The question is familiar to runners around the world: "Why does my foot hurt?" They ask and almost never like the most common reply: "Because running is bad for you."
When Christopher McDougall asked, though, the answers led him to write Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen, which is the best nonfiction book I've read in a long, long time. Funny, thrilling and endlessly fascinating, the book follows McDougall as he heads off into the wilds of Mexico's Copper Canyons in search of the reclusive Tarahumara Indians, a tribe of little-known superathletes, to whom running is as natural as breathing. There he meets the "gringo indio" Caballo Blanco, a mysterious runner with the dream of bringing the best marathoners to Mexico for a race with the Tarahumara.
The journey introduces McDougall to the world of ultra running and its quirky, driven stars (none of whom would fall under the conventional description of "normal"); doctors and researchers who believe mankind evolved as a running people; and the Tarahumara, who run with astonishing passion and freedom. The conclusions McDougall comes to - that Nike did more damage to runners than rocky trails; that with gear, less is more; that we were indeed born to run - are well-thought out and plausible, and his wryly humorous tone propels the action and, after the book has wandered far and wide, neatly ties everything together.
I'm not a runner and probably never will be; you will never see my name on a list of participants in the diabolical 100-mile race through the mountains of Leadville, Colo. I probably won't even jog around the block anytime soon. But you don't have to log in 20 miles a day to appreciate McDougall's riveting tale. Actor Fred Sanders reads the audio version wonderfully, reeling out tension during the races and reflecting McDougall's laid-back humor and sense of wonder about all he was learning.
McDougall, who appeared last fall at Miami Book Fair International, was one of the highlights of the event. If you didn't get to see him, fear not. Reading Born to Run is every bit as entertaining as the man himself. Do not miss it.