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Book Review: Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall

Review by Laura Sanders

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Anyone who laces up expensive running shoes to plod through a few painful miles might be misguided. Humans may have evolved to run hundreds of miles at a time, barefoot, journalist and runner McDougall argues in Born to Run.

The impetus for this book came when McDougall’s running-induced foot pain halted his regular jogs. Dismissing doctors who told him to find another pastime because his body wasn’t made to run, McDougall instead delved deep into the art and science of running.

Born to Run includes no small dose of admiration for the mechanical marvel of the human foot. McDougall compares the stretching and flexing of interlocked bones, joints, tendons and muscles to “an earthquake-resistant suspension bridge.” Exercise science studies find that modern “aids” for runners may actually throw off the human gait. And interviews with orthopedic surgeons, world-class coaches and elite runners make the case that simple, inexpensive shoes are better than fancy footwear at preventing running injuries.

To counter the claim that people weren’t meant to run long distances, McDougall turns to the Tarahumara Indians, a tribe in Mexico’s foreboding and remote Copper Canyon. These people routinely run for hundreds of miles with nothing more on their feet than thin leather straps. 

The story climaxes as McDougall joins some of the world’s best distance runners, including the Tarahumara, in a 50-mile race over jagged Copper Canyon terrain. McDougall’s writing style —equal parts hilarity, explanation and earnestness — whisks the reader along on a compelling dash to the end, and along the way captures the sheer joy that a brisk run brings.

Alfred A. Knopf, 2009, 287 p., $24.95.

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