run, rest, eat, bitch, buy things, cross-train, blog, repeat.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Book Review: Born to Run

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Super Athletes, and The Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen. By Christopher McDougall

The whole review should just be: GO OUT AND BUY THIS BOOK, OR CHECK IT OUT AT THE LIBRARY, NOW. But, I feel like some of you might need some persuading, because honestly... the book title and image didn't really do it for me initially, either.

A couple of months ago, Vandy-Montana told me he was reading a book about running and that it was really good. I was intrigued... until I started to get e-mails and phone calls from him wherein he discussed such things as...

--Some kind of funky ass tribe down in Mexico
--Barefoot Running
--Vegetarianism/Veganism and how it can pertain to running.

Do what? Are you freaking kidding me? What a snooze and hippie-fest, I thought. When he told me that I had to read it myself and that he would let me borrow it when I got to Montana, I was less than thrilled.

He handed me the book and I went in with LOW expectations. I expected to be totally bored (a tribe in Mexico?? Not my thing to read about) and totally skeptical (barefoot running? come on). But, from the minute I started the book, I was hooked. It reads like a novel and is one of the most fascinating books I've ever read.

First of all, this might be a little incoherent as a book review, but it's only because the book is so good that it's hard to really condense it down into something easily understandable (and I'm just so damn excited about it, that I have a hard time getting my thoughts lined up). Now, this review should be taken with a wee bit of salt (or, if you're like me and apparently have high blood pressure now, take some Ms. Dash with the review), because at the time of reading it...
  • I was embarking on my biggest running feat yet, the back to back marathons (in case I haven't bragged about that enough yet)
  • I was also noticing that my feet (which are usually the only thing that give me any trouble these days) were feeling mighty awesome lately despite high mileage weeks and over 800 miles on my shoes
  • I have been constantly running into really fast runners who were vegetarians, vegans, or raw foodies... so much so, that I had started cutting back a little on meat and incorporating a few raw meals into my diet a week, just to see if I could tell any difference in my running (easy to do in the summer with all the summer veggies available).
I don't really want to reveal a whole lot about the book, because I want you to read it and go into with a clean slate... but I'd like to talk a little bit about my favorite things about the book...
  • I loved the sections about ultrarunning and the Leadville 100. I had no prior knowledge of that race or of it's participants like the amazing Ann Trason. I was fascinated reading through those sections of the book and it made me dream of ONE day, maybe doing something LIKE the Leadville 100.
  • Speaking of ultras and trail running and amazing people... all the characters in the book (do you call real people like, Scott Jurek, a character when they're in a book?) are so interesting and so talented and so inspiring. Although, I must admit... I feel a little more akin to Jenn Shelton (an amazing ultrarunner) who seems to exist on this lifestyle of partying hard and running hard. She can drink all night and pop up the next day ready to tackle miles and miles of trails. I heart Jenn Shelton and I want to be just like her when I grow up. (Well, I won't be as fast as her, plus, I'm not really the fighting drunk type).
  • "If it feels like work, you're working too hard." So. Freaking. True. One of the main themes in the book is that running should be enjoyed. If you're running just to burn off calories or just to PR in a race, then you're not really tapping into what running really can be. If you're running because it makes you happy, and you find yourself grinning from ear to ear randomly after running 15 miles (this happens to me around mile 15 of just about every marathon), if you're truly enjoying yourself, then that's when running is magical. I mean, you have to admit... we're all guilty of going out for a run on a rest day, because we feel fat. And think about it... are those runs EVER enjoyable? No. (My runs like that ALWAYS suck total ass).
  • Shoes. I don't really want to get into a whole big thing here about shoes... but, as a runner wearing a pair of shoes that are getting ready to break the 1000 mile mark, I am a true believer in the idea that for most of us... shoes should be basic and neutral. I was guilty of spending $125 bucks on a new pair of shoes every 400 miles... super cushioned ones, too. But, through my last training period, I seriously had the least amount of aches and pains that I had ever had. Why wouldn't shoe companies want you to change shoes more often than you should? They definitely make more money that way. And the runners back in the 70s and 80s had very little shoe options, and way less injuries (sure, more people are running now...). There are arguments for both sides, but just read the book and make up your own mind. I'm not saying I'm going to go all barefoot all the time or anything. But, I am going to do some experimenting with barefoot running and I'm going to stick with my old pairs of shoes, and then when they're too hole-y, I'll move onto some cheap, neutral shoes.
  • Animal vs. Man. Why humans really are born to run... and born to run long distances... Soooo fascinating. Really, I know it sounds totally boring. But, it's not.
  • Diet. This book talks some about diet and running. From the Tarahumara tribe and their brewed alcoholic beverages and corn-based diets, to the vegetarians and vegans who eat a big salad for breakfast. But it's never done in a preachy way. It's more just weaved into the story (for the most part. Now, the author/narrator does touch a little on his own diet changes, but still... not in a preachy, holier-than-thou way).
This book really has helped to change my perspective on running. It's made me realize that the end of the run or race isn't the goal. Running isn't just about burning calories and winning races. The ends are not better than the means. Running itself is what makes me happy. Particularly when I'm not stressing myself out to run faster or harder.

Now I find myself boring people talking about vegetarianism and performance, barefoot running, and a crazy- awesome- fast running tribe in Mexico. And you will be too, after you read this book. (Btw, this book would make an excellent movie. Reads just like one).


Vandy-Montana said...

As a producer of top notch Beef, I don't like that you used the terms vegetarian and vegan in this post. Boo.

*yes, I'm aware I dated a vegetarian for a good part of my life. Doesn't mean I felt great about it.

Melanie said...

Ok, so I'm catching up on my Google Reader and this is the second review of this book I've read tonight. I think I must read it... too bad I didn't get it before my flight tomorrow.

Also, a guy I know in Striders has run Leadville. I'll have to put you in touch and let you talk to him about it sometime.

Chris said...

I've seen a lot of posts about this book, and YOUR post is the only one that has peaked my interest enough for me to buy it. Thank you. :-)

Amy said...

Vandy: Dude, you know I love me some top notch beef. But, I don't have to eat it every meal of every day. Plus, I can honestly say that I've never and will never have a veggie burger in my freezer. Hmmm... can you say the same?

Melanie: If you had gotten it before your flight, you'd be done with it by the time you landed in Portland. Haha, it reads really fast. The only thing is, it's frustrating to read it and get all amped up and then step outside in 99% humidity.

Chris: Awesome. You'll enjoy it, I'm sure!

Anonymous said...

I'll definitely read it. I'm at the stage in my running where I think you will be in a year in terms of PRs (my times last year matched up with yours now, I'm a couple years older), I've been a vegetarian for the last few years and also dropped about 10 pounds and started cross-training, but can't say for sure what has made the diff in improving my times.

Stephanie said...

That is so crazy that you posted this today, because the author was on The Daily Show last night and I was totally going to tell you about it. You're one step ahead of me, obviously (actually more like a bajillion marathons ahead of me, if you get my meaning). said...

I read the book a couple months ago, and I loved it too. It really made me re-think many of my beliefs about running. I particularly enjoyed all the personal histories of the runners in the book. It was really inspiring.

JohnPDC said...

Thank you so much for this book recommendation! I listened to the audiobook, mostly while running. It's very inspirational and, as lawmonkey13 points out, the background stories on the runners are great.

I'm definitely eager to start running more and possibly even giving barefoot running a go during training.