Re-reading Born to Run

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?  

13 thoughts on “Re-reading Born to Run

  1. A perfect read when I know I need to do 8-9 miles on Sunday for my September 1/2 plan. The last two weeks have been tough with the heat, and I’ve had to let go of speed training and following the TLAM 1/2 plan to a tee.

    1. @Griffin – it is very motivational. And just fun in general – I get shivers in the ending scene when (spoiler alert – but it’s non-fiction, so not exactly unknown) Jurek bows to the winning Tarahumara runner.

      1. Don’t worry about spoilers. I’ve read it and heard him speak at Harvard a couple of years ago. I’ve heard he is writing something else and am eagerly awaiting its arrival.

  2. I have Born to Run but haven’t started it yet. Today is my long run and I have been looking forward to it all week! Lots of traveling has kept me from getting out for a long run for a couple weeks. Running has changed my life in ways that I didn’t even consider. I am a like a running pusher, I want everyone to get out there and love it as much as me, lol!

  3. I’be heard of but never read that book. I enjoy running and am training for my first 1/2 since my son was born back in December. I’m still amazed how fast my body was able to bounce back and get back in shape.

  4. I agree, the limitations most people see in long distance running are in the mind. After running my first marathon it made we wonder what other limitations we impose on ourselves.

  5. This book transformed my running life. I’m getting on in years (late 50s) and pains in my hips made me wonder if I could carry on. After reading Born To Run two years ago I changed my running style – and was able to run the London Marathon this year.

    As for MacDougall’s style of writing – catch what I wrote on my website at the time about RSI (repetitive style injury) and Mr Hyperbole.

  6. Yes, I read it a few years ago (right around the time those ‘barefoot’ running shoes silhouetting the toes were all the rage – 2009?). My own personal core takeaway: my running shoes don’t need to be replaced unless they’re falling apart.

    I’m a fan of the Chi Running and Chi Marathon books. Totally transformed the way I run.

  7. I read Born to Run a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it. I too was skeptical of McDougall suddenly being able to run 50 miles! I also love the theory of us being designed to run. I’m not fast either, but I felt much better about my “slow and steady wins the race” mantra after reading this book.

    I also appreciate your comments about enjoying running. I love running, although I don’t look like a typical runner. It makes me feel good and is helping me lose weight, but mostly I just love it. It makes me feel free and strong and 6 years old again. I get really frustrated with people who push themselves to run even though they hate it. There are so many ways to exercise! Life is too short to force yourself to do things you hate, especially several times a week. There are some days when I don’t want to get out there, and some bad runs or bad moments of runs, but overall I love it, and that keeps me me lacing up my shoes.

    1. @Cailtlin- exactly. I run because I love it. There’s no one forcing you to exercise as an adult. I was thinking of this recently, as I didn’t enjoy team sports, gym class, etc. as a kid (I did swim team when very young and did OK at it). But now, having come to running as an adult, I can see that I’m in better shape than many people who did do team sports as kids. They didn’t have the same motivation to keep it up when no one was signing them up, driving them to practice, making them build a schedule around it, etc. Liking something — meaning there is intrinsic motivation — is hard to beat.

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