Born To Run - Christopher McDougall

When the good people at Adyar bookshop gave me a book about running to review on Barry Eaton's Radio Out There I must admit I gave them a look of horror. I don't think I've actually run since I was about 14 years old (the age at which my educators knew it was pointless to insist on any sort of physical exercise). Running is one of those pursuits for which I have 0 interest.
But I was reassured that this was, in fact, a good read, and almost as soon as I picked it up, I was sucked right in to the funny, fascinating and slightly boys-own world that Christopher McDougall creates.
Born to Run is about the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico, a group of indigenous people who can perform super-human feats of running, barefoot, through the Copper Canyons - looking amazing and majestic while they are doing it.

McDougall makes the Copper Canyons sound like just about the most wonderful place on earth, and extols, too, the Tarahumara people:

"And if being the kindest, happiest people on the planet wasn't enough, the Tarahumara were also the toughest: the only thing that rivalled their superhuman serenity, it seemed, was their superhuman tolerance for pain and lechugilla, a horrible homemade tequila brewed from rattlesnake corpses and cactus sap."

For 400 years the Tarahumara have been almost invisible - literally a lost tribe. And it is this romantic idea, one with so much power in western culture, which is perhaps the source of the book's charm and fascination. The Tarahumara shun the world, while at the same time cultivating an enormous curiosity about outsiders. They speak a lost language totally their own, and yet have turned up in unusual places all over the world - from Siberia to downtown Kansas City. McDougall paints the Tarahumara as an almost mythical people, almost Atlantean.

"Tarahumara souls usually run so fast, all you see is a swirl of dust sweeping across the countryside. Even in death...they're still the running people."

The Tarahumara villagers compete in 48 hour long running marathons. From the youngest age they are encouraged to see running as a spiritual practice, as a pleasure and an expression of their creativity.
McDougall's nemesis in the book, a figure as fascinating as the Tarahumara themselves, is Caballo Blanco, a peculiar white man who has made his life in the mountains among them, and is as enigmatic as the people who have adopted him. The detail about him is wonderful, and frequently Born to Run has all the elements of a good old-fashioned tall story. At times, too, I was reminded of the writings of Carlos Castaneda, a comparison that the author himself is happy to make.
How I enjoyed this beautifully written, fast-paced and terribly entertaining travel adventure. And how I long, now, to see the majestic Tarahumara, with their skirts flying in the wind as they run barefoot down their mountains.
Just as long as I am comfortably seated at the time.


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