Born to Run: Q & A with Christopher McDougall
Christopher McDougall's best-selling book, Born to Run, is one of those game-changing books that comes along every ten years or so. It was the book everyone talked about in 2009, as it racked up critical acclaim in The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, and even Jon Stewart. It also won our "Book of the Year" and praise from MBG friends like Rip Esselstyn, Mariel Hemingway, Gabby Reece, Hillary Biscay, and the list goes on.
If you're not familiar with Born to Run, you'll want to be. It's an epic adventure that began with one simple question: Why does my foot hurt? In search of an answer, Christopher McDougall sets off to find a tribe of the world’s greatest distance runners and learn their secrets, and in the process shows us that everything we thought we knew about running is wrong.
Isolated by the most savage terrain in North America, the reclusive Tarahumara Indians of Mexico’s deadly Copper Canyons are custodians of a lost art. For centuries they have practiced techniques that allow them to run hundreds of miles without rest and chase down anything from a deer to an Olympic marathoner while enjoying every mile of it. Their superhuman talent is matched by uncanny health and serenity, leaving the Tarahumara immune to the diseases and strife that plague modern existence.
We talked to Christopher McDougall, about the very book that runners and non-runners alike, have called the best book they've ever read.
MindBodyGreen: Why did you decide to write Born to Run?
Christopher McDougall: After spending time with the Tarahumara tribe in Mexico, it hit me that everything I'd been told about running was dead wrong. Only in our lifetime has running become associated with fear, pain and drudgery. For most of human existence, running was the human equivalent of flight, and it's still that way for the Tarahumara. My hope was to show that our greatest natural ability, this talent for running long distances over wild terrain, could still be fun, injury-free, and accessible to absolutely everyone.
MBG: Biggest surprise while researching Born to Run?
CM: When I dug into running-shoe research, I was flabbergasted to discover there is nothing there. There has never been a single study, ever, which indicates that running shoes do ANYTHING to reduce injuries. On the contrary, there's a strong likelihood that shoe technology is actually contributing to the injuries it's supposed to prevent. The whole notion of running on streets in bare feet seemed freakish and dangerous to me at first, but when I learned to run Tarahumara-style, it became a total blast. And I haven't suffered an injury since getting rid of my shoes.
MBG: How has your diet changed since you researched Born to Run?
CM: Scott Jurek, the awesome ultrarunner who's featured in the book, put it best: "Remember, almost every long distance runner turns into a vegan while they're racing -- you can't digest fat or protein very well." For me, that translates into eating nearly all the time like it's race day. If you're going in a trail run in a few hours, you can't pack in a half-pound of pasta or a double cheeseburger. I keep it simple by building most meals on a big bed of greens and adding on from there -- I throw on sardines, beans, chopped eggs, whatever is handy and digestible. we've got chickens, ducks, turkeys and a big garden out back, so most of my diet is right out the back door.
MBG: Do you wear shoes or run barefoot?
CM: Barefoot is my default. I only add some kind of protection when necessary. I like the Vibram Fivefingers, but even that layer of disconnect can allow my running to get a little sloppy and heavy-footed. Bare feet force you to really concentrate on being gentle, quick and light.
MBG: What role does running play in your life today?
CM: Not to overdramatize, but it's become indispensable for every aspect of my health: physical, mental, social, you name it. That only makes sense, of course: since humans evolved as long-distance runners and that was the one critical advantage we had over other species, it follows that we should be hard-wired to find it thoroughly gratifying in lots of ways. It's really a crime that the marketing of running shoes has caused so many people to fear running. I rely on it every day to boost creativity, take the edge off stress, re-calibrate my appetite, and calm me down so I'm not a raging grouch.
CM: Wow, I'd much rather hear their answers. I can only guess that a lot of people have been approaching the same core truths from different directions, and I was fortunate enough to find a link between science and adventure that people could connect with. Either that, or they just get a kick out of Jenn and Billy Bonehead.
MBG: What larger spiritual lessons/lessons about life can we learn from the Tarahumara?
CM: Korima. Odd how much this Tarahumara word sounds its cousin, "karma." The Tarahumara have no money and very few possessions. Their very existence depend on kindness and shared favors. All material things, they believe, should be like water and flow naturally to where they're needed. When you try to keep too much water for yourself, it will stagnate and make you sick. Hard to argue with that thinking.
MBG: Favorite quote?
CM: From Caballo Blanco: "First focus on 'easy,' because if that's all you get, that ain't so bad."
MBG: Favorite healthy food?
CM: Depends on what counts. Espresso? Dark chocolate? If I can get away with one of those as my pick, I'll take it.
MBG: Guilty indulgence?
CM: Whoever created Haagen Dazs Dulce de Leche ice cream is a diabolical genius.
MBG: What's next for you?
CM: I'm starting work on a new book, so that should keep me busy and semi-miserable for at least another year.
For more on Christopher McDougall and Born to Run: