Thursday, November 18, 2010

Born to Run

Born to Run is a true story that centers around the Tarahumara Indians who live in western Mexico. This tribe is known for their unbelievable feats of running endurance. Wearing home made sandals as foot protection  and fueled on lots of corn, they can run for distances of 100 or more miles without much difficulty.

Christopher McDougal travels to Mexico to see what they’re all about and to pick up tips that may help in his own running. During his travels, he encounters numerous “characters” including a man who calls himself Caballo Blanco. Caballo Blanco is an American who has lived among the Tarahumara for more than a decade and has incorporated endurance running into everything that he does.

After returning to America, McDougal stays in touch with Caballo Blanco who sets up an ultra race in the beautiful but desolate Mexican Copper Canyons where the Tarahumara live. His dream is to bring together American ultra marathoning great Scott Jurek, a number of other top ultra runners, and the Tarahumara who are regarded as some of the most incredible endurance athletes ever.  McDougal helps organize the American side of the race and brings about 10 other runners with him.

One of the runners is called Barefoot Ted who virtually always runs barefoot or with minimal foot covering. He provides an interesting foil to Caballo Blanco, both being unique characters in their own right.

The book makes a strong case for the benefits of barefoot running and the possibility that running shoes may actually cause more injuries than they prevent. They also discuss something called the Running Man theory that postulates all humans were created to be runners and discusses group endurance hunts. These endurance hunts involved running after prey and keeping at it until the animal died of exhaustion. While humans are not nearly the fastest animal on the planet, we have greater endurance than a vast majority. For example, given enough time and distance, a man can outrun a horse.

McDougal’s journalism background shows throughout the book as we see vignettes telling individual character stories that feed into the overall narrative of the Tarahumara and culminating in the race. He delves into the science behind running as well as telling interesting background stories for each of the people represented in the book. He clearly performed a great deal of research when writing the book.

His writing style is funny, engaging, and off the cuff. There are a few spots where the language can get a little rough and a few scenes are described in a bit more detail than is needed. He does discuss macro-evolution as fact but if taken with a grain of salt, the perspective is still interesting as it relates to running. These elements do not overly denigrate an otherwise fascinating and fun story. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and recommend it to anyone interested in running, geography, or just a plain good story. Incidentally, if any movie producers are looking for a good potential movie, this would make a great story with a full cast of characters.

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Monday, November 15, 2010

You Will Never...

You will never...

have enough things, be popular enough, be rich enough, be pretty enough, be strong enough, be thin enough, be funny enough, be smart enough, be powerful enough, accomplish enough, laugh enough, be talented enough, be tough enough, drink enough, eat enough, exercise enough, gamble enough, play on the internet enough, watch TV enough be fulfilled.

You will always want more. You will plan and devise ways to get the next thing, meet the right people, and reach the next goal. This will not be enough.

Jesus is the only one who can truly fill and satisfy your heart. He is more than enough.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Perfect Mile

In the early 1950s, several young men by the names of Roger Banister, John Landy, and Wes Santee were knocking on the door of the 4 minute mile barrier. Some said it would never be done and that the human body was simply not made to run that fast. The Perfect Mile is the story of each of these mens' quests for the 4:00 mile barrier.

Bannister was a medical student in London at the time and mixed training with studying, rounds at the hospital and keeping up with a social life. His scientific research into the capabilities of the human body aided his understanding of the practical side of running and he knew that it was definitely possible to break the barrier.

Landy was a student as well and spent countless hours training when friends and family were pursuing other activities. Of the three, he was probably the most well trained and could consistently run 4:02 miles and not be overly spent shortly thereafter.

Santee was a student at the University of Kansas and had team commitments to fulfill in addition to his individual pursuit of the 4 minute mile. His team obligations sometimes put a damper on the ability to focus solely on training for the event.

Each of the men kept track of the other's progress on far away continents and spurred him on to be the first to break the barrier. Eventually, Bannister succeeded in running a sub 4 minute mile at Oxford University with the help of a couple of training partners pacing him through the first 3.5 laps. Landy and Santee were obviously a bit disappointed but continued in their own personal pursuits.

After the barrier fell, Bannister and Landy finally met in the Commonwealth Games held in Canada in an epic race hyped in the media as one of the biggest races of all time. Thousands and thousands of people witnessed the race with Bannister just barely beating Landy at the end.

I was interested to read about the training methods at the time. There is a much greater understanding of how to train for speed in the approximately 60 years since that time. Another factor differentiating that period of competitive running with today is that virtually all world class athletes were not professional and had to subsist on the support of family and their own jobs rather than benefiting from the lucrative sponsorships afforded to today's athletes.

I thought the portion about the showdown between Bannister and Landy was well done but could have gotten to the point a bit quicker rather than prolonging the suspense. At parts, this portion felt like the suspense leading up to the race was unnecessarily lengthened.

The book is well written and adds suspenseful elements that keep you wanting to read more. It alternates amongst the three runners stories, constantly circling back to the 4 minute mile barrier. Bascomb did extensive research and interviews in writing the book and the quality of the material shows this. It would make an excellent movie if ever produced into a full length feature film. I definitely recommend the book for anyone interested in running, history, and the intrigue of running a mile in 4 minutes.

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