He is by no means an elite runner. He certainly has not invented any revolutionary running technique. And he most definitely did not engineer any brand new running shoes. Still, the name of Christopher McDougall is very well known among both recreational and professional running circles.
McDougall, of course, is the author of the 2009 best seller, Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen. The book sent waves in the running world for its description of the Tarahumara Indians in Mexico and their exploits as some of the world’s best long distance runners. Soon after publication, Born to Run inspired numerous folks to give barefoot running or minimalist shoes a try.
In honor of the Penn Museum’s current photo exhibition “Run! Super-Athletes of the Sierra Madre,” McDougall stopped by the museum on Wednesday night for a lecture and book signing in front of a sizable audience. The timing of his speech was especially notable due to the recent passing of Micah True, also known as “Caballo Blanco,” who was the central character of Born to Run.
Among the notable quips that McDougall offered was the primary difference in how many of us mainstream runners go about running as opposed to how the Tarahumara do. Our running is all about ourselves, and we are focused on our watches. There are a countless number of different and unique running styles that we exhibit in races. Meanwhile, the Tarahumara approach running with a view towards community. In their activities, they know that they are only as fast as their slowest member. They also do not worry about running a specific distance or for a specific time or speed. Additionally, McDougall described the Tarahumara as having the same easy running style and motion. Because they run either barefoot or with a thin layer of a sandal, the Tarahumara all run with forefoot strikes, rather than the heel strike so prevalent among runners with cushioned shoes.
McDougall’s stories were certainly entertaining. I don’t necessarily agree with a lot of his running philosophy that he has adopted from the Tarahumara, as I am substantially focused on times and distance. Still, as McDougall noted, the Tarahumara have survived for hundreds of years without wars, disease, violence and other problems that dog modern society. So they must be doing something right.