Running Man: A Memoir of Ultra-Endurance

RUNNING MAN: A MEMOIR OF ULTRA-ENDURANCE
By Charlie Engle
304 pp. Scribner. $17.00.

Generally, “Running Man” can be broken into thirds. The first being Charlie Engle’s upbringing and early adulthood. Engle’s adolescent years aren’t easy. His parents divorced when he’s 3. His father joins the Army and Engle doesn’t see him for 4 years. Residing with his mother in North Carolina, she’s active in theater work and social causes. Her involvement in the theater is accompanied by frequent cast parties at the Engle home. These parties expose Engle to drugs and alcohol. It’s in these early years that “…alcohol planted a little flag…” in his brain. His mother’s ventures briefly moves them to Attica, New York. Then, before the start of eighth grade, more instability as Engle goes to California to be with his father. It’s here Engle first finds success in organized sport (football, basketball, track, and cross country). Next, his father’s work requires a return to North Carolina living. While Engle’s athletic star continues to rise there, so too would instances of youthful rebellion. Once a candidate for a University of North Carolina (UNC) scholarship, his dalliances with poor decision making ends that potential. Sans scholarship, Engle still attends UNC. It’s in his early college years that substance abuse dominates (alcohol, cocaine). Engle drops out of UNC. He tries working for his father but fails. Enter: UNC student Pam Smith. Sans enrollment, Engle casually returns to UNC, they meet, and a brief courtship becomes an enduring relationship. Juggling different jobs amid continued substance abuse, Pam’s patience and love is a constant. Engle’s work takes him on the road. He rewards himself for a hard day’s work with further drug binges. Crack becomes another of Engle’s demons. Similar to the darkest times detailed by Catra Corbett in “Reborn On The Run” and of Dick Beardsley in “Duel In The Sun“, Engle bottoms out. Shady motels and drug deals. His car’s stolen, then found, then fired upon, decorated with bullet holes. There’s no shortage of ugly characters and circumstances in these pages. Engle turns to hope and prayer and, finally, feels the “…prison gate of addiction swing open.”.

Previously, in a half-hearted attempt to reach wellness, Engle’s flirted with running. He now goes all in. True, the many miles he runs assists him in keeping his substance abuse in check. However, his running greatness becomes fully exposed. Marathons give way to Ironman races and ultras. The running portion of “Running Man” focuses on a never before accomplished, coast-to-coast run across the Sahara desert. Also, multiple Badwater 135-mile top 3 finishes and dominate worldly race results are chronicled. My compact summary here isn’t intended to minimize Engle’s running achievements. Rather, consider it a reflection of the power of the book’s other, unrelated content. For Engle, once again, he’s on the cusp of turbulent times.

Have you ever taken out a mortgage? To accept Engle’s explanation, this act, so commonly associated with adulthood, responsibility, and potential for prosperity, is at the root of Engle’s next round of hardship. At the height of the mid-2000 mortgage loan scandals in the United States, Engle purchased multiple properties. Undoubtedly, like many, he rubber stamped the countless forms of related legal documents, or appointed someone to do it on his behalf. His downfall being, the income earned by Engle that those forms claimed existed (that Engle never actually declared but was inflated by predatory brokers), was not reflective of realty. For this, the IRS brought a fifteen-count federal indictment against Engle. Ultimately, he’s found guilty of 12 counts of bank, wire, and mail fraud, and sentenced to 21 months in federal prison. Engle’s prison recounts are a fascinating read. He must not only navigate jail life among white collar criminals but murderers and rapists as well. This period’s highlighted by a jailhouse “Badwater” run, taking place on the same date as the famous race. However, the incarcerated version would take place over 540 laps on a gravel track at a West Virginia lockup.

Constructive criticism? The title. Engle declares in the Acknowledgements, “…I did not want to write a book about running, but rather how running has shaped and changed me.” You succeeded, Mr. Engle. This book’s about so much more than just a “Running Man”.

🏃‍♂️📚

#DidYouKnow courtesy “Running Man: A Memoir of Ultra-Endurance”: On the eve of his first marathon attempt (1989 Big Sur), well into the pre-race early morning hours, Engle ingested large quantities of alcohol and cocaine. A few hours later he still ran Big Sur, finishing in 3:30.

#Follow Charlie Engle Here

North

NORTH
By Scott Jurek, with Jenny Jurek
304 pp. Little, Brown Spark. $16.99.

In “North”, American ultramarathoner Scott Jurek, as well as his spouse Jenny Jurek (i.e., “JLu”), present impressive writing skills detailing their record breaking journey on the Appalachian Trail (i.e., “AT”). “Fun” is how I’d describe their tit for tat dalliances in these pages. Each chapter is divided into two. First, he chronologically recounts a memorable stage along the AT on his quest for the Fastest Known Time (i.e., “FKT”). Then, JLu, in the role of crew chief, presents her take on the same stage, in brutally honest fashion. When he performs well, she extends praise, and doesn’t shy away from being less kind when appropriate.

As North opens, it seems extreme ultra racing for 20 years had taken a toll. Father Time may have decided Jurek’s best running days (record 7 consecutive Western States 100-mile Endurance Run winner) are behind him. He’s struggling with life’s next chapter. Is he retired, or still racing? Is he more athlete now, or ambassador? Also, JLu’s recently experienced a miscarriage, at the time finding herself in medical jeopardy. Understandably, the couple struggles with this hardship. Jurek yearns for a new, different challenge. Spending much of his life in Minnesota or further west, he’s intrigued by his unfamiliarity with the east coast. He’s enamored by the notion of setting the AT FKT, and the opportunity such a journey would provide Jurek and JLu to personally connect.

Within a week into the 47 day journey, Jurek experiences great physical troubles (on his right side, Runner’s Knee, on his left, a laterally torn quadriceps). His AT progress is labored and slow. MANY reinforcements come to aid his pacing (both longtime running friends as well as strangers tracking his progress with the assistance of GPS tracking). He’s prodded forward by the encouragement of one friend, Horty, “Your body will find a way to heal itself. It has a memory. Your body will remember.”

Jurek impresses with his FKT ethic. There is no course cutting. With any step off the AT, he touches a marker, and reconnects with that same marker before further AT progress. On his feet sometimes nearly 20 hours a day, losing 20 lbs., protruding bones, and shaking hands, the debilitating abuse Jurek exposes himself to astounds. He becomes a shell of his former self. Also, Jurek’s mental state along the journey can be troubling. Nearing the end of his challenge, he miscalculates the number of remaining days available to him to accomplish the FTK goal and declares his surrender. (Quickly, he’s corrected by his wife and friend, Timmy, of the correct timeline, and that his goal is still possible.)

Constructive criticism? No doubt, upon covering 2,200 miles, much of it in isolation, deep and dark thoughts may creep in. However, most don’t choose a book seeking to experience a depressive account, and Jurek (also grappling with his early 40’s) can at times unleash his despair. “I had come face-to-face with the question that always, eventually, meets everyone on the trail (or on the highway, or in the office, or in class) as the initial thrill wears off and the rewards start coming less frequently. What’s the point?” In these pages, this mentality can appear in abundance, seemingly growing with each new stage of his AT journey. Ultimately, he’s repeatedly propelled forward by the simple notion: “This is who I am, and this is what I do.”

In North’s closing pages, with Maine’s Mount Katahdin on approach (Jurek traversed the AT northbound), his spirit’s are buoyed. However, there’s little time to linger. If Jurek is to achieve the FTK, it would be by a matter of hours. It’s also JLu’s birthday. At Katahdin’s base, with little time remaining, he announces he’s going for a birthday hike with his wife. Finally, consider first reading “Born To Run“. North is littered with references to it.

🏃‍♂️📚

#DidYouKnow courtesy “North”: Spanning 1974 to the time of North’s writing, 11 people have been murdered along the Appalachian Trail. Unfortunately, that tally increased in May 2019.

#Follow Scott Jurek Here and Jenny Jurek Here

The Long Run

THE LONG RUN
By Matt Long, with Charles Butler
312 pp. Rodale Books. $15.99.

The phrase “to rest on one’s laurels” is a poor association for Matt Long. Sure, like many, Long’s early background chronicled in “The Long Run” includes the occasional blip of middle age sedentary. Periodically, the former Iona college basketball player has relented to a more comfortable lifestyle. The nicknames “Beer Belly Matty” and “Fatty Long” were earned. However, these episodes don’t define Long for … long. With age forty looming, the future Boston Marathon Qualifier and Iron Man “Matt Long” changes his tune. Meanwhile, Long’s professional resume marks successful longevity as both a bar owner and New York City firefighter. His personal life reflects the values of tight-knit family Catholicism. One of nine kids, Long grows up attending private school, and memories of attending church and fond Christmas gatherings are recounted. From a relationship perspective, Long enjoys his bachelorhood. He maintains he’s on the search for the future Mrs. Long; however, in the meanwhile, he’s perfectly fine with playing the field. It seems Long’s life is moving along splendidly. Until, on December 22, 2005, he gets run over by a bus.

“The Long Run” can be grim. Bleak. Long paints a picture of hopelessness. It’s a nearly effortless task, really, as Long and Butler deftly describe the hardships endured. In December, Long was progressing on his bike, en route to meeting friends for a training stint at a pool. It was freezing outside. Long was relegated to his bike due to an ongoing NYC transit strike. A chartered bus 2 lanes to his left makes a fast and unexpected turn to the right, directly into Long. The outcome’s horrendous. Long’s found underneath the center portion of the bus, behind the front axle. He’d been gored by the bike’s seat post. Personally, the following words were a persistent consideration through to the book’s conclusion, Long was “…open from the base of my penis down to my anus, and my rectum had been torn.”. Also, a broken femur, tibia, and a shattered pelvis. The list of Long’s injuries is endless. In the first two days following the accident, he received 69 units of blood. His doctor’s initial assessment put the survival odds at less than 5%.

It strikes me that some criticism for “The Long Run” assails Long for his descriptions of his athletic prowess and casual dalliances prior to the accident. First, Long does share some bad with that good, making many references for his love of basketball, but more humble ability to play the sport. Regarding his romantic episodes, my interpretation was Long illustrating the young, vibrant NYC lifestyle he relished, and then, in a moment, gone. In it’s place, this person’s forced to carry, at all times, a colostomy bag, constantly filling with bodily waste (associated odor included). The bag was a result of a doctor’s attempt to stop stool from pooling in Long’s pelvis while trying to control the loss of blood. The doctor assessed Long would need it for up to 12 months but, also, he may very well need it permanently. For awhile, the book’s dark tone is attributed to “the bag”. So, indeed, a blistering fall from grace.

Physical and occupational therapy begins 18 days after the accident. The first steps are small. Trying to swallow. Sitting up in bed. Standing. Into May, progress was slow but real. Long begins walking, or more accurately, shuffling. On May 24th, Long, with colostomy bag in tow, checks out of the hospital and returns to his apartment. To assist Long, his younger brother, Eddie, moves in. While rehabilitation continues, depressive episodes settle in. It cannot be understated the many references to Long’s support group called out in “The Long Run”. Family, friends, co-workers, politicians, strangers, etc. This mass of people proves essential in Long’s recovery. Approximately a year after the accident, Long undergoes colostomy takedown surgery (i.e., removing “the bag”). The surgery was expected to take a couple hours but would last 13 due to unanticipated scar tissue. Ultimately, the surgery’s a success (although the preparedness for it and later rehabilitation are better left undescribed).

Long’s outlook brightens. His “shuffle” hastens. While still difficult to describe his pace as “running”, Long begins doing just that, albeit slowly. First, a 17:24 mile. Then, incredibly, nearly 3 years following the accident, Long finishes the New York City Marathon in 7 hours and 21 minutes. Finally, this “new” Matt Long was flourishing once again.

🏃‍♂️📚

#DidYouKnow courtesy “The Long Run”: Muscles can atrophy without use in as little as a couple weeks. (A good reason to always remain vigilant in prevention of the common cold.)

#Follow Matt Long Here and Charles Butler Here

Marathon Man

MARATHON MAN 👍
By Bill Rodgers, Matthew Shepatin
336 pp. Thomas Dunne Books. $28.99.

“In order to win the race, sometimes you have to go a little berserk.” Perhaps you’re familiar with this phrase? It’s source is “Marathon Man”. This top tier run-based book, written by Bill Rodgers and Matthew Shepatin, checks all the boxes. Many similar books struggle with describing the achievements of it’s author (or subject) while keeping said person’s ego in check. Not so here. Rodgers is a humble pleasure. The period prior to Rodgers’ running glory consists mostly of episodes of the average youth and you may very well relate (albeit, in his childhood, his running prowess is clear). However, when the time comes to turn the page, to leverage the natural talent he’s been gifted, Rodgers flips the switch and his focus becomes fully engaged. Many of the book’s chapters are split between his passing miles in the 1975 Boston Marathon and his coming of age. For both his running and personal life, Rodgers shares his peaks and valleys.

Much of Rodgers’ notable life experiences are touched by his older brother, Charlie, and friend Jason Kehoe. The “three musketeers” grew up together. Prior to the start of the 1975 Boston Marathon. Charlie dashes to the local hardware store and returns with gardening gloves for Rodgers’ pre race frozen fingers (later, as the day warmed, Rodgers refused to part with the gloves). After college, all three were granted conscientious objector status to the Vietnam war, requiring them to find work that (in some way) contributed to the interests of the nation. As two young adults trying to establish themselves in Boston with questionable success, Kehoe and Rodgers further bonded during this time. His running greatness not yet realized, it’s easy to relate to Rodgers’ young adult years. Much later, the three manage the “Bill Rodgers Running Center” store in the Cleveland Circle locale.

As stated previously, Rodgers’ background interjects as the 1975 Boston race unfolds. Regarding those 26.2 miles, “Marathon Man” reads as if Rodgers is taking you along for the ride. It’s enthralling. Each passing mile more fascinating than the last. Notably, “Marathon Man” makes it’s clear Amby Burfoot has endeared himself to Rodgers. While both attended Wesleyan college, Burfoot takes the younger Rodgers under his wing, advocating him to embrace his running talent. Rodgers wins 1975 Boston (2:09:55). Burfoot, the 1968 Boston winner, ran it in 1975 as well, in 2:21:20. In doing so he actually bested his 1968 winning time. Burfoot credits his 1975 time with his desire to reach the finish as quickly as possible in order to better experience Rodgers’ victory.

Personally, a re-occurring thinking point was that Rodgers could have produced 2 books here. First, the coming of age/1975 Boston Marathon thread. Second, the non-Boston running experiences (also included in “Marathon Man”) are just as enjoyable and there’s no shortage. Four New York City Marathon victories. His battles with running great Frank Shorter. Racing the Fukuoka Marathon. Running the Silver Lake Dodge 30K in “ratty jeans” (and finishing 3rd). Rodgers’ impact on both the Greater Boston Track Club and the infamous Falmouth Road Race. Winning the bronze medal at the World Cross Country Championships in Morocco (only the second American man to ever medal at the World XCs). His Olympic accomplishments. Joyfully, “Marathon Man” contains so much, the list seemingly endless.

Constructive criticism? Rodgers chasing butterflies in fields is a popular talking point. Literally. It’s a bit of a head-scratcher. It does seem to encapsulate his general life perspective. Not in an aloof or distracted way. More so easy-going, and embracing a sense of bliss. Rodgers’ vantage is one of good health and, fortunately, can be contagious.

For balancing his running with a 9-to-5 job, the 2018 Boston Marathon champion Yuki Kawauchi has been referred to as “citizen runner”. Think of Bill Rodgers as “everyman runner”. While driving to countless New England road races he purposely takes side roads to avoid the Massachusetts Turnpike due to his inability to pay the tolls (in Rodgers’ heyday, instead of cash, race winners were awarded a blender, or a table, tires, a bike, etc.). He’s experienced two divorces. Also, Rodgers discloses he finished his last running of the Boston Marathon (2009) in 4:06. Of course, his history is filled with overwhelming greatness but, at times, it can also be plainly average. For this, Rodgers is so very relatable and embracing.

🏃‍♂️📚

#DidYouKnow courtesy “Marathon Man”: In the 1907 Boston Marathon, near the Framingham train station, Canadian Tom Longboat was forced to leap through the open door of a passing train, and out the other side, in order to keep up with the lead pack of runners. The train severed the pack from the remaining runners. Longboat eventually won.

#Follow Bill Rodgers Here and Matthew Shepatin Here

What Made Maddy Run

WHAT MADE MADDY RUN
By Kate Fagan
320 pp. Back Bay Books. $16.99.

The book’s jacket declares the conclusion to “What Made Maddy Run”. Turning the pages, the progression to Maddy Holleran’s demise is certain. A futile longing for any alternate conclusion was a constant in my mind. Examining the events preluding the breakdown of this beautiful, brilliant, and wonderfully athletic person can be distressing. Coming out of high school, Holleran’s light shines with a sky’s-the-limit intensity. In shockingly little time, promise turns to tragedy. As with every suicide, only so much can be retrieved from the victim’s mind. Author Kate Fagan performs this investigation in admirable fashion, bringing to light social media’s ability to misdirect, and compels every parent, friend, and neighbor to strive for better awareness of each other’s mental health.

“What Made Maddy Run” maintains a balance. Fagan shares the consequential events she’s able to glean from Holleran’s text and Instagram posts, as well as family and friend recounts. That discourse is complemented with broader, culture-based discussions, profiling different aspects of our society which contribute to the proliferation of suicidal tendencies. Also, there are similarities in the backgrounds of Fagan and Holleran. Here, Fagan enlists these parallels, perhaps in attempt to make Holleran’s woes more relatable, thereby bringing greater exposure to her demons.

Holleran graduates high school on the upswing. Her youth had long been about preparing for the next chapter (college). She succeeded academically but it appears her athleticism garnered greater acclaim. She loved soccer and excelled at it, specifically finding joy in the team-based aspect of the sport. She’s recruited by Lehigh University and verbally commits. However, when soccer is out of season, Holleran maintains her fitness running track, and in the second half of her high school career it’s her running talents that stand out. Her fast times earn the attention of Harvard and Penn. She would never attend Lehigh. Instead, the Ivy League allure leads Holleran to Penn.

In college now, this period would be the antithesis of her high school experience. Overwhelmed by the demands of competing at the Division 1 level, Holleran loses her lust for running. In the classroom, Holleran had difficulty adjusting to the concept of being graded on a curve (whereas, formally her grades were based directly on her individual performance). Her confidence erodes. Thinning, Holleran shows the physical impacts of stress. Upon fall semester completion, the girl that arrived at Penn, smiling and light-hearted, returns home depressed, clearly unhappy.

Holleran discusses potential solutions with family and friends. Transfer to another school? Take a semester off? Holleran’s unclear whether doing so equates to a cure-all, but believes quitting track is her best option. She returns to Penn post winter break. Positive and forward looking, she tries enforcing a new mindset. Also, she meets her coach, Steve Dolan, and delivers a well-rehearsed notice for ending her track participation. Dolan responds with overtures intended to sway her back to the team. Holleran’s compelled to remain. Shortly thereafter, the new mindset would give way to darkness. Sadly, this time, Holleran surrenders to her demons.

Quality, constructive comments aren’t always easy to discern and “What Made Maddy Run” deserves this designation. Oddly, an impression related to the book’s font size was persistent. It’s enormous. Is that a silly critique? Perhaps it’s intended to attract young adult readers? At least it’s friendly to the farsighted reader. While the book is 300+ pages, you may may feel underwhelmed if you value quantity. Quality on the other hand? Running for a copy of “What Made Maddy Run” is recommended.

🏃‍♀️📚

#DidYouKnow courtesy “What Made Maddy Run”: In a testament to it’s highly regarded place in the running community, the novel “Once A Runner” is referenced in these pages. Holleran’s coach assigns it to her to read over winter break. In turn, Holleran references a portion of it to Dolan in her attempt to explain her intention to quit track, notably the “fatigue-depression” state she asserts to running.

#Follow Kate Fagan Here

Fast Girl: A Life Spent Running from Madness

FAST GIRL: A LIFE SPENT RUNNING FROM MADNESS
By Suzy Favor Hamilton
304 pp. Dey Street Books. $15.99.

Do you know anyone with bipolar disorder? Personally, this was an important consideration while progressing through “Fast Girl”. Bipolar, or manic depression, can produce shocking behavior. Defined as “a mental condition marked by alternating periods of elation and depression”, those words don’t seem to sufficiently paint a bipolar person’s potential careless, narcissistic actions. Undoubtedly, some will damn author Suzy Favor Hamilton for her acts that make the book anything but dull. Strive to avoid this prosecution. Having observed the deeds of a bipolar person, who is very much a part of my life, did help provide perspective. “Mommy’s brain doesn’t always work right,” Suzy’s husband, Mark Hamilton, explains to their young daughter. It’s a simple, accurate declaration.

In her early years, Hamilton, a three-time Olympian, manages her mental afflictions with running. One of 4 children in her family, her brother “Dan” matched her high energy output. This would not be the only likeness between them (i.e., bipolar). During Suzy’s childhood, Dan’s poor behavior generates greater social problems, retaining more of his family’s concerns. Dan successfully gains medical help, managing his behavior with a drug cocktail. However, his battle would ultimately end in great sorrow. Dan, ceasing his meds, decides to take his life.

Hamilton’s natural inclination to run results in success on her middle and high school’s track and cross country teams, obsessing to win at all times. She earns a U.S Junior Nationals win, leading to bigger aspirations for her athletic career. Earning full scholarship to the University of Wisconsin, more running excellence occurs in college and Olympic dreams abound. During this time, Hamilton exhibits bulimia (eating disorder) tendencies, believing there to be a link in starving herself and winning races. Her college career would consist of nine NCAA track championships (at the time the most for any athlete). During her college career she also meets and later marries a University of Wisconsin baseball player (her husband, Mark). Post college, Hamilton signs on to numerous endorsement deals, highlighted by Reebok. Her focus is now the Olympics. She competes in the 1992, 1996, and 2000 editions.

Her Olympic appearances now behind her, “Fast Girl” segues to it’s more scandalous content. Hamilton gives birth to a daughter and she and her husband set up a real estate business. However, the venture doesn’t hold her focus (although Mark does leverage it to provide a source of income for the family). Instead, Hamilton finds herself cratering in postpartum depression. That depression ignites Hamilton’s still undiagnosed bipolar disorder, which is unintentionally further boosted by a drug (Zoloft) meant to manage the depression. A wedding anniversary trip to Vegas is life altering. Hamilton proposes that an escort tryst would be a welcome addition to their well-played romance. The experience puts her on a path of no return. Hamilton decides the escort life is for her, becoming fully employed in it’s shady dealings. “Fast Girl” expounds on this very dark, seedy period in Hamilton’s life (i.e., for mature readers only). Ultimately, Hamilton is outed by a reporter from “The Smoking Gun” website. She, and her family, are dragged through the ordeal of exposing Hamilton’s double life to the public. A suicide attempt results in a hospital stay for Hamilton, which finally produces a bipolar disorder diagnosis.

Throughout it all, Hamilton’s husband is aware of her actions. He strives to hold their family together and provides some semblance of normalcy for their daughter. (Mark deserves consideration for every humanitarian award in existence.) Their extended family, of course initially shocked by the news of Hamilton’s boorish behavior, chooses forgiveness. Credit Hamilton for her willingness to tell her story and desire to now assist others with mental health education.

🏃‍♀️📚

#DidYouKnow courtesy “Fast Girl: A Life Spent Running from Madness”: During a 1986 NCAA track and field 10,000 meter championship race, Kathy Ormsby, a top college runner, found herself fledgling in fourth place. Her response was to veer off the course and jump from a bridge resulting in paralysis. In “Fast Girl”, Hamilton shares Ormsby’s example as another instance of dark, depressive tendencies.

#Follow Suzy Favor Hamilton Here

Born To Run

BORN TO RUN
By Christopher McDougall
304 pp. Vintage. $16.00.

The Google search: “Born To Run fiction or nonfiction” populated before I could finish typing it (i.e., it’s a popular question). Of course, I know it’s non-fiction, but it can read alternatively. Highly descriptive in a storytelling sense, the book paints scenes in a manner I more closely associate with fiction. There are two related tales in these pages, woven together. The Mexican Tarahumara Indians, also known as the Rarámuri (the Running People), are investigated for their running prowess. Their highly successful ability have little, if any, footwear assistance, and the virtues of their technique are extolled. Meanwhile, under debate are the utilities that man has become reliant on (shoe inserts, excessive soles, convoluted nutrition remedies, wonky coaching methods, etc.), taking us away from our ancestral means, and the resulting harm we’re doling out to ourselves.

“Born To Run” didn’t particularly engage me in the first several chapters. In these early pages a number of introductions occur for people that are further associated with different nomenclatures. This can be frustrating. In Mexico, author Christopher McDougall is in search of Caballo Blanco (a.k.a. the White Horse, or rather Mike Hickman, alternatively Micah True, “Shaggy” as well, etc.). McDougall considers Caballo, whose homeland straddles the US-Mexico border, as a bridge to the Tarahumara Indians. McDougall tells the story of these people and their wondrous running ways. They live a secluded life in an isolated locale known as the Copper Canyons. It’s an incredibly dangerous place and McDougall goes to great lengths to impress upon the reader that the hostile journey required to reach it (e.g., drug cartels, gangs, and treacherous environment) is just as perilous as the seemingly haunted destination itself.

McDougall moves to the infamous Leadville Trail 100, telling terrific tales from it’s enthralling background. For instance, Leadville running legend Marshall Ulrich improved his finishing times by having his toenails surgically removed. “They kept falling off anyway,” Ulrich said. Leadville helps explain the association between Caballo and the Tarahumara. During the 1990’s, the Tarahumara were coaxed into racing Leadville several times. At 50 miles, racers are allowed pacers and through a chance encounter, Caballo would come to pace a Tarahumara runner and a relationship was established. The Tarahumara found success in Leadville; however, the ensuing tense reactions, between organizers and the representative of the Tarahumara, stressed and alarmed the foreigners. Their response was to retreat to their secretive world and not return.

Caballo’s running skill is cultivated by the Tarahumara, and he extends these teachings to McDougall. Caballo also divulges to McDougall a grand plan. If the Tarahumara would not return to America, the Americans would come to the Tarahumara for a grand race. Caballo actually convinces ultra star Scott Jurek to join. Together, McDougall and Caballo further assemble a team of misfit, albeit successful, ultra runners to make the trek to the Copper Canyons. However, questions persist. Will the Americans survive the journey to the race? And will the Tarahumara agree to compete?

“Born To Run” segues to a minimalist running discussion. Barefoot running is heralded. Blame for poor stride and lower back pain are connected to cushioned soles. A convincing argument is made for associating knee injuries and weak feet with soft shoes. Our natural movements are being bastardized by those hefty Hokas. The topic takes a significant deep dive, and is none too kind to the shoe industry in the process, but to surmise: Humans are designed to run without shoes. The topic of HOW you should be running then becomes an extension of the discourse. What the Tarahumara do is described as “body art”. “No one else on the planet has made such a virtue out of self-propulsion,” McDougall’s coach said. The reader is then taken back in time, running with cavemen, and chasing wild antelopes over great plains.

The finale is laid bare. The Americans arrive in the Copper Canyons and the Tarahumara are game to run. The great race is a pleasurable passage, particularly Jurek versus the elite Tarahumara. “Born To Run” needs, and deserves, patience. While it does pick up speed as it progresses, it’s not a quick read. Most importantly, it delivers a quality contemplation, and might have you pondering which run gear items are truly essential, or just plain snake oil.

🏃‍♂️📚

#DidYouKnow courtesy “Born To Run”: No United States runner qualified with the 2:14 standard for the 2000 Olympics (Rod DeHaven did participate in the games, making the 2:15 “B” standard).

#Follow Christopher McDougall Here