Run to Feel Alive

Born to Run (2009) by Christopher McDougall


Injury Dilemma

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. 

Running Shoes

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.

Daring Adventure

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.

Expert Advice from Ultrarunner Lisa Tamati

Philosophy from Experience

Lisa Tamati, born in New Zealand, embodies the spirit of extreme running. She views overcoming challenges as the perfect method of finding her personal strengths and weaknesses. Her journey reveals what is most important in life; the state of happiness.

Seeking New Tests

Tamati reports on the numerous major ultramarathons she has conquered, including the Commonwealth Mountain and Ultra Distance Running Championships, Northburn 100 mile, Northface 100 km, and La Ultra – The High. Throughout these fascinating accounts she offers practical racing advice.

  • Excessive training too soon before a race will inevitably spoil the important performance.
  • The teachings from previous races are useless if the correct pacing strategy on race day is not followed.
  • Regardless of the race length the last 20 km (12.4 miles) is crucial for success, so save 50% of energy reserves for this last stretch.
  • 6-12 months of recovery after ultramarathons is ideal, but if this is not possible focus on non-weight bearing exercises such as swimming.

In the 4 Deserts Sahara race she finds becoming anxious over factors out of her control uses too much energy. She mentally blocks out doubts to improve her chances of achieving the goal. Extreme races require this intense concentration more than any other pursuit.

Tamati learns during the Gobi March that athletes running in extreme conditions must accept that death remains a possibility. She does counter this by advising that there is no humiliation in quitting, because overcoming the fear to try is a proud accomplishment. Finishing times should not be fixated on as they are not a priority.

Finally, she demonstrates her immense determination when she runs the entire length of New Zealand in 2009, proving that ultrarunning is a team sport, where the crew can achieve their dreams too.