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: http://www.chrismcdougall.com/blog/