Christopher McDougall doesn’t want to get too artsy or preachy or weird, but he does believe that running “is our first art form.”
“We’re running animals,” says McDougall, author of Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen (Vintage, $15.95 in paper), who brings his Naked Tour to Miami on Saturday April 30. (Don’t worry — “naked” refers to his feet, not the rest of him.)
“Fish are swimming animals,” he says. “Birds are flying animals. We’re runners. We have this great natural ability. If we’re pre-wired to do this, shouldn’t you try and experience it?”
McDougall doesn’t want to be a proselytizer, but lately the journalist and former war correspondent has talked more about the subject than he ever imagined possible; on the Naked Tour, he and others from his book even run with fans before book signings.
“At most of these events I walk onstage sweaty, in a pair of shorts,” he admits.
McDougall finds himself riding the crest of a sea change, a fate he didn’t envision when he set out to write about the Tarahumara, a tribe living in Mexico’s remote Copper Canyons that has perfected the art of running great distances without injury — and without the expensive footgear once deemed necessary for safety. The Tarahumara run in homemade sandals and, since the publication of McDougall’s book, have figured prominently in conversations about the barefoot movement, which deems the thickly padded shoes of the past detrimental to feet everywhere.
“You always envision the best-case scenario when you write anything,” McDougall says from his home in rural Pennsylvania. “You dream the impossible. But I didn’t foresee this whole revolution in running, this change in perspective. The one chapter on running shoes I was tempted to cut out of the book. I was concerned it interrupted the flow. And that’s the chapter everybody talks about.”
Still, you don’t have to care about the great shoe debate to become enchanted with the bestselling and thoroughly entertaining Born to Run. McDougall — who writes that he started the book to answer his constant question to doctors: “How come my foot hurts?” — blends science and sociology with plain, thrilling storytelling, introducing a colorful cast of characters of researchers and runners, including the mysterious expatriate runner Caballo Blanco, who lives in the rocky enclaves of the Tarahumara and dreamed of bringing the best ultramarathoners in the world to race in the Copper Canyons.
Click here to read the rest of my story on McDougall, and don't miss the Naked Tour on Saturday April 30. McDougall, ultramarathoner Scott Jurek and trainer Eric Orton will meet with runners at noon at Books & Books in Coral Gables, run a 3-4 mile loop and return to the store for a talk afterward. Don't want to run? Plan on being at the store around 2 p.m.