Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall
I have this unnatural fascination with stories about extreme athletes and risk-takers. Some of my favorite such reads include Lincoln Hall’s Dead Lucky: Life After Death on Mount Everest, Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster and Cheryl Strayed‘s Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. This fascination is unnatural because I’m not exactly a thrill-seeker. I guess I could have been at one point because I always liked the scariest amusement park rides, I went backpacking with my then-boyfriend, now-husband, into the depths of the Sierra-Nevada mountains and climbed dangerously high things without hesitation. What changed? I guess having children put the fear of mortality into me. I think I’m drawn to these “devil-may-care” risk takers because the thought of possibly dying does nothing to slow them down!
Take this story as an example. In McDougall’s Born to Run, there are many stories within stories about men, women and even children who are willing to throw their bodies into the harshest conditions, over the longest periods of time (hours into many days…) over the roughest terrain, into the hottest of hot, all with the intent of…wait for it…finishing a race. I can’t really get my mind around it. I just dragged my family over 1,000 miles in a move north to get away from the Las Vegas heat! Therefore, I really do not understand the willing droves of humans characterized in these pages who are excited about participating in foot races over desert land with a crippling sun overhead and the threat of rattlesnakes and drug cartels at ground level. I guess I can settle on the concept of “to each his own” but my fascination remains. For me, these stories are the traffic accidents that I can’t stop staring at.
Born to Run is more than a story about courageous and determined runners. It is a story about a man, the author, who has the same affliction I have. He is fascinated by the super-athlete. Lucky for us he is gifted with the skill of telling the intriguing stories of these modern-day mega athletes. There are many moments that I have laughed out loud partly because of the described scene but mostly because the author has such a great gift for building up a story and setting the stage for a ridiculous chain of events. I shouldn’t be too surprised because Christopher McDougall is a Harvard University graduate and has written for The New York Times Magazine, Esquire, Men’s Journal, Outside and Men’s Health.
In Born to Run, McDougall sets out to learn about the Tarahumara tribe in Mexico who regularly run incredibly long distances, injury free. After battling his own physical challenges, McDougall really wants to understand what the secret to these athletes are including why they never get hurt and why they are able to run so fast. This quest develops into an organized race that attracts ultramarathoners from all over the globe who are also interested in meeting these mysterious people and challenging them to a race.
The material these characters provide for great storytelling is unending, as is the humor and humanity we all witness through the eyes and words of Christopher McDougall. I highly recommend this book for anyone who has even a trace of adventure in his or her heart. Happy reading!