Born to Run is my definition of a beach read. I don’t do romance novels and kitschy fiction, but a book with a straightforward storyline, mixed with a few intriguing characters and challenges, new perspectives on an otherwise dull subject (Running. Enough said.), and written by an intelligent storyteller with a touch of snark is perfect.
McDougall’s journey begins in suburbia USA and ends in the canyons of Mexico. He starts with foot issues from running his few miles around the block. He ends nearly finishing an ultra-marathon against arguably the world’s best ultrarunners in the desert. And to say that the author “nearly finished” is not burying the lede. What starts as his own personal investigation into how humans have evolved from natural runners to perpetually-injured-runners seamlessly slips into a story about a mysterious cowboy runner intent on setting up a challenge between the illusive Tarahumara and a few select ultrarunners.
The stakes are high – the Tarahumara make limited contact with the outside world, and the few times that they did make contact ended badly. The stakes get higher when one of the Tarahumara runners is murdered. The gringo-group must take an oath acknowledging their own responsibility in whatever outcome their participation brings. Mixing inside and outside worlds, cultures, and personalities in a region specializing in myriad ways – natural and man-made – to kill a person is no small challenge. Would their passion for running be enough to pull it off without losing somebody?
In the end the reader is less concerned with who won than with how the race was run and what that says about human spirit and healthy competition. Ultimately, that is what the book is about. When McDougall tries to understand why his foot is hurting from an activity that should have been a natural part of human development he comes across some challenging answers for today’s exercise-focused, corporate-sponsorship-driven, kill-or-be-killed fitness environment.
An entertaining story, solid investigative journalism, plus a sense of learning something new from the research that McDougall includes equals a good book to read anytime, and a really good book to read “for fun.”
Full disclosure: I read most of this book sitting on my butt outside of the gym. And while it did not inspire me to try ultrarunning – or even running to the mailbox – it did remind me that the best way to be successful with fitness is to find a way to enjoy what you’re doing.