Book review: Born to run

Born to runI am a self-professed average runner who tries to hit the road at least once a week. Although I have never completed a full marathon, I do love running and the unadulterated joy of my heart pumping hard inside me.

But since the end of last year, I started having a problem with my left knee. A nagging throbbing pain would start shooting through my knee whenever I jogged. I have tried fixing the problem with cushioned socks, patella bands, ice packs and this new pair of shoes, which I switched to at the start of the year.My sports shoesTo be honest, I did pin my hopes on these high-tech soles to work its magic for my joint, but eight months down the road, nothing changed. The nagging pain persisted. Thus it was a shock when I read this in Christopher McDougall’s book “Born to run.”

“Wearers of expensive running shoes that are promoted as having additional feature that protect (e.g., more cushioning, ‘pronation correct’) are injured significantly more frequently than runners wearing inexpensive shoes (costing less than $40).

What a cruel joke: for double the price, you get double the pain.”

The non-fiction novel “Born to run” taught me about a sport I thought I knew all along. It made me unlearn, learn and relearn about running, how to run and how best to run.

“A lot of foot and knee injuries that are currently plaguing us are actually caused by people running with shoes that actually make our feet weak, cause us to over-pronate, give us knee problems. Until 1972, when the modern athletic shoe was invented by Nike, people ran in very thin-soled shoes, had strong feet, and had much lower incidence of knee injuries,” Dr. Daniel Lieberman, a professor of biological anthropology at Harvard University.”

Having nothing to lose, I decided to experiment with a running style suggested in the book to ditch my heels-to-toe stride for a midfoot-to-toe stride. The result was instantaneous. The pain was lifted of my left knee when I ran and both my knees never felt lighter than ever before.

“Born to run” is as much a science story as it is an anthropological documentation of McDougall’s search for the Tarahumara, indigenous people in Mexico who are believed to be the toughest ultramarathon runners in the world. They are said to be able to run for hundreds of miles without stopping on steep canyon trails with shoes that are no more then thin tyres laced up with strings. And here is the irony he found:

“Shouldn’t we – the ones with the state-of-the-art running shoes and custom-made orthotics – have the zero casualty rate, and the Tarahumara – who run way more, on way rockier terrain, in shoes that barely qualify as shoes – be constantly banged up?”

[CLICK HERE for a lovely series of the Tarahumara by Nat Geo photographer Robb Kendrick]

With this central query, the book dives deep into the fascinating world of running covering everything from the evolution to the business of running, whilst alongside uncovering ultramarathoners simple love of running

“When I’m out on a long run,” she continued, “the only thing in life that matters is finishing the run. For once, my brain isn’t going blehblehbleh all the time. Everything quiets down, and the only thing going on is pure flow. It’s just me and the movement and the motion. That’s what I love – just being a barbarian, running through the woods.”

This book is definitely going under my best reads of 2013.

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. Everything I recount here is based on my own experiences because I am glad to be back running sans the pain. The feeling of pounding on my two pins on the road is liberating and makes me feel alone and free – only me, the road and the wind.

In case I do not sound convincing enough, here’s Dr. Lieberman, the Harvard professor again:

14 thoughts on “Book review: Born to run

  1. just so you know, i hate to run. i am the worst athlete i know. i am not good at any sports. but i do love literature and i do love to read and i do love anything book-related. my children refer to our living room as the book room. it’s stacking room only at the moment. and i really really like your blog and will be following. well done sir!

  2. You aren’t the only person I’ve known who has read this book and had great progress. I guess hearing a second person review this book and say it positively pushes me to actually want to pick up the book,

  3. Very interesting. My feet tends to roll inwards when I run/walk so I need those stable kind of shoes. That’s why ive been afaid to run so much. But I think I’d try changing my style of running before getting a new pair of shoes.

    1. Hmmm… I think what you’ve mentioned here was also tackled in the book. According to the author, the more we try to correct our pronation problem, which is the way our foot rolls inwards, the more we are exacerbating the problem. Those corrective shoes in fact limit the natural way our feet hit the ground and restrict their movement. Here’re some articles that discuss about pronation in greater details:

      Hope they help!

    1. Thanks! I personally find it easier to get through online articles when it has at least some pictures to break up the flow of words.

  4. Hmmm…..I’m going to have to give this book a read. I was running almost daily before I had a knee injury last year as I trained for a marathon. I never had problems with my “expensive running shoes” but one day I decided I would ease into the new fad of minimalist running shoes. I tried the Five Fingers and, at first, it felt good and I felt like I could run forever in them. After a while I started developing some aches and pains along my IT band, so I made a switch to a light pair of running shoes, that offered no arch support, and cost about $50. The shoes, and probably along with my running style, is what caused my knee injury. I had surgery on my knee and, a year later, I went back to running in my “expensive shoes” again and, like Dr. Lieberman says in the video, I slowly adjusted my running style and now i’m as happy as can be on the road.

    Although i’ll probably never go back to running in a minimalist type shoe, because i’m scared of making the same mistake and hurting myself again, i’ll still give this book a read.

    I’m curious how you stumbled upon this book? Was it a recommendation based on the issues you were having with your knee?

    1. Hope your knees are feel good after the surgery! I guess going to minimalist shoes really needs to be eased into because we have pampered our feet for the longest time ever in cushioned shoes such that it is difficult to throw them into wearing barely nothing. This book though is more than just about running in minimalist shoes but gives a multi-faceted account of the sport. It made running appear simpler, lighter and got me falling in love with it again. Do give it a shot!

      As for how did I stumble upon this book, I can’t remember it that well to be honest. My instincts tell me it might be a recommendation off Amazon? It could also have been a review I read somewhere.

  5. This seems like an interesting book!

    Being an avid runner (and not a jogger, even) myself, at least 5 times a week, 5-10 miles, I have to agree with some of these things, like learn to run “right” (runners do have different styles) and expensive shoes are often a waste of money for a practicioner. I’ve run in the same 39,90 EUR Adidas model for years, no pains ever, though some of it may be contributed to the genes.

    I hate to see people start running, then get hurt, and lose interest when all they often really need is to be a little more informed. It’s not rocket science, but there are a few things worth digging into in the technique department, even the positioning of the hips or tensing of the shoulders can cause unexpected pains.

    Happy runnin’!

    -K. Trian

    1. It certainly is great to hear from a fellow runner and your own experiences. I wish I did not throw away my old pair of crusty but trusty old shoes which had much lesser cushioning but caused me lesser pain. Though I’ve not completely rid all my pain from my legs, I’m definitely trying to read up on different running techniques to help mitigate the pain.

      The book though is awesome and suitable for runners/joggers of different levels. It made me reignite my love for the sport once again (:

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