Before I start, full disclosure: I injured the tendons in my right leg training for a race in 2013 and my ankle hasn’t been the same since.
I went through a whole production line of doctors and specialists who failed to get to the bottom of the injury and basically ended up saying, ‘we’re not sure what’s wrong, but if you let us slice you open we might be able to find out’. Er, no thanks!
So after shunning the surgeon’s knife I had to try and deal with the problem – by at least stopping it get worse – myself.
I hurt myself while running in sneakers fitted with insoles after some college kid in a shoe shop told me I needed them because I was “over-pronating”.
After reading up, I have since reached my own conclusion that most modern-day running injuries are caused by two main things:
1) Unbalanced and weak muscles – mainly in our core – which, thanks to our modern-day sedentary lifestyle, mean our bodies can’t cope when we suddenly put them through the trauma of running.
2) Running shoes with big spongy soles which cause us to run on our heels and and – along with insoles – stop us pronating naturally.
So, before I even turned the first page of Born to Run, I had already started running in ‘minimalist’ shoes and was well on the path towards so-called ‘barefoot’ running. I was already, kind of, a believer.
But even if I wasn’t, I think I would have found Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen just as interesting.
Because even though the book does spend a lot of time discussing why barefoot running is awesome, it offers a lot more besides.
Essentially, Born to Run is an analysis of the modern state of running in the Western world – including the multi-billion dollar shoe industry that thrives off it.
But it is also a story about the reclusive Tarahumara tribe who inhabit Mexico’s Copper Canyons and are incredible endurance runners. Finding out about them is worth the read in itself.
McDougall combines interviews with experts and his own tales of meeting the Tarahumara to dissect why so many runners end up injured. There’s also great insights into diet and running style.
But what makes the book so enjoyable is that laced through all the science, history and anecdotes is another, fascinating, story – about a race organised between the Tarahumara and some of the best ultra-runners in the world.
It’s dreamt up by an illusive character called Caballo Blanco – or “white horse” – a wayward ultra-runner also known as Micah True and who sadly passed away in 2012. He lived and ran among the Tarahumara for several months every year for more than a decade from 1994.
The story of his 50-miles ‘race of races’ and the characters that Caballo somehow persuades to travel to the Copper Canyons, including legendary ultra runner Scott Jurek, makes fascinating reading.
A film version of the book starring Matthew McConaughey as Caballo is said to be in the pipeline.
But whether you’re interested in the science of running, a good story, or just an insight into one of the world’s most fascinating tribes, the book is well worth a read first.