Saturday, December 4, 2010

Book Review for “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall

Run miles without shoes? Reduce my number of running injuries? My ears perked up when I heard author Christopher McDougall interviewed on national public radio on his new book, Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen. Being a distance runner with a chronic heel pain, I just had to read this book (

McDougall’s research and book centered on a Mexican Indian tribe called Tarahumara (pronounced with a silent “h”, Tara-oo-mara). The Tarahumara live in the depth of an isolated canyon in Mexico, and run 100 miles or more at a stretch – all miles either barefoot or with crude thin rubber strapped sandals.

Barefoot running brings to mind nasty road stones, sticks and glass that clutter every runner’s path. McDougall offers a near barefoot approach with the slim rubber soled Vibram FiveFingers footwear ( that look like a kind of glove for the foot with its articulated toe slots and just enough fabric to keep the thing on the feet. 

Besides the Tarahumara Indians, the book focuses on the sport of ultra marathons (100 or so mile running races in all kinds of terrain).

I write this blog because Born to Run goes against the tide of “the more expensive the running shoe, the better it is.” My hope is that this blog will generate comments from those who do barefoot running, have worn five fingers, or who have read the book. Born to Run suggests an elixir for runners with severe and recurring injuries who refuse to stop. It poses the question for me, “Could barefoot running really help me run without heel pain?”

Writing Style

As a writer, I consciously evaluate how other writers maintain the enjoyment and attention of the reader. McDougall’s style was of particular interest to me:

• I enjoyed his chapter lengths. They were generally four to six pages, and focused on one or two areas of the story.

• Each chapter ends with a paragraph or sentence that leads into the next chapter, similar to a TV serial, where the end of show entices you to read the next week. I wanted to read the next happening.

• McDougal intermixes the Spanish language within his writings, and then gives the interpretation in English. I once worked with Spanish speaking people, and this method brought back to me many Spanish phrases words.

• While my engineering background shows in my outdoor writings as I take the reader step by step through a story, McDougall assumes the reader will fill in time and people gaps. For instance, my tales might follow a runner’s progress throughout a race, whereas McDougall, without an introduction that the place or speaker has changed, jumps into the next paragraph with another runner, and it all makes sense as the reader understands this is a different runner.

Born to Run provides a very well written and unique perspective to distance running. I preach running to my audience as the cardiovascular exercise needed for extensive outdoor exercises. Whether paddling, hiking, skiing, or biking, you need a good level of physical health for these endurance sports. Whether the outdoor enthusiast reader agrees or disagrees with the author’s assumptions and perspective, the book will surely give you insights to the world of long distance running and an unique view of barefoot running. You also learn a bit about ultra-marathons.

Personal Comment

I ask you to respond to this post with your own thoughts and experience on the topics in Born to Run. However, given this is a blog, I must provide my own comment, and confess that while I am intrigued with barefoot running and Vibram shoes, I have not tried them. I continue to wear my expensive running shoes with orthotics. I have not completely given up the idea as Born to Run has stimulated my curiosity. I never want to say, “I wish I had tried barefoot running and Vibram Five fingers.”

• Holiday gift an inscribed copy of Steve’s latest book, Outdoor Enthusiast: Never say, “I wish I had…”  E-mail Steve at Include the number of copies and the inscription for each book. The price is $34 per book. This special price includes the cost of shipping.