The Track and Field games beginning tomorrow, August 3rd,Â are among the Olympicsâ most eagerly funded, watched and covered events. Meanwhile, in Mexicoâs remote Sierra Madre mountain range, there exists a culture of running mind-blowingly antithetical to the endorsements and glitz blazing through London.
Christopher McDougall's bestselling 2009 book âBorn to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seenâ and the Tarahumara Indians and annual Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon it highlights make Olympic runners resemble pageant queens of human physical endurance. As a companion volume to our flat-screen viewing of the international spectacle interspersed with ads for Gatorade and Nike,Â âBorn to Runâ offers a revolutionary and thrilling exploration of running, its metaphors and how we're doing it wrong.
"That was the real secret of the Tarahumara: theyâd never forgotten what it felt like to love running. They remembered that running was mankindâs first fine art, our original act of inspired creation. Way before we were scratching pictures on caves or beating rhythms on hollow trees, we were perfecting the art of combining our breath and mind and muscles into fluid self-propulsion over wild terrain. And when our ancestors finally did make their first cave paintings, what were the first designs? A downward slash, lightning bolts through the bottom and middle -- behold, the Running Man."
Overflowing with evocative prose, âBorn to Runâ is an adventure fan's dream read. It begins with a question McDougall asks of his doctor: âWhy does my foot hurt?" What follows is a trek into treacherous mountain terrain, the fallacies of modern athletic technology and the mechanics and traditions of barefoot running. In its quest to answer that question at its core, the book contains everything -- dreamy locations, outrageous characters (Barefoot TedÂ is a loquacious standout), and a breathtaking climax, the grueling fifty-mile race in Mexico's Copper Canyons in which McDougall himself takes part.
To the Tarahumara, the tribe at the book's center, running is more than a sport. It is a way back to ourselves and the pleasure and gratitude of motion, of allowing our mechanics to take over in ways we customarily fight. We suffer innumerable running injuries, while the Tarahumara, wearing nothing more intricate than sandals, run for miles and miles. The body knows what it's doing, McDougall is saying; let it do its job and see where it takes you.
Most captivating in this blend of philosophy, science and history is Caballo Blanco, a âmysterious loner with a fake nameâ and the object of an obsessive hunt by McDougall, who longs to meet him. Â The myth of Caballo Blanco emerges as just that:Â Micah True (his chosen name -- part biblical, part personal) is simply a runner. Of course, he is also the bookâs hero, defending and honoring the simplest way of life. Â As the architect of The Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon, he helps introduce a cast of runners defying easy categorization; young, old, weird, gorgeous, American and Tarahumara, their lessons in humility, passion and inner strength are profound. Â True died on a run in late March 2012 on a twelve-mile trail run in the Gila Wilderness area. He may be gone, but hisÂ Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon is on schedule for March 2013.
We watch the Olympics with a mixture of reverent awe, competitive spirit and the underlying conviction that âI could never do that.â But McDougall insists that maybe we can -- if we throw away various expenses, that is: the gym memberships, the complicated sneakers, the âno pain, no gainâ mentality. Â The Tarahumara and the followers theyâve collected on their trails prove that we can go further, both physically and mentally, and still have a ball. In McDougallâs words:
âDistance running was revered because it was indispensable; it was the way we survived and thrived and spread across the planet. You ran to eat and to avoid being eaten; you ran to find a mate and impress her, and with her you ran off to start a new life together. You had to love running, or you wouldn't live to love anything else. And like everything else we love -- everything we sentimentally call our âpassionsâ and âdesiresâ -- it's really an encoded ancestral necessity. We were born to run; we were born because we run. We're all Running People, as the Tarahumara have always known.â
Funny and touching, âBorn to Runâ inspires us to reclaim our birthright.