October 09, 2019

Born To Run (a super simple book review) and a giveaway!

Born to Run paperback

So, for YEARS I've been saying that I was going to read Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. I bought the paperback copy so long ago I don't even remember buying it. I took it on airplanes with me, I tried reading it when I was between other books, but I just couldn't get into it!

As a runner, I felt it was a rite of passage to read that book. It's been on my list forever, and when I was able to borrow it from the library and read it on my Kindle instead of the paperback, it seemed much less daunting.

And it was! Once I got about 50 pages in, I could definitely understand the appeal. I happen to forget books as soon as I read them, so this isn't really going to be a real review. I'll just write the gist of my thoughts on it and include some parts that I highlighted. (I love that on the Kindle, you can highlight things and have them all emailed to you!)

Let me first apologize if I don't have everything EXACTLY perfect on this post. I finished the book about a month ago, so the details are a little fuzzy. I wrote this based on my notes and on what I found most interesting in the book.

In a very small nutshell, the book is about a running tribe called the Tarahumara that is so remote in Mexico, they seem non-existent. Very exclusive, and despite the fact that they are literally some of the fastest long-distance runners in the world, they are very humble and don't travel around, running races. They just run for fun amongst their community.

The author of the book, Christopher McDougall, spent some time trying to track down anybody he could to learn about this mysterious tribe. Once he finds them, he learns all sorts of running tips and techniques from them. He meets an eccentric man named Caballo who lives among the Tarahumara who comes up with a plan to have a real race in the tribe's home turf. He invites some of the best runners in the world, including Scott Jurek--and he accepted!

While I thought the race preparation was very interesting, I was mostly interested in how the Tarahumara run, which is what I'll focus on here (because that's mostly what I have highlighted).

Here is what McDougall was told about running the Tarahumara way:
"Think Easy, Light, Smooth, and Fast. You start with easy, because if that's all you get, that's not so bad. Then work on light. Make it effortless, like you don't give a shit how high the hill is or how far you've got to go. When you've practiced so long that you forget you're practicing, you work on making it smooooooth. You won't have to worry about the last one--you get those three, and you'll be fast."
The Tarahumara seem to run with no effort at all, and I'm talking dozens and dozens of miles at a time. They have races that seem to go on forever--FOR FUN.
"...the only way to truly conquer something, as every great philosopher and geneticist will tell you, is to love it." 
Since the Tarahumara love running so much, they've got it conquered. Without sponsors or coaches or even running shoes, they are some of the best runners in the world.

When this book was first published, it started the big "barefoot running" trend. I was never on board with it (then again, I'd never read the book). I can totally see why people started running barefoot! The Tarahumara run barefoot or close to it (flat-soled sandals that are strapped on).

Something that I found very interesting was about easy and hard runs. I'm always preaching about the importance of easy runs, and Ken Mierke (developer of Evolution Running, a method of staying injury free) says of this,
"Nearly all runners do their slow runs too fast, and their fast runs too slow. So they're just training their bodies to burn sugar which is the last thing a distance runner wants. You've got enough fat stored to run to California, so the more you train your body to burn fat instead of sugar the longer your limited sugar tank is going to last."
Perhaps that is why when I switched to running VERY easy 80% of the time, I dropped to my lowest weight almost effortlessly and my body fat was as low as it's ever been. I was eating a lot of calories, but I was running very slowly 80% of the time and VERY hard 20% of the time.

Another interesting note about the Tarahumara is about their diet, both for running and health: Eat like a poor person (eat less). Also, the more generic, "Eat better". In this case, eating better is referring to building our diets around fruit and vegetables instead of red meat and processed carbs (nothing new).

The Tarahumara tend to eat pinto beans, squash, chili peppers, wild greens, pinole (a sweetened flour made from ground dried corn mixed with flour made from mesquite beans, sugar, and spices--this seemed to be very popular throughout the book, something that was eaten daily), and LOTS of chia seeds. I admit, I ordered some more chia bars from Amazon after I read this, haha.

I don't want to spoil the race itself in the book (the entire book is leading up toward this unofficial race full of elite runners and the Tarahumara.

Finally, about the barefoot running...

I always thought it seemed so dumb. A passing fad (which it kind of was). However, I did take something from it in this book that I think makes a lot of sense.

Running shoes these days have a LOT of support. However, our bodies weren't made to have all that support under our feet, so our feet have adapted to require it. The benefit to running barefoot is that it strengthens all of the little muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones that make up our feet.

When all of those things are tough, as they are meant to be, we don't need all the support from running shoes. We may want to protect our feet from things like rocks and debris, but the added arch support is only there because we've adapted to it.

I did learn all about this when I went to the Runner's World headquarters and listened to Golden Harper, founder of Altra running shoes (I wrote an interview with him here). And I believed everything he was saying about the shape of our feet and having less support is actually a good thing (in context).

However, when I got the shoes (a cushioned, but flat running show, without arch support--basically barefoot only with padding), I switched to them immediately. I did not, as recommended, *gradually* make the switch as recommended.

I wound up injured, and I wondered if it was the shoes. I believe, after reading Born to Run, that my feet weren't strong enough to just switch to running without any support. The solution to this? Run barefoot every once in a while for a very short distance (a quarter mile or so) until your feet get adjusted to it. Each time you run that way, you're strengthening your feet to use less support from shoes--which will in turn make you a better runner with less injuries.

I decided to try it out a couple of times. The first time, I was running (in shoes) on the treadmill and my knee started hurting after two miles. I have no idea why! Remembering the book, I kicked off my shoes to run just a short distance (0.25 miles) and my knee pain went away!

I had to put my shoes back on to finish the run (running without the shoes was tiring on my feet and the book recommended only doing it for shorts periods of time as you adjust), but it was interesting to see how much my gait had changed when I took off my shoes. I was landing on the balls of my feet, which I don't do in shoes.

And I have to say, the following day, I was SO SORE. Just that short, easy run without shoes definitely used muscles that I wasn't used to. So, I'm hoping that doing that once in a while will strengthen my feet.

I've even had my cross country kids take off their shoes and socks after practice and do about 0.12 miles (across the field and back) with their bare feet. I tell them to run naturally, and not sprint. Just run however it feels comfortable. They said they love the feeling of the grass on their feet, and taking off their shoes feels great after running 3-4 miles in them.

I'm hoping that by doing it now and early, while they are young, they won't need so much support in running shoes when they are older. I hope that their bare feet will be nice and strong to help prevent injury. And besides, running barefoot is actually pretty fun! ;)

So, now that I've finally finished Born to Run, I can say that I actually recommend it. It took me a long time to read far enough into it to really get invested, but once I did, I found so much of it fascinating. It's a funny read, and reading it on the Kindle made it go by so much faster than the paperback! (Read how much I love my Kindle Paperwhite on this post. I can't say enough good things about it!)

Since I love my Kindle so much, I still have this paperback copy of Born to Run that isn't going anywhere. It's not brand new (like I said, I started it 8 million times) but I'd love to give it to someone who would like to read it!

So, if you live in the U.S. and are interested in reading Born to Run, just fill out the Google form below. You don't have to jump through hoops by posting on social media and all that jazz (although it would make me feel good if you followed me on Facebook or something; even though I rarely post there! "Fans" have been dropping like flies, hahaha).

Just fill out your name and email address--it will be for my eyes only--and I will select a winner via random.org on Monday, October 14th at 1:00 pm ET. I will email you if you're selected :) And let's pay nicely, kids--one entry per person. I hope you enjoy the book! I really did like it a lot once I got into it.

(Ugh, apparently I didn't change a setting when I posted this, and the form wasn't working. It should be working okay now!)


  1. I read the book and while I didn't jump on the "barefoot running" bandwagon, I enjoyed the story. It's been a while so I enjoyed this trip down memory lane. Love the idea of having the kids running the grass barefoot.

  2. That's so awesome that you thought to incorporate the barefoot running in your cross-country kids. I love that they enjoy it so much! Great job, Coach!

  3. I love that you don't require a million things to enter giveaways. Thank you! This book sounds great!

  4. I actually work for a company that makes minimalist/barefoot shoes. And I can say, for me at least, shoes with built up heels, huge amounts of padding, narrow toe boxes, and stiff soles cause my feet (and legs, knees, back, etc) to hurt so, so much.

    I used to think I was clumsy. I live in Oregon, and hike a lot, and a lot of our trails are uneven. I tripped a lot. Then I started hiking in "barefoot" shoes and the ability to feel the ground beneath my feet was life changing- I rarely trip at all anymore, because my feet can feel what is there an adjust, unlike in heavy hiking boots or even standard sneakers (which have very thick, very stiff soles in comparison to minimalist shoes).

    As I said, I do work for a company that makes these kinds of shoes. But I also genuinely don't wear any non-minimalist shoes, because they hurt. It is definitely important to start slow though! Once you get used to minimalist shoes, thick, stiff shoes will feel so uncomfortable, and the toe boxes especially just feel so tight!


I used to publish ALL comments (even the mean ones) but I recently chose not to publish those. I always welcome constructive comments/criticism, but there is no need for unnecessary rudeness/hate. But please--I love reading what you have to say! (This comment form is super finicky, so I apologize if you're unable to comment)

Featured Posts

Blog Archive