Monday, February 14, 2011

Born to Run

One of the books that garnered a big waiting list at the library last year was Born to Run: a hidden tribe, superathletes, and the greatest race the world has never seen by Christopher McDougall. I can’t say as I was all that interested in the book’s main subject – footraces – but a couple years ago K & I visited Mexico’s Copper Canyon. Before the trip I read up on the Tarahumara Indians who live in the Copper Canyon. There wasn’t much to read. While we were there we bought finely crafted little baskets offered by Tarahumara women at the entrance to our hotel and at canyon overlooks. I heard that Born to Run was about Tarahumara runners, among other things, so I thought I’d pick it up when the waiting list evaporated.

Although McDougall’s goofy persona grated on me at first, I soon got into the cast of characters – runners, Indians, scientists. Turns out it’s quite a fascinating pop science book, too, offering the argument that the human body evolved to run. No, not speed. Endurance running. Faster animals will tire before we will. It is, one of the scientists McDougall consults says, theoretically possible for a human being to run an antelope to death. The antelope will wear itself and overheat after a few hours and the human thumping along on its trail can just step up to the poor antelope panting in the dust and dispatch it. I’m not going to lay out the evidence here; it’s fun following McDougall as he puts it together.

The marathons McDougall discusses stretch to a hundred miles or more. Over that kind of mileage women, it seems, can compete in the same class with men. Here’s a charming little example:

[A]t the 2007 Hardrock 100, Emily Baer beat ninety other men and women to finish eighth overall while stopping at every aid station to breast-feed her infant son.

100. That’s 100 miles. In the Colorado mountains.

I wonder if baby Baer noted a difference in the milk.