Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run was one of my favorite books of 2009. To be sure, there are issues with its genre (creative non-fiction). McDougall pushes the genre to the limits, writing dialogue for situations in which he wasn’t there and I don’t think anyone recorded the conversation. But unlike Elizabeth Gilbert, he used real names, so I appreciated that.
Anyway, I read the book while trying to fill the space of time past my due date with my second kid, and it reminded me of why I love running, and why I was eager to get back to it as soon as possible. McDougall perfectly captures the joy that comes from lacing up your shoes (or not lacing up your shoes if you’re a barefoot runner) and heading down the road. Sure, I like the things running does for my body. But I also love how it makes me feel. It’s glorious and freeing. If I’m having a tough day, nothing rescues it like going out for a run.
I remembered enjoying the book the first time around, so this summer I decided to pick it up again. A few things stuck out. I hadn’t remembered how much of a commercial it was for the Vibram FiveFingers running “shoe.” Maybe it’s because 4 years ago the Vibrams weren’t as ubiquitous as they are now, so their mention didn’t trigger any recognition for me. I also was more interested, this time around, in McDougall’s own tale of turning from a guy who couldn’t run 3 miles without wincing into an ultra-marathoner. That, in fact, is one of the craziest things about the book. The first time I read it, I was so intrigued by the other distance running characters that I didn’t realize McDougall was a character to the extent he was, too. By the end of the book, he could run 50 miles! That is no small thing.
I am not into barefoot running. But then again, I am not particularly prone to injury, either (knock on wood!) so that may explain why I’ve not been interested in it. I still love the idea that humans are born to run, that we are made to cover long distances on foot. I am not fast. But I’ve been able to go long distances feeling little worse for wear, and sometimes, deep into a run, some fascinating things happen. Around mile 9 of my training runs for the recent half-marathon, I’d lose all sense of fatigue and start to feel like my legs could go forever. I’m sure they couldn’t, but you start to realize that many limitations to distance are mostly in the mind.
Do you run? Did you read Born to Run, and what did you think?