When I was growing up, I hated to run. I’d breathe hard, I’d get all sweaty, and just generally have a bad time. Over the last six years, though, I have developed quite the love for running. I run many races over the course of a year, a highlight of my day is my mid-day three miles, and I feel like I’m a better pastor when I run. It has gotten to the point where one of my favorite presents for my birthday this year was Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen (Vintage), written by Christopher McDougall.
Born to Run starts out innocently enough, in the lobby of an isolated hotel in an isolated town in an isolated part of Mexico known as the Copper Canyons. McDougall has been brought to this place by many factors, primary among them a nagging pain in his knee from years of running. Because he works as a columnist for Runner's World magazine, running is pretty much his whole life. Yet, no matter what he tries, the pain won’t go away. Then he begins to hear stories of the Tarahumara, a native tribe from the Copper Canyons who separate themselves from the world. There are really only two things known about them: they can put away the corn beer, and they can run. And when they run, it’s not just a jaunt around the block. The Tarahumara compete in races where groups kick a ball along as they run, and these races are routinely 50 miles long. They run these races without the benefit of $100 running shoes, sponsor contracts, television contracts, or paydays. They run because that is what they do.
These stories bring McDougall to this isolated corner of the world. McDougall is in this hotel lobby in the Copper Canyons looking for someone a little different, however. He is in search of Caballo Blanco, the White Horse. Caballo is not a Tarahumara; in fact, some of the Tarahumara that McDougall talks with believe Caballo to be a ghost when they first see him. McDougall does eventually find Caballo in this dingy hotel lobby, and that’s when the book takes off.
The story is built along the main path of Caballo’s attempts to get some of America’s best ultra-marathoners (those who run races of 50 or 100 miles) to journey into the Copper Canyons to race against the Tarahumara on their home turf, the narrow, winding, steep paths that can lead to death for the inexperienced traveler. What I found most interesting, however, were the side trails that McDougall takes us down. There are a few chapters on an ultra-marathon in Leadville, WY to which a man named Rick Fisher brought some Tarahumara, showing them the worst of American hubris in the process. There are stories of American ultra-marathoners who get caught up in Caballo’s search for the ultimate ultra-marathon. One, Scott Jurek, is from Proctor, MN, very close to where I grew up. Another is known as “Barefoot Ted”, a runner who never found relief from his back pain until he started running without shoes. There are even stories of men known as “persistence hunters” who hunt their meat and kill it by running it down.
The passion for running that McDougall, Caballo, Jurek, and the others have deep down in their souls comes pouring off of the pages. If you are a runner, this book will stir up your passion again, and may even make you want to throw your gear on and go for a quick three miles immediately. If you have ever watched a race and wondered what makes long-distance runners tick, this book will give you more insight than you ever wanted. If you have never wanted to run, and never will run, this book will still give you the motivation to do whatever it is that stirs your passion. Caballo gives all of us a good lesson when he is teaching McDougall about running in the Copper Canyons:
“Think easy, light, smooth, and fast. You start with easy, because if that’s all you get, that’s not so bad. Then work on light. Make it effortless, like you don’t give a [darn] how high the hill is or how far you’ve got to go. When you’ve practiced that so long that you forget you’re practicing, you work on making it smooooooth. You won’t have to worry about the last one – you get those three, and you’ll be fast.”
No matter what race we run, we were all born to run.
Highly recommended. 5 stars out of 5.