My Book reviews /

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen

Title Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen
Authors Christopher McDougall
Publisher Vintage
Date 2011-03-29
Pages 304
ISBN 0307279189

This book is a national bestseller in the US and I wish that many other people around the world could read it. It is modern day classics of novel genre. It is about common people, like you and me, who discover super-human abilities in themselves. It is like Harry Potter, but it is based on true facts. It is a book about human spirit. Most people believe that the most important thing in life is financial well-being. Often, they neglect other parts that make us different from the rest of creatures, in particular our spirit. Only those people who are disconnected from modern world still posses the real virtues of human kind: being strong, independent, and being in harmony with nature. It is no wonder that many people in the US are in constant search of spiritual life. This is why there are so many churches in the US. But for many people religion seems too unclear, and this is why many of them stick to yoga, feng-shui, etc. But this is not going to give you freedom. The only way is to look back at our past, at the remote tribes in Mexican Copper Canyon to find out what makes them happy. And the answer is тАУ running. And ultra-running. Sometimes they run for several days without stopping. They can run hundreds of kilometers. This exercise will connect your mind to the pre-historic times when people were wild and free. They could survive without cars, iPads, television. And so can we! You can hit the trail right now. And this is the right thing to do!

In fact, the author mentions a strong connection between national crisis and people on the run. For example, the number of runners increased dramatically after 9/11 attacks. People are running away from the stressful society. Apparently, Americans are ways ahead than the rest of the world in their ability to manage stress. In Russia people drink vodka when they are in trouble. Does it solve any problems? It does not. The only solution is to strengthen your spirit and running does exactly that. Many great sportsmen noticed that running long distances is not about the physical strength. You don╩╝t need to attend gym for months before you can run a marathon. But you have to do lots of mental exercises, in particular, you have to teach yourself that you╩╝d have to overcome lots of difficulties on the road: pain, lack of water, hunger, etc.

The book makes it very clear that spiritual and financial health are often opposite to each other. Here is a quote from the book:

By early 80╩╝s the Boston Club had half a dozen guys who could run a 2:12 marathon. That╩╝s just a single club in a single city. Twenty years later, you could╩╝t find a single 2:12 marathoner anywhere in the country. The United States couldn╩╝t even get one runner to meet the 2:14 qualifying standard for the 2000 Olympics. So what happened? It╩╝s hard to determine a single cause but forced to choose, the answer is: $$$ The Goddess of Wisdom and Goddess of Wealth. Everyone thinks they need to get wealth first, and wisdom will come.

The professional coaches are able to bake Olympic champions according to their plan. There is a comprehensive recruiting system that scouts through high-schools and picks up kids who look promising. Even during troublesome 1990s we had such a thing in Russia (I was always frowned upon by physical education teachers). But the truly gifted people (I don╩╝t mean myself) are often neglected by this system. Here is a story of Czech soldier Emil Zatopek:

Emil Zatopek loved running so much that even when he was still in army, he used to grab a flash-light and go off on twenty-mile runs through woods at night. In his combat boots. In winter. After a full day of drills.

So, one day he got to Olympic games (Helsinki, 1952) and he was going to run his first marathon. He never trained for a marathon, so was there even a slightest chance that he could win against a pack of professional marathoners?

It was a hot day, so England╩╝s Jim Peters the world-record holder, decided to make Zatopek suffer. тАЬExcuse meтАЭ, Zatopek said, тАЬThis is my first marathon. Are we going too fast?тАЭ. тАЬNoтАЭ, Peters replied. тАЬToo slowтАЭ. Zatopek was dumb enough to trust him. тАЬOkay. ThanksтАЭ, he replied, and took off. When he appeared on the Olympic stadium, he was met with roar not only from his fans, but from athletes of every nation. Zatopek snapped the tape with an Olympic record.

This book is interesting to read because it is about people. About you and me. It describes stories of many such people, for example a college teacher from California named Ann Trason. She is a kind of woman who can outrun men in a marathon. It is interesting that the longer the distance, the better women do compared to men. For example, the world record for the marathon (42km) is as follows. Men: 2 hours 3 minutes, women: 2 hours 15 minutes. The difference is 10%.

The world record for the ultra-marathon (100km) for men is 6 hours 13 minutes, for women is 6 hours 33 minutes. The difference is 5%. At some point, women can beat men.

Running is the only sports in which 60 year old people can outrun 20 year old. No other sports is like this (maybe chess is another exception). But lets think of the activities that pre-historic people used to do: running, swimming, hunting which means throwing spears at animals. The latter skill requires a good eye-sight and physical strength. In all components except running optimal age is around 30 years old. Then the performance deteriorates rapidly. Running gets fastest also at the age of 30 something, but people can stay at that level of performance for much longer. It has been proven that 60 year old people have similar abilities as 20 year olds. This proves that 60 year olds are in fact young people. And this is really really amazing.

It turns out that there is a whole Indian tribe called Tarahumara who can run for days. They just enjoy it. Modern-day Americans made contact with this elusive tribe and invited them to participate in an Ultramarathon. So who won? To answer that question, you╩╝ll need to read this book!