Running With Sherman

By Christopher McDougall
352 pp. Vintage. $16.95.

Let’s get this right out of the way. “Running With Sherman” is not 352 pages of a guy running through the woods with his donkey. That said, it IS a persistent theme, building towards a goal, and throughout the book distributes the spotlight. It’s that last part that, for me, is where I’m driving my initial considerations. Author Christopher McDougall has a propensity for crafting his words into parallel, like-minded silos. Or rather, running together multiple talking points (subjects) that merge throughout his books, all in support of the main subject (in this case hustling with a donkey). Likewise, his work “Born To Run” presents a similar technique. Before jumping into those other themes, let’s delve into some “Running With Sherman” background.

McDougall shares his origins early on. Associated Press reporting abroad turns to freelance magazine writing in Philadelphia, PA. There he meets his future wife, Mika, at a social gathering. The pair desire to put roots down and raise a family but struggle financially with gaining home ownership. Creative thinking’s required and they ultimately find their dream, albeit 90 minutes outside Philadelphia in the Southern End (aka, Pennsylvania Amish country). That’s not to say the McDougall family takes up the Amish culture (i.e., no electricity, no tractors, no zippers, etc.). Instead, more of an alliance is forged with their neighbors, with each side bringing to the table the benefits lacking from the other side. In these pages, “Running With Sherman” characterizes the McDougall homestead as good, simple living. However, life gets more complicated upon Sherman’s arrival, coupled with McDougall’s big idea.

With considerable convincing a good Samaritan gains Sherman freedom from a hoarder, and he’s transferred to the McDougall homestead, joining a fleet of other farm animals -but to date, not a donkey. Upon Sherman’s debut, McDougall grapples with uncertainty and concern. He’d endured a dilapidated lifestyle. McDougall said, “Worst of all were it’s hooves, so monstrously overgrown they looked like a witch’s claws.” It’s not so much that his prior caretaker’s heart wasn’t in the right place. Nonetheless, he wasn’t properly taking care of the animal (e.g., poor diet, no exercise, physically a mess). Slowly but surely, as Sherman’s nursed to better health, a notion that initially flickers for McDougall only keeps burning hotter. The Leadville Pack Burro race. McDougall learned of the event while visiting Leadville, Colorado a decade earlier. Now, he’s having visions of he and Sherman taking part.

Concurrent talking points, or themes, was earlier mentioned. Like, mentally and physically rehabilitating prisoners, as well as children and adults recovering from crimes, by working with animals. Also, the exploits of an Amish-based run team (all while running in long pants, suspenders, and full-length dresses, of course). Or, what running can do to benefit those suffering from depression (i.e., endorphins and dopamine). In addition, the positive impact of equine therapy on a young person suffering from epileptic seizures, as well as others struggling with autism, and PTSD. By no means are this paragraph’s examples all-inclusive. That said, nearly every instance does return the reader to Sherman’s progression towards Leadville.

Constructive criticism? A bit of hyper focus over, a donkey’s hyper focus over, a puddle in the road. What does that mean? The book’s an entertaining read. Please pick up a copy of “Running With Sherman” to find out!


#DidYouKnow courtesy “Running With Sherman”: Praise is offered for Coach Eric Orton‘s Thirty-Second Drill. McDougall explains, “…first, you warm up with an easy two-mile run. Then you sprint for thirty seconds, and jog lightly to recover. Repeat, alternating sprints and jogs, …” Stopping the workout’s suggested when, between repetitions, your legs feel less springy and recovery becomes labored. The drill’s purpose? Fixing biomechanics. We tend to right-the-ship when sprinting. Alternatively, our form gets sloppy at a slower pace.

#Follow Christopher McDougall Here

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