Born To Run is one of those seminal texts within a specific sub-culture that gains almost cult-like status. As we look back to it now, seven years after its first publication, and in the wake of the fall from grace of Vibram five-fingers (they were taken to court by various Americans complaining of misrepresentation), the book reads as more of an adventure story than an anthropological analysis of man's running abilities but holds a reader's attention throughout. As long as you like running!
McDougall is a journalist turned storyteller, so this is ideal for someone looking for a non-scientific introduction to the concept of barefoot running. Written at a time when ultra marathons were just taking off and Vibram's minimalist shoes were entering the mainstream, Born To Run rode the crest of a wave. Like all the best investigative journalists, McDougall was in the right time at the right place.
And that place just happened to be Mexico where a tribe called the Tarahumara were reportedly displaying incredible physical abilities in a mythical long distance race gaining notoriety amongst the running community for its extreme test of physical endurance. The difference was that the Tarahumara run with at most a small piece of leather wrapped around the soles of their feet and were completely disconnected from the complex world of detailed training regimes used by the elite American runners they compete against. These guys just ran, they didn't strength train or carb load or practice yoga, and they were beating just about everybody. McDougall smelt a story.
Above all this is an exploration of the art and science of man's innate ability to cover considerable distances on two feet without rest, something that sets us apart from all other animals on the planet.
"That's the benefit of being a naked, sweaty animal", says one expert quoted in the book, "... as long as we keep sweating we can keep going".
We also explore the dietary regimes of the world's elite ultra runners in an attempt to pin down the magic formula - for the author the answer likely lies somewhere between a vegetarian and a paleo-style diet.
Floating just beneath the surface of Born To Run lies the philosophy we are so fond of that suggests modern man may not have it all worked out after all and that there are lessons to be learnt from seemingly primitive cultures around the world, whether it be their diet, physical skill or happiness quota.