Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Born to Run (copy)

As a rule I balk at New Year's resolutions, but this year I wrote down 20 promises to be broken at an undetermined future date. Out of the 20, eight of them deal with running, losing weight and becoming healthy. This is a great time to head to the library and look for books on exercise and nutrition. No need in spending money on books I might not use.

Within a library search I found the perfect book, Born to Run:A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall, to inspire me for at least a month. Wait! Don't stop reading! This is less a book on the mechanics of running and more about the joy of running. But, you are thinking, "I don't run and this has nothing for me."

McDougall is a great story teller. He spends chapters exploring the Tarahumara culture, a Native American tribe who prefer to run mountain trails barefoot or wear ankle laced sandals. Dangers lurk at the base of the lawless country of Mexico's Copper Canyons where the tribe lives. Drug lords are unkind to those caught passing through the marijuana fields. To add mystery to the story there is a man called Caballo Blanco (White Horse) who haunts the trails and lives amongst the tribe.

Readers will marvel at the ultra-running that takes place in America. Ultra-running and ultra-racing is a relatively new sport that pits man against nature for lengths passed 26.2 miles or the standard length of a marathon. Like music rappers, runners divide the country between east coast and west coast races of 50 or 100 miles and rarely do racers cross the Mississippi. The exciting Leadville 100 (100 miles) is retold by the author as if reading a horse race in the book Seabiscuit.

The media portrays the book as a manifesto for running barefoot and that is unfair. In many interviews with the author, reporters focus on the pros and cons of running barefoot or with racing flats rather than traditional running shoes. McDougall adds to this misconception by running to the interviews barefoot. The book is much more than the gimmick.

It reminds me of Upton Sinclair's book The Jungle which is renowned as the catalyst for government regulation of the beef industry or as a treatise for vegetarians when in fact it is a study in socialism. There is a brief mention of the beef processing plant and the bloody Illinois River but by no means is the whole book on the evils of beef.

My hope is that people will read Born to Run for its many other attributes rather than write it off as a crazy author's bid for attention.