Born to Run (2009) by Christopher McDougall
In January 2001, a journalist in his 40s asks doctors why running causes him and the majority of runners so many injuries. He learns running is a high-impact sport that affects a very sensitive area of the body – the feet.
He notes that running is a primal activity used for pleasure and to escape danger. Running animals are injury-free and yet humans appear to suffer regularly.
McDougall tackles the subject by summarising extensive studies on the effects of shoes.
- The more cushioning in shoes, the less stable they become, as feet always seek to contact a solid platform. Therefore, thinner soles provide greater stability.
- We are designed through evolution to run barefoot, as pronation is a natural feature of our feet.
Despite the constant technological advances and sophisticated marketing campaigns, modern running shoes actually increase runners’ chance of injury. The multi-billion dollar industry is also indicative of Western society, which prioritises short-term results and monetary incentives over long-term consistency and health.
McDougall sets off to discover the purity of running and finds the Copper Canyons of Mexico, where he meets the Native American tribe of the Tarahumara. The running philosophy adopted by this peaceful, giving and athletic people is humbling.
- They run free like children subconsciously do.
- They love running in any condition and at any time, embracing the uncertainty of the next obstacle.
- They eat a simple diet, predominantly local vegetables such as greens and squashes, and grains such as corn.
McDougall learns to run easy, light and smooth in order to run faster, and to complete an ultramarathon along challenging trails. The race takes months of extensive planning and treacherous navigation, culminating in a secret and awe-inspiring event with some of the best endurance runners in the world, including Scott Jurek, Jenn Shelton and Barefoot Ted.
Running Man Theory
Ultimately, McDougall subscribes to a scientific theory that humans are born to run. Despite losing power, stability and aerodynamics by travelling on two legs, we retain many running attributes:
- an achilles tendon
- arched feet
- short and straight toes
- large glutes
- the nuchal ligament*
We can also take more steps per breath than any other animal. Combined with sweating on the move, we can cool without stopping and thus fare better in all climates.
These features enable us to be the best persistence hunters. The skills of animal tracking, strategy and visualisation mean we could use our aerobic capacity to exhaust antelope to death.
Although we thankfully do not use running for this purpose we still harbour the desire to travel at pace using only our will and physical strength.
* This stabilises our heads when running.