Similar to Jon Krakauer’s style, what strikes me about this book is the writing and the extensive research. When I read a nonfiction book that delves into so many ancillary issues, all exhaustively researched, it humbles me because I can feel the hours, weeks, years, it takes to not only gather the information, but to sort through it, make sense of it, and then decide where it is best placed in the story. I bought this book for my daughter who is a xc runner in high school, and once she was finished with it, my husband and I both picked it up. McDougall’s premise—and the way he begins his story—is about his own running injuries: an ice pick feeling in his heel after running three miles. Over the years of extensive marathon running and other extreme sports, he’d suffered a multitude of injuries from ripped hamstrings to a strained achilles tendon, and like so many runners, got to the point where “expert” docs recommended cortisone shots and an end to running. This—and the beginning of his adventure to locate the mysterious Caballo Blanco, a man living in and running through Mexico’s Sierra Madres—are the two challenges that open the book. And ultimately we are taken on a journey that includes many of the world’s most well-known ultra marathon races and ultra-marathon runners; the Tarahumara who live in the Copper Canyons of Mexico and run all day in sandals; the invention of the running shoe; a tour through the Nike company and its marketing genius; a multitude of science labs where teams are studying evolution and anthrolpology; and then back to the basics of training and eating like the Tarahumara. McDougall discovers—like so many others have done in various ways—that going back to the basics works: run properly and you don’t need all that cushioning the running shoes entice you with, eat less and better and you’ll have more energy for longer periods of time. Common sense, right? But so hard to follow in our culture of fixing every problem with a pill, an injection, or another shortcut. McDougall learned that he had to retrain himself: his body had to adapt to a completely different style of running, and he had to think and eat differently if he wanted to find the success in running that the Tarahumara and Cabalo Blanco had found (Cabalo–which isn’t his real name—adapted to their culture and lifestyle, and thus, their running prowess).
This is a fascinating story with arteries jetting off in many directions, but they all seem to lead back to the metathesis: strengthen all aspects of your feet and body and adopt perfect form rather than relying on running shoe cushioning/design to make up for bad form; eat less than you think you need; eat better food (no need for sugar, white flour, unnatural fats, even meat); be happy. According to McDougall and all of the various research he sought out, humans were born to run. But in the past umpteen years, we’ve just veered too far off that path. I’m not much of a runner myself these days, but so much of his information is relevant to other sports and to diet, and it meshes with all that I read about during cancer treatment: go back to the basics, don’t look for short cuts, force your body to do things correctly, relieve stress, find a mind-body connection, eat well. Common sense, right? (nonfiction).