Wanting to Run – A Review of “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougal

Born to Run

Drug runners, ultra marathoners, indigenous peoples, sandals, anthropology, sports shoes, and physiology all wrapped up in an incredible tale that reaches a spectacular peak in a completely improbable race! Christopher has an uncanny ability to put a book together or just amazing editors, it’s compelling and well paced and fun. Read this book.

Honestly, I feel like the Grandpa in Princes Bride convincing a sick child to let me read him a great book! After the disappointment I had with “Run Barefoot, Run Healthy” that I reviewed a week ago this was exactly what I needed. It stirred me up and made want to get my feet back in running form. This was not a barefoot manifesto, in fact all but one of the main players wear shoes. This was a manifesto for running.

I will probably drop a few spoilers from the book as I work through my thoughts on it, please be warned. However, I don’t think anything could ruin this book or spoil it.

It begins with McDougal looking for a man named Caballo Blanco, i.e. the White Horse. This is a man who lives with a group of super athletes called the Tarahumara, a tribe of native americans living in the Barrancas of the Copper Canyons in Northern Mexico. They run everywhere. In a place that looks sort of like this (I think):


I was expecting to be persuaded by the Tarahumara that barefoot running would be natural and normal out here. They use sandals. So, barefoot isn’t always better. I still want to try barefoot running, but this effectively talked me out of doing only barefoot running.

As it is the Tarahumara don’t actually call themselves the Tarahumara. They call themselves the Raramuri – the running people. It’s a fitting title. They play games of running and have accomplished massive feats of endurance. Some have been known to run 300 miles in a foot race that goes nearly two days. That’s an astonishing pace.

My mind is still geared up for Appalachian trail numbers which means that if you kept that pace, that would allow you to complete the 2185 mile trail in 14-15 days. It’s useless math when it comes down to it, no one could keep that pace for that many days. But the idea alone is incredible, I know most cyclists would struggle to cover that sort of distance in the same time. Even if professional cyclists can cover more, that doesn’t undercut that these people can do on two feet what most struggle to do on two wheels.

“Born to Run” really blends a number of tales as they all come together. McDougal shares his struggles with running injuries that anyone who has ever run can easily relate to, and he brings us along with him on figuring out why. He goes on his journey to find the Tarahumara just to figure out how he can get around the injuries. These healthy guys out on the edge of the world must have some answer if they call themselves the running people, and through Chris’s research and story he finds some of the answers he’s seeking.

He tells us the story of how the modern running shoe developed. If you read the review of Ashish’s book you know that these shoes cause more problems than they solve. McDougal breaks down his analysis even more in a way that seriously undercuts the shoe industry while giving it a shot at redemption. He doesn’t dismiss toe-shoes or minimalist footwear or even shoes with padding, but he lets you know that the most expensive isn’t always the best and the most padded definitely isn’t the best.

One of my favorite bits is the descriptions of the races: the Leadville 100, that one across death valley, and the big one that serves as a climax for this story – Tarahumara vs Ultra-runners in the Barrancas. He weaves these together so well that they feel “Like Sprints” as one reviewer put it. But intermixed in all of this is the story of humanity, and why we are all Raramuri, running people. These aren’t interviews or clinical lab descriptions of human anthropology or paleontology or physiology or biomechanics. McDougal tells the story of the scientists as the quest after mankind’s deepest routes and weaves them together to show that man came out on top because we are born to run – body, mind, and soul!

This isn’t a manifesto for barefoot running or any particular type of footwear. It’s a story that get’s us moving to get us back to our roots. It’s a story about delighting in life. It’s a manifesto to run!

Not bad for a book title out of a Springsteen song.


About Sean Smith

Husband, Father, Pastor, Swimmer, Writer, Reader, and attempted Adventurer!
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