'Born to Run' author to visit ASU

Article Published: Feb. 10, 2011 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
'Born to Run' author to visit ASU

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen

If you haven"t heard of Chris McDougall, you will, and soon.

His critically acclaimed novel, "Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen," rocked the running world and has been selected as this summer"s book at Appalachian State University.

The book isn"t just about running. It delves into the secret world of the Tarahumara Indians, Mexico"s famed distance runners, a topic that took its author by surprise.

"At the time it began, I wasn"t a runner at all," he said. "I"d given up running because I was constantly injured."

So, we asked him how it all started. "Because of a brainwashing sex cult and a rising Mexican pop star," McDougall laughed.

And he"s serious. A veteran journalist, he was in Mexico investigating the cult when he discovered the Tarahumara and their passion for running. It"s a passion that captivated him, just as it now captivates his readers.

"How"s it possible?" he asked himself. "I run 5 miles a couple of times a week, and I"m always hurt. These guys are running 150, and they"re 75, 80 years old."

But he wasn"t just fascinated by their stamina.

"From everything I read about them, they seem to be immune from everything else we"re struggling with," he said, things like crime, suicide, warfare and heart disease. It led him to the question behind the book. "What"s the cause and effect between running long distances and what seems like a kind of Utopia?"

The book had a personal application when he discovered how far a change in footwear can go. The Tarahumara don"t wear complex running shoes. They run primarily barefoot.

"I never assumed at all that running shoes were going to be a variable," he said. "When I first read about the Tarahumara, I just assumed it was genetics or diet " It never dawned on me it"s actually what they have on their feet that makes the difference."

It"s McDougall"s opinion that running shoes are more of a detriment than a runner"s companion, an opinion he can back up.

"These things (running shoes) have only been around for a few years, and you can track the surge in running injuries," he said.

To him, it"s not a coincidence. His findings rocked the running community, stirring up debate on online forums, as well as within groups nationwide.

What he calls "stupid, useless shoes" have "junk," add-ons for arch comfort, et cetera, that cause the problems.

"I go barefoot whenever possible," he said, just like the Tarahumara, but simple flat shoes also work for running, he said.

Think Converse as opposed to the thick heeled bling. And he practices what he preaches.
"Within nine months, I went from running no miles " basically the lowest common denominator, up to running with (the Tarahumara) up to a 50-mile race," McDougall said.

The response to his book was surprising.

"I was really optimistic that people would react to the story because so many people run and so many people enjoy running," he said. "At the same time, whenever you see running depicted in books or movies, it"s always something awful. It"s always the thing you have to do to show how tough you are, or it"s the punishment you have to do " I knew there were millions of people out there who really enjoyed running " But what surprised me was this huge grassroots reaction to the message about the danger of cushion running shoes."

As for ASU"s honor?

"I"m delighted," McDougall said. "I was really kind of startled and shocked when I first got the inquiry, because you spend all this time doing something in anonymity and isolation and then you realize, "Hey, there are all these people paying attention.""

And the fact that it"s Boone that came calling added to the delight.

"I have been fascinated by Boone from afar for awhile," he said. "I would have been there eventually anyway on my own."

McDougall, a Harvard graduate and former New York Times Magazine writer, will speak at Appalachian"s convocation Sept. 15 in the Holmes Convocation Center, and his book will be provided to all incoming freshmen at Appalachian State University.

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