Thursday, January 5, 2012

Book Review: Born to Run

Before I go into my review, I want to just briefly discuss what this book is actually about.  The thesis of this book is not only that we are Born Runners, it is more specifically that we are Born Distance Runners.  The novel takes you through many different perspectives (including the first person) to deliver thrilling running stories, and emphasize that we are Born Marathoners.

So without further ado, the Review:

The Cover

You may notice I wrote a book review not too long ago, and I'm already churning out another.  It's not that I've had nothing to do, it's that Born To Run (A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen) by Christopher McDougall was just SO darn good, I couldn't help but finish it.  The story alone would be good enough to sell as a thriller, but when you add in the message and his philosophy on exercise, you've got a really amazing book in your hands.  My plan for this review is break down why I liked this book so much, and try to share some of the lessons I've learned from it.

The first thing you should know about this book is that it's a lot of fun to read.  The book is told in a fashion that would make Christopher Nolan proud, using a non-linear timeline to keep you constantly hooked.  It will have you cornering a mysterious runner in the beginning, only to take a flashback back to 6 months earlier to find out why you're there.

The language of this novel is also a joy to read.  In one part, Christopher was talking about eating healthier (in his life), and he said that: "He knew it was only a matter of time before I got sick of seeds and dried corn and started double fisting burgers again" (page 210).  He has a great sense of humor, and he got me to laugh quite a few times.

Two characters you'll meet in this book!
And then there are the characters in this book.  Chris walks you through the minds of the runners, coaches, entrepreneurs, spectators, and even his own brain throughout this novel.  Taking all these different perspectives helps you to see running from every side, and this helps you to really become engaged in the story.  What is more, is that Chris begins as a novice runner, and matures to a more veteran runner.  This nicely mirrors the progression that the reader experiences as they learn more and more about why we are Born to Run, and helps you to feel like a real running Guru by the end.  (Well, at least more like a Guru than you were   when you started!)

The second point, as I just hinted to, is the message, we are Born to Run.  This message is shown through science, logic, and examples.  Chris walks you through the minds of scientists in the 20th century who pursue their bold hypothesis, that, despite all our running injuries, we are actually Born Runners.  This science looks at the anatomical similarities we share with other runners (dogs and horses), and smoothly takes you through the rationale that helped to prove their (the scientists') thesis.  The science also takes a look at why running shoes cause so many injuries, and it is this section which is responsible for all those weirdos you see walking around in Vibrams Five Finger Shoes.  The remarkable thing about the science that Chris discusses though, is that once you hear it, you think: "Well duh..."  When you find out that cushioning hinders your foot from feeling when its doing something wrong, it not only makes sense scientifically, but you also immediately realize he's right.

The other element of this message is delivered through examples.  When you see how a Hidden Tribe in Mexico is able to run hundreds of miles without any kind of Nike kicks, you realize that there is something inherently human about our ability to run.  This is also seen through the incredible athletes you meet, who are able to run over 100 miles and not get injured.  Now, I wouldn't really call this 'proof' that we are Born to Run, but I think the examples do help to nail in the point that YOU possess the best distance running machine in existence.

The last thing this book discusses is Chris' philosophy about running.  Have you ever heard the saying, "No Pain, No Gain?" That pretty much summarizes the opposite of what Chris is trying to get across.  When you are flying down the mountains in these ultra marathons, one distinctive trait about the elite runners is that they are enjoying it.  One runner summarized his philosophy as being "Easy, then light, then smooth, and if you do the first three, you'll be fast."

This idea of running being enjoyable is a crucial part to the message of this book.  The book focuses on the freedom of running, the beautiful places you go, and the people you get to run with.  Chris emphasizes that it's not about winning, fame, nor glory, but rather its about being together, and experiencing this wonderful sport together.  He talks about how ultrarunning eliminated his Irish-temper, and how it helped him to feel better (at the age of 40) than he had in his whole life.  He also walks you through scenarios where world class ultra-runners will encourage their competition, working together rather than embracing the traditional cut-throat philosophy.  (Btw, in ultra's the person who finishes first and the person who finish last get the same thing, which helps to increase the community and camaraderie between runners).

Mark Twain, Quoted in this Book!
(Although no, MT was not a runner...)

I also can't finish this review by talking about the wisdom this book has.  One major point Chris makes is that running will make you a better person, and that many of the greatest runners are many of the greatest people.  Greatest as in kind, friendly, supportive, and fun to be around.  There are many stories designed to illustrate this, and it is an important part of the novel.

Born to Run is a masterfully told story including a meaningful message, and a great philosophy on exercise.  Thanks to the non-linear timeline and witty humor, the book is always interesting.  It also will leave you more knowledgeable, teaching you why we are Born to Run, and how to do it properly.  Lastly, this novel speaks to the soul of the reader, encouraging them to run for joy, rather than for gain.

When I look for books to read, I often alternate between fun and meaningful.  With Born to Run, I didn't have to.

Again, if you like this review, or can think of ways for me to improve, please let me know!


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