Imagination doesn't just mean making things up. It means thinking things through, solving [problems] or hoping to do so, and being just distant enough to be able to laugh at things that are normally painful. [Some people] would call this escapism, but they would be be entirely wrong. I would call fantasy the most serious, and the most useful branch of writing there is.
--Diana Wynne Jones

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Book Review: Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen, by Christopher McDougall

I love to, I would love it, except that I always seem to get injured when I do it. Which is why I read this book. Because I'd had plantar fasciitis for six months and done absolutely everything doctors and everybody else recommended, including never going barefoot and buying orthotics and special shoes with extra arch support, and my heel pain kept getting worse. And then I heard something about a book called Born to Run and how some tribe in Mexico runs like 80 miles a day for fun with barely any shoes on at all.

So I bought the book, but my daughter snatched it, and then she lost it. Meanwhile, a guy at the shoe store was telling me that going barefoot might actually make a person's arches stronger, and my brother was telling me how he and my nephew had been running barefoot and how much more fun it is to run without shoes. So I walked my dog to the park one day on my miserable, screaming heels, took off my running shoes, and ran two miles barefoot in the grass.

It felt great. I did it again. And again. I was addicted. And my plantar fasciitis was gone in a month. I ran a triathlon, trying to mimic the barefoot technique as I ran in my shoes, and never had any heel pain at all. So weird.

And it dawned on me that when I used to love to run in elementary school, I did it in my little archless canvas Keds shoes, and I never had an injury of any kind until I convinced my mom to buy my first pair of Nikes and I read in a runner's magazine that proper running technique was to land heel first, something only possible in a highly-cushioned pair of shoes.

I finally found the book the other day, and had to read it almost in one sitting. After hearing and believing for so long that a person's body isn't made for running, I loved reading about an entire community of people, old and young, who run ultramarathons on a regular basis in nothing but strappy sandals, and they're all amazingly fast, which makes you think that maybe the human body was meant to run after all, and we moderns are just doing it wrong with our fancy cushioned shoes and lazy lifestyles and ultra-processed food.

Born to Run talks about technique, and shoes, and diet, and how running and caring about other people might sometimes have something to do with eachother, and it tells the story of a secret, amazing race between some of the most elite runners in America and members of this astonishing running tribe. It's also about finding joy in running and life and everything you do, and about a couple of scientists who discovered that the human body is actually designed to run, long and far. We aren't made to be walkers, we're made to be runners--long distance runners. If we can only remember how we used to do it. And remember to find the joy.

Although occasionally I got impatient with the sometimes too-long digressions about each participant in the race, and I didn't quite see what some of those details had to do with anything, overall I loved this book. I needed it. And reading had the interesting side-effect of making me want to run really far in the cold and eat a lot of chia seeds.

Well, and I stayed up reading until 3:00 am because I couldn't put it down.

I definitely recommend it (unless you're troubled by reading strong language, because it has some) if you're a runner, or want to be, or suffer from a million orthopedic injuries.


  1. I've always wanted to be a runner. I think I'll have to check out this book. =]

  2. I have been wanting to read the book for a while now but never get around to getting a copy. But you made me really want to read it. So now I will. I am so glad you figured something out that works for you. And keeps you injury-free (at least so far). Yeah! Oh, and registration for the Women's Tri is on the 15th. So on Tuesday! I suggest you register asap because it fills up super fast.

  3. yea either the vibrams or nike free's are not bad.. a decent comparison here.

  4. Laura--you should read it even if you don't like to run, just because it's interesting.

    Oh, and I also found a Barefoot Ted website (he's one of the runners in the book) which sells kits to make sandals like the Tarahumara. Here's the website:

    Thanks for letting me know about the women's tri, Sara. I'll sign up for sure.

  5. Elena,

    "Born to Run" has definitely changed the perception of barefoot running. back in the day, we were pretty much considered outcasts. Now we're approaching "fad" status. :-)

    Running barefoot helped my PF, though it took some time to completely heal. My best advice is to go slow... your body needs time to adapt to using the new muscles (and other physiological adaptations). Anyway, best of luck! Great review, too!


  6. Thanks for the good advice, Jason, and for the winter shoe suggestions, electro. Obviously, I can't run barefoot in Utah in winter (2 degrees last week), so I'm looking for some minimal shoes warm enough for zero temps and frozen slush, in case anyone has more shoe suggestions.

  7. And Sarah, you can borrow my book any time. :)


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