“The best runner leaves no tracks.” — Tao Te Ching
Running is the most commonly shared sport across the globe. This innate instinct within each of us took root when Homo sapiens became a running species, allowing them to run down bush game, which created a steady supply of food source during a changing climate. This ability to run helped Homo sapiens outlive their rivals, the Neanderthals. As a running animal, the human body evolved into a finely tuned running machine. From the beautifully complex structure of our feet and ankles, packed full of tendons and bones, to the formation of our head, our body is built to run. In fact, according to Christopher McDougall, we are Born to Run.
So, why are we limping into doctors’ offices with recurring running injuries? Why do some runners fly across the ground effortlessly for hours while others painfully sweat out a measly two miles, inwardly cursing the ground step after step?
In Born to Run, McDougall answers these questions through a gripping narrative that guides the reader through the Copper Canyons in Mexico where the elusive Tarahumara Indian tribe honors the ancient tradition of running hundreds of miles across mountainous terrain with no rest or injury. Located deep in the treacherous Copper Canyons, where no roads travel, the Tarahumara rely on running as their mode of transportation. A 60-mile jaunt to a neighboring tribe is a typical day for a Tarahumara runner. Injuries are low to nonexistent in these tribes, and happy Tarahumara faces beam during and after strenuous runs stretching up and down canyon walls. What is their secret?
McDougall follows the trail of Tarahumara runners, searching for the Holy Grail of running. He tracks down the legendary “Caballo Blanco,” an American-turned-Tarahumara, who became his guide to the Tarahumara and their secret of running. “Lesson One — don’t fight the trail,” Caballo Blanco instructs. “Lesson two — Easy, Light, Smooth and Fast.”
The Tarahumara run with perfectly straight backs, pulling strength from their core into their stride. Their footfall is light and quick, landing on the balls of their feet and toes. They glide up mountains and fly over rocky terrain wearing only thin sandals.
As McDougall absorbed and applied the Tarahumara running style to his own training, he questioned the lucrative industry of running shoes. Rather than protecting our feet, the shoes encase them, causing important muscles to lie dormant and providing cushion where it is not needed — under the heel. The modern American running shoe makes it possible for humans to run with a heel strike. Our heels, full of small bones, are not designed for this impact; heels are for walking and standing.
Enter the Nike running shoe with a cushioned heel in the 1960s, and along with a new style of running, a plethora of new running injuries were born. McDougall’s journey in transforming his “American” running stride into a Tarahumara style, including overcoming multiple injuries, challenges the running shoe in such a powerful way that I was itching to throw my shiny new running shoes into the dumpster and run barefoot down the road like a 5-year-old kid.
McDougall intertwines research from Harvard science labs with his exhilarating Tarahumara tale, featuring a hidden race in the Copper Canyons that pitted the top ultra-runners in the world against the fastest Tarahumara runners, to create a robust and intoxicating narrative that inspires readers to drop the book and hit the trail running. Because yes, you were born to run.