Book Review: Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

I would like to issue a warning to anybody thinking about reading this book… Beware, you might soon find yourself with a strange inclination to run barefoot through the Mexican desert with a pocket full of chia seed. Or sign up for the Leadville 100, a 100 mile (160km) trail race, climbing and decending 4800m in total. That’s because the book is quite inspirational. It is a page turner, and hard to put down.

It is written my Christopher McDougall, a magazine writer and contributing editor to Men’s Health magazine. this is evident in the book, which features lots of separate stories, like magazine articles, woven together. The book features a lot of interesting characters, a chapter on foot physiology, I don’t want to give too much away because I really think you should read it for yourself.

The author does not have a particularly high opinion of Nike, or any modern running shoe company for that matter. He is a barefoot running advocate, so the book needs to be taken with a grain of salt – there are many theories on this, but the jury is still out. Caveman may have run around injury-free without modern running shoes, but I don’t think he did it for 42.2km on the pvement.

The other part of this book that I liked was the part that talked about the ‘Running man theory of evolution’ … The idea that man basically evolved to run  the marathon… That it is our ideal distance. Again, this is just a theory, but I found it a fascinating idea. One I like to bring up when my non-running friends tell me how bad running  is for you, or when my dad picks up a running magazine off my coffee table and reads alout the part that says, ‘even the most avid runners will only run 1-2 marathons a year’.

I first read this book in 2011, just after I had completed my first marathon. I think I was probably the ‘target audience’ for this book then. I think the people who will enjoy it the most or take the most from it are the new runners, or inexperienced runners, or people who are happy running up to 20-30 km. After reading this book, I don’t think you will be able to watch a marathon and think, I can’t do that’. This book will teach you that you can do that. You might not make it to the Olympics, but you can run a marathon.

Just over a week ago, I was at the Newcastle Running Forum, hosted by Mossy and Robbo from the Naked Runners. At the end of the evening, Mossy held up a dog-eared copy of Born to Run, and asked the room of running enthusiasts, who had read the book. It seemed that half the room raised their hands. Then, he selected a lady from the crowd, who had not raised her hand, and gave the book to her. She was instructed to read the book, write her name in the front, and then pass it on to another runner. I thought that was a lovely idea. I wonder how many names are in the front of that book already.

It might not be the most factually correct book ever written, it is slightly exaggerated at times. Embrace it, or be a skeptic. Just make sure you read it! (And then tell me what you thought.)

4 thoughts on “Book Review: Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

  1. I’ve still not read it despite running in zero drop shoes for over 2 years now. I came across the theory of barefoot when I was still new to running (only been running a couple of months). I made the transition and have worked my way up – my first marathon will be this year but I’ve already run a long run of 24 miles. No injuries so far.

    1. What kind of surfaces do you run on? I will me doing a half marathon in 4mm drop shoes for the first time tomorrow. I also wore 4mm drop shoes in a 50k trail race 2 weeks ago, but I think trails are much more forgiving.
      Many runners I know swear my minimalist shoes, but I think officially the jury is still out. If anyone knows of any articles with proof one way or the other let me know,I’d be very intrested.

      1. I mainly run on roads although I think my longest purely road run so far was about 16 miles. I honestly don’t notice any difference between running that distance on trails or roads though. I am fully committed to minimal shoes too because I just don’t feel comfortable in regular shoes any more. Even my work shoes are minimal (Vivobarefoot Ra). To me the scientific reasoning made sense so I wanted to try it – it was a long slow build up involving some minor setbacks in the early stages. I’ve written about it on my blog but I’m not someone who says everyone should be doing it – it’s all about whatever works for you and you’ve really got to be prepared to go back to basics (easy for me at the time as the furthest I had run when I started was maybe not even 4 miles but I can imagine if you’re regularly running much further it would be tough to fully commit to the way I did it which was to completely change and start with only a couple of miles a week).

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