If you’re taking the time to read a blog by someone who at best could be described as an amateur runner and writer, then the chances are you’re obsessive enough about running to have already heard of this book, even if you haven’t read it. If you aren’t sure about whether or not to give it a go then hopefully this post will help make up your mind one way or the other.
I came about the book in perhaps a slightly unusual way. Sometime last year my brother was visiting from the USA. We spent a day walking through Malham in the Yorkshire Dales and at some point started talking about running. He asked me if I ate chia seeds and I had no idea what he was talking about. He went on to explain their somewhat mythical reputation and how they had become popular as a result of the fact that the Tarahumara consumed them and that this had been brought to popular attention by the book Born to Run. I didn’t really believe such a mythical super food could be all it’s cracked up to be but did think the book was worth a read. It took me a while to get around to reading it but when I did I definitely found it an enjoyable read.
As you’re probably already aware, the book talks a lot about the mysterious Tarahumara tribe from Mexico, it also talks a lot about barefoot running and about some pretty impressive sounding ultra races. If that sounds a bit vague and unclear as a blurb for the book then that might be because the focus of the book and the narrative also seem unclear at times too.
There’s a few good stories about how Christopher McDougall (the author) attempted to track down the Tarahumara, there’s some really interesting sounding characters in it and there’s some pretty ripping accounts of the ultras that the tribe appeared in. Scattered in amongst all this is a section about the science of barefoot running and its benefits which I came away from in two minds about but also feeling like I’d just read a chapter long advert for Nike. Also, shoehorned in near the end is a relatively long chapter about the evolution of man and how endurance running was a crucial part of that. To cut a long chapter short, there is some evidence in there that suggests that our willingness and ability to run long distances are what gave homo sapiens the evolutionary advantage over the more intelligent neanderthals. This isn’t a scientific paper, it’s a book, but if it was I can’t help feeling that at the point of peer review it might fall down for basing it’s main premise on some fairly scant evidence and one or two significant leaps of faith.
Take these sections out though and what you are left with is a series of compelling stories about running and about runners. The apparent focus of the book jumps about a bit and the first few chapters left me wondering what the main focus of the book was going to be about, though I’m not 100% sure by the end of it I was much closer to answering this. Individually, each chapter reads like a very well written magazine article but then the next one leaves you wondering if you’ve misunderstood or misremembered what you have already read. The author also worked in journalism before writing this book which might explain the great storytelling but lack of coherence over a 308 page book.
Overall, it’s definitely worth a read and it even convinced me to give the mythical chia seeds a go. They’re £10 a bag in my local health food shop and its a financial risk I’m much more willing to take than the slightly less mythical £100+ Nike Free range of trainers that the book seems to do a pretty good job of promoting.