrong with a 12 minute mile, and I think we are more likely to have been born to jog/move at a fast pace than be world record marathoners. I have read a lot about primal/paleo eating over the past three years, and find it follows this same idea; that we were meant to move and that you should find an activity you love and do that. You might be interested in the Primal Blueprint or check out Marks Daily Apple online to read up more on it. Either way, keep running while you enjoy it, and twenty years from now you’ll be laughing at those fast people with sore knees and joints while you’re still happily running at a 12 minute pace:)

    1. Thanks for the recommendations Sadie! I’ll definitely check them both out. David actually signed me up for my very first race on March 18th as a birthday present – he knows I’m too much of a wuss to want to try to compete (and have been putting off signing up for either a 5k or 10k myself because of that), but at the same time, I’m curious to see what happens when I run with so many quicker paced people! I do hope you’re right about being able to run forever too, even if it’s at this slow pace. I want to be one of those 96 year olds I hear about who have just run a marathon :)

  2. I also loved this book, and ate rice & beans for weeks after finishing it (it just made them sound so delicious). I messed around with running in flip-flops (hard but do-able) and barefoot (easy but I always worry about glass, rusty nails, etc.) too, until winter came. Good book.

    1. When I was on the Bayshore path yesterday, a guy blazed by me holding his shoes in his hands (I’m guessing for the rougher part of his route down by the water). I had never seen anyone running completely barefoot (as in, not with Vibrams) and it was so awesome. I wanted to pull off my shoes and try to catch him!

      Also, I have sort of an obsession with wanting to eat chia seeds after reading this…

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