Review by Tom O'Grady
In the spring of 2009, the book Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen was released. The author, Christopher McDougall, was trying to answer a simple question – how do the world’s best runners cover hundreds of miles without getting injured? McDougall attempted to answer this question because as a long-time runner, he had been plagued with injuries. Many of McDougall’s runner friends were also facing their own injuries and wondering if they would simply need to give the sport up in middle age. The main takeaway points from Born to Run are that runners run because of their passion and love for the sport, nutrition is an important and overlooked factor in success, and technique is crucial (straight back, short steps, on your toes, “easy, light, smooth, fast”). Although the book was well written and became phenomenally popular, it was not an overnight success. McDougall has gone on to write several books since then but recently Born to Run 2: The Ultimate Training Guide was released.
My first thought when learning about McDougall’s upcoming book was skepticism. There are so many books that cover training that any type of guide struggles to be unique. Additionally, any book that claims to be the “ultimate training guide” to running has a lot of competition from a long list of legendary coaches that include the likes of Jack Daniels and Joe Vigil. If anyone was up to the challenge of writing a book that lives up to its title, then it would be McDougall. McDougall has proven multiple times that he can write entertaining books about nearly any aspect of running. Have you read Running with Sherman and asked yourself how McDougall made running with a donkey into such a great story?
There must be an unwritten, or written rule, among publishers that run training guides should come packaged as finished products with dimensions that are approximately 8 x 10 inches and 250 pages. In this regard, Born to Run 2 is nearly identical to several of the other books about run training that I have copies of, in that it is 7.5 x 9 inches and 267 pages. The book is further split into three parts and fourteen chapters. What sets Born to Run 2 apart from nearly every other book about run training is that there are many pictures included. These are high-quality color pictures of McDougall and others running and the pictures relate to the contents of the chapter. The pictures make the book very visually appealing, and though all these high-quality photos likely increased the costs of the book, they also add real value. They make the book relatable, and they help make running fun. And that’s an important take home point. Although most HMRRC members likely enjoy running - not everyone does! Remember that from McDougall's first book, his goal is to make you a better runner by making you run free and by making running fun! The Tarahumara ran because they loved to run. Scott Jurek's tip was "You can’t hate The Beast; the only way to truly conquer something, as every great philosopher and geneticist will tell you, is to love it.” And you don't stop running because you get old, you get old because you stop running.
True to form, McDougall covers more than just running in this book. Included in Born to Run 2 is a chapter about nutrition. There are several suggestions on nutritious meals that runners can utilize to help them fight fatigue while running but that they can also use to feel more energized during the entire day. McDougall doesn’t rely on us simply taking his word for it, either. McDougall provides examples from real people who have changed their diets and lives from these tips. McDougall connects the tips to how those tips improved peoples’ running and outlook on life. Many people think that running is hard. In fact, many people believe that running should be hard, or you are simply not doing it right. McDougall does runners and running justice by going out of his way to refute this argument! Chapter 8 is Form - The Art of Easy. That’s right, the chapter on running form is right smack in the middle of the book. It’s after the part on nutrition and before the part where McDougall talks about pacing and training plans. In my opinion, this is genius because the section on form is so often looked at as an afterthought (most running guides include form and drills as an appendix). The drills included are designed to be fun and are accompanied by visuals of McDougall and others completing the drills (and yes, having fun doing so). The drills are also connected to stories of how they have helped individual runners achieve their best – ever wonder how “the 100” helped a pharmacist and an elite miler reach their true potential?
Born to Run 2 is an easy read. To give it a more critical eye, I read about a chapter a night before going to bed. The idea was that I could keep coming back to it with a fresh eye. Although this book is easy to read, its true value takes longer to digest. This is good because that means that Born to Run 2 is more than just fluff. There are true lessons and tips that runners can implement. Then they can come back to these sections and adjust as needed. Although I may not personally follow the 13-week training plan included by McDougall, the plan has value and does offer a nice overview of how to train. This makes the plan valuable to many runners and provides worth in a way that allows for measured improvements. What I will do is try several of the recipes and follow tips that McDougal includes. Born to Run 2 is more than I would expect from a running guide but everything I would expect from a book by Christopher McDougall. McDougall wins with Born to Run 2 as it is a fun read and offers something for runners of all abilities.
Reviewer Tom O’Grady is an elite runner, coach, writer and college professor with a joint appointment at NYSDOH/UAlbany
School of Public Health.
Click on his picture to read all that he has written for The
Pace Setter – and it is a lot!
Thank you, Tom!