Why We Run
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Why We Run

3.69 of 5 stars 3.69  ·  rating details  ·  899 ratings  ·  103 reviews
In Why We Run, biologist, award-winning nature writer, and ultramarathoner Bernd Heinrich explores a new perspective on human evolution by examining the phenomenon of ultraendurance and makes surprising discoveries about the physical, spiritual -- and primal -- drive to win. At once lyrical and scientific, Why We Run shows Heinrich's signature blend of biology, anthropolog...more
ebook, 304 pages
Published October 6th 2009 by HarperCollins e-books (first published May 1st 2002)
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Jared Hidalgo
Nov 13, 2011 Jared Hidalgo rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: distance runners
Award-winning ultra-marathoner, biologist, and writer Bernd Heinrich weaves a warm, persuasive narrative with threads of scientific data from his studies as a biologist and also with personal stories from his life as a dedicated runner. Indeed, Why We Run brings together elements of an autobiography, of research notes on animal physical endurance, and of storytelling for distance runners. The result is a bid to understand that ordinary people poses the ability to run the distance and acquire eve...more
I accidentally read this and then I purposely read everything else he wrote.

Daniel Solera
This book suffered from an identity crisis. From the very title, you anticipate that it will be a natural history of the human body, the impulses that led us to walk upright, the impetus that provoked us into running short, and later long distances. At some point you would expect to read about theories about the human physique and how it correlates to talents at long-distance running.

Bernd Heinrich's book does this, but it gets confused along the way. It begins as a memoir, a look into his life...more
Such a great book. I'd like to take Bernd out for coffee and go for a run in the woods with him!
This was an interesting take on running. Heinrich is a zoologist, and views running through that lens. Over the course of his own training for his first 100-mile race, he talks about the ways various animals run, and compares their physiology to that of humans. For example, he explains what makes migratory birds such excellent distance athletes. They can fly thousands of miles with little rest because they are so light, their lungs and hearts are made for it, and many of them double their weight...more
Know what you're getting into. The cover and title are misleading.

I loved Winter World and felt that Heinrich was a magnificent writer and scientist. This book muchly undid that feeling.

Firstly, what this book is not about: antelope, prehistorical man, the Olympics, modern running, Bernd's life, how to run, or why we run.

It is, instead, partially about all of these things and more. It sounds like they might combine fabulously. But if you look at the other reviews, you'll see that for many it fal...more
This is an excellent book if you are interested in anthropology and the biology associated with running. It analyses the relationship between humans and animals in an attempt to find out why it is that we run and why we are able to run as far as we do.
The author himself is an ultra-marathon runner, and the book chronicles his journey to one particular race, his first 100km ultra. This part of the story is well written and engaging but I was left wanting more, more analysis of his own journey, th...more
Cara McKenna
Nice! Bird-perv memoir!!

Stole this paperback from the Husbo last night and read the first half straight through. Great book in many respects—a compelling mix of memoir, running theory, and anthropological study. But my favorite part is what a total bird-creeper the author is. I feel so understood.

Page 40, childhood memory: "I spied a tiny owl, no larger than a coffee mug. The yellow eyes of the saw-whet owl looked at me in surprise, and I looked back in wonder. I needed this creature. I craved i...more
There were interesting things that I took from this book... but the book FELT like long distance running... it was exhausting! The writing was not spectacular, often especially the science was poorly written and difficult to follow. And the chapters seemed a bit thrown together with very different tones and purpose. Other than those fits and starts, it was fun to get into the mind of someone who actually does these things and does them well. I enjoyed what I didn't skim-over of the science too.
This was quite a mixed bag -- part childhood memoir, part essay about preparation for a 100k race, part detailed look at the chemistry of locomotion in different species (insect, avian, and mammalian), and part discussion of the role of long distance running in human evolution. I picked the book up because I was interested in the latter -- so I was only about one fifth satisfied when the book was over.
This was very much a mixed bag, and it was not clear at all from the title. Not being a big follower of ultramarathons (and having barely been born at the time of the achievement about which the author writes), I had not heard of Bernd Heinrich. That said, I was unprepared for this to be a biographical account of his first 100 kilometer run and how he trained for it. I personally have a very different perspective than the author, and despite the fact that I run every day, I don't do it to win. H...more
Written by a biologist and ultramarathoner. He shares information about endurance and movement in species from beetles to camels from a Biology knowledge base intertwined with his training for an ultramarathon. As an armchair scientist I found it very interesting.
I thought this book would be more a "natural history" and less about Heinrich's life and running experiences. I felt like I was mislead by the title and the description. The writing itself is also not very good. I stopped reading after about 100 pages.
A non fiction/ natural history. The author is a Marathon winner using biology and philosophy to lead us through his passion for running. A very readable interesting book to give non-runner insite into the challenge of a run.
Robert Stewart
Bernd Heinrich is a scientist and spends most of his book, which is ostensibly about running, trying to prove it. It is only in the final 45 pages, which focus on his ultramarathon win in Chicago in 1981, that he is able to abandon his totally dispassionate view of running and express some excitement and something approaching *spirit*, though I imagine that word would stop him in his tracks. I am new to running myself, and though I don't know much, I know, for example, that I do not need to know...more
Shane Wolf
Couldn't read it for more than 45 minutes at a time, and the beginning meanders around painfully, but once it gets into the meat of the evolutionary biology portion it's great.
I first came to read the books of the biologist Bernd Heinrich through his tales of the Maine woods, in particular his work with ravens. I picked up this book because of my lifelong love of running - although never a top athlete, I have run off and on since junior high, at times competitively (high school track and cross country), and have enjoyed running numerous road races up to the distance of the marathon. However, I did not know that Heinrich holds the 40+ age group record for 62.2 miles (1...more
Eddy Allen

In Why We Run, biologist, award-winning nature writer, and ultramarathoner Bernd Heinrich explores a new perspective on human evolution by examining the phenomenon of ultraendurance and makes surprising discoveries about the physical, spiritual -- and primal -- drive to win. At once lyrical and scientific, Why We Run shows Heinrich's signature blend of biology, anthropology, psychology, and philosophy, infused with his passion to discover how and why we can achieve superhuman abilities.

by Ber...more
Priscilla Benbrook
3.75 stars

I love the life sciences (indeed, I'm a science writer who focuses on biology/the environment), I'm a distance runner, and I love a good memoir. This book had all of that, but didn't completely come together for me. It would be a difficult task, given the multiple layers of the book, so it's not surprising that it didn't quite flow as much as I would have liked.

My favorite parts were the natural history, and when he implemented the anatomy/physiology of other members of the animal king...more
Der Untertitel trifft es sehr genau: Denn um Leidenschaften geht es hier. Nicht nur um das Laufen als Sport, als Fortbewegungsform oder als Wettkampf, sondern auch um Biologie und ihre Läufer, die Käfer zum Beispiel, oder auch andere Ausdauer-Tiere wie die Zugvögel. Denn Bernd Heinrich ist nicht nur Marathon- und Ultraläufer erster Klasse, sondern auch Biologe - offenbar genauso mit Leib und Seele, wie er das Laufen verfolgt ...
Diese "Geschichte einer Leidenschaft" (eigentlich sind es zwei, das...more
Fascinating intertwinning of natural history, a first-person training/race account and endurance phisiology of animals in the wild. Bernd successively compares man to birds, antelopes, camels, frogs and ostriches (and man is not wanting!).

Bernd adds colourful anecdotes concerning people he has met over the course of his studies and running career. One such characters if Lefty Gould, an Irish-Amaerican WWII veteran who regals young Bernd with war stories. There is a story of him flinging his hip...more
There was so, so much interesting information on running, respiration, oxygen efficiency, cellular metabolism, and other topics in this book. Unfortunately it was littered amongst stilted, rambling speech from your uncle, as he recounts his glory days (but how there were so many greater) back in high school, and how he had to walk 5 miles both ways to school. That last one is actually in there, sort of.

I actually found it to be a tremendous distraction, and eventually was skimming to find words...more
Alex Fontanetta
This book was nearly impossible to get into. I bought this book under the impression that it would dicuss the roots of humanity's love to run. Maybe the last half of the book did, but I wouldn't know because I couldn't get through the first half. I tend to be against skimming books or selecting only portions to read, therefore I did not skip ahead. The first fifty or so pages that I did read were a personal memoir about the author's life. It is not my intention to offend the author but I bought...more
Laura Hoffman Brauman
The author is an ultramarathoner and a scientist. When he was training for his first 100K race (one he won), he used his knowledge of animals and their natural characteristics, adaptations, etc to influence his training. The book moves back and forth between an explanation of various concepts -- endurance vs speed, diet, fat storage, fueling endurance, body composition, etc -- and compares it to various animals that excel in each of the individual areas. The book ends with a riveting (at least i...more
Really an odd little book. I think it paved the way for the current rash of "running is natural for us cavemen" types books that are all out there - with the title from Chris McDougall about barefoot runners being in the forefront.
Essentially Bernd is a wiry little UVM college professor who loves to run all over the place and builds his book around his training for a 100 mile run. Hint: He drinks lots of Ocean Spray cranberry juice.
The book has a lot of other touches - mostly about the animal wo...more
Interesting breakdown of history of running in human evolution and bodily adaptations for endurance in us and other animals/insects. A little scattered, but overall enjoyable.
Incredibly interesting If you want to know how humans and animals overcome the physical challenges of running... from the cells up to the whole body.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Vernon Chaplin
As someone who had read numerous books and articles about the physiology of training to be a distance runner, I found the perspective of this book really interesting. Heinrich approached his running with hardly any background knowledge about the sport, but by applying what he knew about endurance performance in other animals, he was able to be extremely successful. Occasionally his passion for flora and fauna gets to be too much, but I also found the accounts of his experiments on animals and in...more
It takes A LOT for me not to finish a book. generally even if i dislike it, i'll plow on to see if it gets better/see how it turns out/say that i finished it. By page 59, I have had enough. I feel like the author is an ADHD naturalist who's a little high. I'm guessing the book gets a little more scientific later, but so far it's very much "so i was young and i liked bugs and then i ran and i met this guy and he told me a story (insert irrelevant story in full) and oh, a deer! and i like nature a...more
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Bernd Heinrich was born in Germany (April 19, 1940) and moved to Wilton, Maine as a child. He studied at the University of Maine and UCLA and is Professor Emeriti of Biology at the University of Vermont.

He is the author of many books including Winter World, Ravens in Winter, Mind of the Raven and Why We Run. Many of his books focus on the natural world just outside the cabin door.

Heinrich has wo...more
More about Bernd Heinrich...
Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds A Year In The Maine Woods Ravens in Winter Summer World: A Season of Bounty

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“There is nothing quite so gentle, deep, and irrational as running--and nothing quite so savage, so wild.” 7 likes
“Barry L. Jacobs and colleagues from the neuroscience program at Princeton University showed that when mice ran every day on an exercise wheel, they developed more brain cells and they learned faster than sedentary controls. I believe in mice.” 4 likes
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