Laura Avellaneda-Cruz's Reviews > Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall
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Aug 21, 12

Read from June 25 to July 21, 2012

I was spellbound by this book, and it has made me a much better runner. I have a lot of good things to say about why I enjoyed this book and how it is useful, but being the critical social thought major, feminist anti-racist indigenist social worker I am, I also have to share what I didn't like. I'll do that first to get it out of the way so I can return to why I loved it.

Critique:
Christopher McDougall is an incredibly skillful and beautiful writer, but he has an arrogant voice in much of the book, or at least the first part. It reminded me of Kai (sp?) Risdahl from NPR's Marketplace, who always sounds far too sure of himself. Sort of cocky and masculine and white American in a very un-self aware way. The arrogance faded as McDougall talked more about other people and revealed his own vulnerabilities as a runner and as a man, but some of the voice issues continued to irk me along the way. It was the way he described every running woman with some variation of wispy blond hair streaming off her face and bright blue eyes and gorgeous face... It was the way he didn't talk about his own wife and daughter barely at all (I kept wondering--how does this guy manage to do all this and be a partner and dad? How does his wife feel about him risking his life? I wanted him to address these things as a woman probably would in her book). It was the way he occasionally made casual comments that othered the Tarahumara (or Rarámuri, as they call themselves in their language) people about whom he otherwise wrote with great respect. And I guess I wish he got to know more of the Rarámuri more closely to be able to describe them as the complex individual parents/sons/daughters/farmers/runners/community members they are, in the way that he described so intimately the self-obsessed individual American ultra marathoners and the (in my opinion, quite lovable) gringo-indio, Caballo Blanco. So, I'd love to sit down with McDougall and talk some about gender and race and then send him on his way. Because I love what he was able to do with this book and I love the way he wrote it, for the most part. So on to that.

Love:

I love that this is the first book about sports that I've been able to get through and actually care deeply about the final race scene and almost cheer and applaud when the race was won. (I am an athlete, but generally don't like reading about athletics because I find most discussions very one-track-minded. This book, however, wove athletics into a much larger narrative and kept me on the edge of seat.) I loved the way McDougall wove scientific and historical journalism in with storytelling back and forth, back and forth. I loved--and was profoundly impacted by--the way he used the stories of The Rarámuri runners and the American and International runners to explore the research on running shoes and how we've been fooled into spending lots of money to get more injuries. I've been running barefoot more and more often these days when I can find the right kind of trails, a sort of return to my childhood, with the hope that this will lessen the likelihood of injury. I loved how he described his own journey to run better and particularly the discussion on form--it has made me far more conscious of my form as I run, and I notice that I too feel lighter and quicker and hurt less as a result. I loved especially how he tied what seems kind of ridiculous--marathon and ultra-marathon running--into a basic need for survival, making the argument, through anthropology and biology and history, that humans evolved to run long distances, to run down and tire out our prey. I love this. This idea in itself rejuvenates me as a runner, as did the engrossing story of the great race in the Barrancas del Cobre (Copper Canyon) of Northern México and all of the stories he shared of the races and runners that made the race possible.

I should also note that I read this book as a runner, as someone who works with and for indigenous people, and as someone who was trying to make sense of her experience in las Barrancas del Cobre back in 2002. I was 20 years old and studying Spanish. My parents and sister and I went on a trip to las Barrancas. At the little modest lodge we stayed, they asked a local Rarámuri man named José to guide us on a hike. He took us (cold weather Alaskan athletes) on an 18 mile hike up and down mountains and through farms and yards and mud shacks and corn fields and mountain trails and past one abandoned cave dwelling in the heat of summer. We were hot and exhausted. He was not in the least bit phased. He was wearing cowboy boots and jeans, which, I didn't realize until I read Born to Run, I guess made him quite the assimilated Rarámuri man. I kept returning to those memories as I read this book, trying to piece together my brief experience with what McDougall describes, and with the reality of what narcotraficantes have done to the Barrancas since then. I didn't come out with clear answers, but McDougall's description of the history of the Rarámuri/Tarahumara people and of las Barrancas, and the ways he told his own stories of traveling there and of the race there, did help me make sense of it.

In addition to worrying about the narcos and the Tarahuma, there is one thing that is left unsettled for me: I am worried about Jenn, "la brujita," the young party girl utramarathoner from Virginia Beach. I am worried about her drinking and the danger she is in. I came to like her and worry about her, and wonder if McDougall worried too but didn't write it in the book, or didn't notice how unhealthy she was. Will have to research that one on my own.
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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La Petite Américaine Nice review. I love your Copper Canyon story.
Re: Jenn: I really viewed her as an athlete with a toddler-like energy, with her ability to get wasted and run ultras. I never thought that she and Billy were in danger, but they could be on a collision course with loservile (and worse) if the drinking continues over the years. It will be interesting to see.
On a second read through (yes, I read it twice, I'm a nerd) I did find a few holes here and there in the author's claims, and I actually grew kind of irritated with the way he described women....but in the end I don't care so much because this book really changes lives.


Laura Avellaneda-Cruz I worry about why she is drinking so much (histories of trauma?) and the kinds of danger described--getting black eyes, being shirtless with men thinking they can take advantage of her, etc. Had McDougall known how to see women fully, he may have seen this. I know I can take all the good from the book and leave behind the parts I didn't. I just hope that those who are learning from books like this can do it a little differently. And of course, runner writers like you can do it differently.


La Petite Américaine I think McDougall is a fantastic writer and his book has earned him massive karma points I'm sure, so my nitpicking is kinda lame. I just think the way he always had to make really subtle sexual remarks about women was so annoying (though I didn't even notice it the first time around). It's like yes, dude, you really need to reaffirm how straight you are, I get it. Typical, huh? Anyway, in the big picture not a big deal.
Don't you think Jenn's got enough of the type A personality in her to ditch the partying eventually?


Laura Avellaneda-Cruz Maybe. But Caballo Blanco ran in order to get away from his pain and perceived disconnection, right? Maybe Jenn runs to get away from pain too, which is, of course, a function of drinking. I don't know, but I really wish her the best, and I believe that everyone can get away from drinking as long as they can learn or get support to replace the purpose it serves in their life with something positive.


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