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Book Review: Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

"Why does my foot hurt?" - a question that McDougall asks which leads into the hidden world of the Tarahumara Indians and the bizarre world of Ultra Running.

I've heard of the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico's Copper Canyon country most of my life. McDougall's book brings them to life, mainly through the eyes of a gringo phantom that lived among them known as "Caballo Blanco," the White Horse. (Sadly, Micha True, the White Horse, was found dead after a running accident in New Mexico in 2012). We learn that the Tarahumaras are a tribe of super athletes, living gentle, reclusive lives, spiced by the occasional wild night of peyote and beer excess followed by a 50 - 100 mile race chasing a wooden ball.

The book is wide ranging, exploring human evolution, the Tarahumaras, the world of the Ultra Marathon events. and the unique characters that live in that world.

Did we beat out the Neanderthals, who were stronger and smarter than the upstart Homo sapians, by becoming the running animal - able to chase down prey when the world climate changed to favor this mode of hunting? The book makes a good case for the hypothesis.

In exploring ultra running the reader learns of the Badwater Ultramarathon - 135 miles of surviving an average temperature of 125 with a ground temperature approaching 200. The race starts at Badwater in Death Valley at 280' below sea level and ends at Whitney Portal at 8400'.

The Leadville 100 is described in detail, especially the one year when a crafty organizer managed to get a few Tarahumara to run the race. They won, but didn't really care for gringo society and never returned to race.

The races described in the book are made interesting by the author's description of the characters that take on these extreme challenges. These are super athletes that few have heard of, for example Scott Jurek, winner of the Badwater Ultra and holder of the record for distance run in 24 hours (165.7 miles!); Jenn Shelton, bad girl of the Ultra runners who is spite of incredible ultra running accomplishments has tried and failed to qualify for the Olympic marathon; and of course the Tarahumara who the author gets to know.

The book culminates with a race organized by Caballo Blanco pitting the best Yankee ultra runners against the Tarahumara, taking place on the Indians turf in the Copper Canyons of northern Mexico. I won't say who won - but the descrition of the race, from Caballo's original concept near the start of the book through the finish line at the end forms the commonn thread through this fascinating book.