Friday, August 21, 2009

Born to Run book review

Having recently finished reading Chris McDougall's book Born to Run, a brief book review seems to be in order. First of all, this book is simply a really enjoyable read. It was one of the most enjoyable non-fiction books I've read in a long time. Now, I've heard people say that there is quite a bit of embellishment in this book, which may be true, but it's still a very enjoyable read. The characters are well developed and fun, the story is very interesting and there is something to be learned within. Whether all the characters behaved exactly as described in the book is irrelevant, it's a fun read based on actual events.

I had been firmly in the low profile, minimal shoe camp prior to reading the book, so this was no startling revelation. However, McDougall develops the argument for minimalist running shoes very effectively. As even Barefoot Ted (one of the main characters of the book) will admit, if it 'aint broke don't try to fix it, for many runners, it still makes sense to strive for a more minimal shoe. Learning to run more on the forefoot and dispensing with heel-striking has helped me run faster with less effort and with fewer injuries. If you're a consistently injured trail runner looking for answers, it might be worth looking at more minimal shoes and working on your form a bit. A little barefoot running on soft surfaces thrown in at the end of a trail run will also help strengthen your feet and improve your form.

I was also very intrigued by the chapter which addresses human physiology and our natural traits designed to allow us to excel at long distance running over rugged trails. Mcdougall covers this theory in great detail in the book. Briefly, humans possess several adaptations that make us natural born distance runners. We are hairless and are one of the few animals that sweat, allowing us to cool our bodies effectively during long runs. We also developed long, springy tendons in our legs and feet that function like large elastics, storing energy and releasing it with each running stride, reducing the amount of energy it takes to take another step. Our bodies are also adapted to counterbalance each step with an arm swing, and our large butt muscles hold our upper bodies upright while an elastic ligament in our neck is designed to help keep our head steady. There are other adaptations that are addressed in the book. A good discussion of this theory can be found here

Overall, if you enjoy running and are looking for a fun end of the summer read, you should pick up a copy of Born to Run. Our copy is getting haggard as we shuffle it around to all of our friends, runner and non-runner alike. They all seem to enjoy it.

See Chris McDougall on the Daily Show

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