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Why We Run: A Natural History
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Why We Run: A Natural History

3.80  ·  Rating details ·  2,047 ratings  ·  178 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
Paperback, 304 pages
Published May 7th 2002 by Ecco (first published May 1st 2002)
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3.80  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,047 ratings  ·  178 reviews

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Jul 14, 2007 rated it really liked it
I accidentally read this and then I purposely read everything else he wrote.

Thomas Strömquist
Mar 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: book-collection
I really love running, but I really don't love many books on the subject at all. Murakami's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running I enjoyed very much, but that's hardly "on the subject". Lore of Running is an amazing wealth of information - but hardly enjoyable reading material. And don't get me started on that Springsteen copyright infringement piece of manure.

This is why I treasure this one so much. Bernd Heinrich's enthusiastic mixture of biology and evolution and his own experiences is
Daniel Solera
Sep 15, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
Jared Hidalgo
Nov 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: distance runners
Shelves: favorites
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
Sep 19, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
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
Jun 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Such a great book. I'd like to take Bernd out for coffee and go for a run in the woods with him!
Bim Santos
Jan 19, 2018 rated it did not like it
I really wanted to love this book, which I happily chanced on at a second-hand bookshop at a time when I am trying to double down on my training. But though I eagerly lap up non-fiction science books, this came as a complete and utter disappointment.

The author is a supposed ultramarathoner and biologist but the output lacked method and rigor, often jumping from one idea to the next without any sensible thread and dishing out a ton of “I suspect” and “probably” out of thin air, for example surmi
Phillip Lecheminant
One of my favorite books of 2018. I had never heard of it until I was browsing the sale section on iBooks and decided to take a chance.

There were three main components on running included in this book.
1) Physiology and science behind running. You'll learn what is actually happening in your body when you run. Fair warning, it can get a little technical in places, but Bernd is a talented author that makes the hard science really interesting.
2) We can learn a lot about running by looking at anim
This book was very different than I expected. I though it would be a history of running, perhaps about the Tarahumara.

The first third was biography. Just as I reconciled myself to reading a biography, it switched to the metabolism details of specific insects. Then running metabolism of large mammals.

When we got to the last third of the book it was about his running training as an adult. At least twice he ignored medical advice and pressed on. In his case, he survived without permanent injury. He
Apr 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
A good indication that you may be growing tiresome of a book: you find yourself leafing ahead in the book to see exactly how many pages have been dedicated to the anatomy of antelope, frogs, birds, camels etc.. but I did learn a lot about the physiology of many different birds, moths and animals, so that was interesting.

We human animals, are in fact, evolved to run. The hair on our head to the splay of our toes, and the rhythm of our lungs, heart and limbs while running, indeed proves that we a
Apr 09, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Sep 22, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Cara McKenna
Nov 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Benjamin Torres
Oct 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I am not particularly scientifically literate in biology, but I do enjoy a well written and documented explanation of the diverse ways in which several animals achieve great endurance feats, and how those abilities are essential to their survival. In this book the author not only explains how birds travel long distances when migrating or how camels can cross deserts with limited access to water in high temperatures, he also explains how humans can learn from these and other fellow animals and be ...more
Nov 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: eye-read
What begins as walk down memory lane of Bernd life, slowly develops in a fast read, fueled by the anticipation that only a major personal challenge is about to take place.

Bernd uses his preparation for the 1981 100k ultra race, as the end towards which the book is driven.

Using comparisons between animal biology, backed up by his scientific knowledge, Bernd suggest that maybe our biologic evolution, and some of our particular human features derive from the act of running.

Without being to filled w
Jun 16, 2008 rated it liked it
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.
Mar 18, 2009 rated it liked it
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.
Nov 16, 2011 rated it really liked it
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.
Jul 26, 2009 rated it it was ok
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.
Jul 13, 2009 rated it liked it
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.
Shane Wolf
Jun 23, 2010 rated it liked it
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.
May 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: running
A book about the physiology and biology of running. Showing the differences and similarities of human and some animals regarding endurance.
Dana Mackey
"Why We Run" has been on my bookshelf for years. I "borrowed it" from my grandmother and haven't returned it to Maine. I picked it up this week because I've been contemplating a return to racing (my last race was Twin Cities Marathon in October 2017). I've had some much needed time away from running, but I've been slowly returning to the sport.

I have entire shelves packed with running books, and Why We Run is nowhere near my favorite. That said, I like parts of it. Heinrich is a professor in the
Jan 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed Bernd Heinrich's unique take on how our bodies, like the bodies of certain animals, have adapted to be able to run. In addition to the fascinating science behind how birds migrate long distances with hardly any rest or how camels survive desert conditions and still are able to travel for miles, he explores the evolution of running in humans from hunters and gatherers to today's competitive runners. He looks at the physiology and psychology of training for ultra marathons using h ...more
Aug 29, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not the best running non-fiction book out there, but interesting enough. To me it was a little schizo... at first it was a "la la la we're out in nature", Annie Dillard-style navel-gazing type book.

Then it became what I thought the whole thing was going to be like, initially--a book about how humans differ from other creatures, biologically, with regards to running proclivity and adaptations.

Then the end part was the more edge-of-your-seat part, witnessing the author running his 100-kilometer
Sage Gibbons
Mar 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Flowing and dynamic, but consistently delivering impressive results, "Why We Run" reads just like the ultra-marathon sport it describes. The science is spot on and the section of ideas on the evolutionary roots of running was entrancing. I'd like to read that again. Heinrich makes this book thoroughly engaging because you're not just learning, you're learning how to do something incredible: run 100 km in one go. He dips into the personal narrative at just the right times, leaving you at the end ...more
Jon Bettcher
This is an interesting read, although a bit tedious at times. The recounting of the training that Bernd undertakes to win the 100 kilometer record is fascinating since he takes such a scientific approach with the nutrition. The book feels like it goes a little too much into the weeds of animal and insect physiology (he does so to suggest what processes might be contributing to human endurance), but overall this book provides some great info. The chapters of the book build nicely until you feel l ...more
Jun 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2017
I love Bernd Heinrich's writing. I started by reading his works on birds and natural sciences, and only later realized he's a distance runner. The book starts off a little slow for me -- a little more memoir than natural sciences-- but midway really picks up and delves into animal physiology, running physiology, and the natural history of running across species. I enjoyed this thoroughly, especially the last few chapters of his big race. What a delight to find one of my favorite nature writers a ...more
Raoum Bani
Dec 30, 2016 rated it did not like it
I like the way he writes and how he shares his personal stories. But the title is misleading. Yeah, he talks about running but not too much about the natural human history with running but more with other creatures, which is great too, but I was hoping for more of facts on different societies and running and how it started.
It contains more theories than facts.

Bottom line, I disagreed with many of the statements he makes that's why I am giving it a one star.
Jun 04, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thought the book was quite interesting in its mixture of genres and modes, going from first-person narrative, recounting the past in a nostalgic way to factual information about animals and biological systems related to movement. I found a couple useful nuggets of applicable information, and while I wasn't entirely thrilled by the majority of the book, I admire the author's passion and depth of knowledge on the interdisciplinary study of "running", both in theory and in practice.
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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 Emeritus 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 w
“There is nothing quite so gentle, deep, and irrational as running--and nothing quite so savage, so wild.” 12 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.” 5 likes
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