Sunday, April 22, 2012

Book Review: Born to Run

It started with almost too much mystery. A hidden culture. A mythical, ghost-like figure whose purpose was obscured. An anthropological study of canyon-dwelling natives. 

 It took about 70 pages before the pace of the book picked up and flowed. It’s almost like the first couple miles of any run, slightly labored. Once I advanced beyond the entry point, the body of the Born to Run opened up into a tale I couldn’t stop myself from following right through to the author’s last word.

The essence I took from the book is that running can and should be enjoyable. The characters, the best of them, run for no other reason than pleasure.

In reflecting on this truth, I recall that my most profound periods of success with running have come when I use running as a salve for my woes: as a way to relax after work, to jumpstart a weekend, to reconnect with myself, or to commune with friends. I’m most content in my runs when it’s not competitive, but a form of renewal.

I gathered this is how it started for some of the ultra-marathoners featured in Born to Run. They didn’t set out to be awesome distance runners. They ran for pleasure; their success was a side effect of the elation felt in the run that carried them further and faster.

I think these same qualities apply with long hikes, too. It’s the heart you put in it. When you find a love of life for and through the movement, it feels like you can go on forever.

McDougall gives readers a fascinating look at the philosophy and psychology of successful distance runners as much as the physiological constructs of the human body built to run. The fundamentals come down to building as much soul as strength, but the run-fast formula is laced throughout the book in research studies, anecdotes, and practical applications.  

It’s more than a how-to book to running. It’s a gripping story of a amazing races, unforgiving terrain, kindhearted people, and a dedication to something bigger.

After all, McDougall writes: “The reason we race isn’t so much to beat each other but to be with each other.”

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