The next leap forward in human endurance would come from a dimension he dreaded getting into: character. Not the “character” other coaches were always rah-rah-rah-ing about.
Joe Vigil, a coach we encounter on the epic journey that is Born to Run wasn’t talking about grit, drive or hunger.
In fact, he meant the exact opposite. Vigil’s notion of character wasn’t toughness. It was compassion. Kindness. Love.
I share this view: that it is important to always be nice to one another and to always think about how others feel.
Even now, I’m not sure why I did this: when I was in the last kilometre of my last full marathon in Kyoto, ready to give up and start walking, I started saying “arigato” to all the volunteers lining the streets handing out drinks. It somehow gave me the little extra ounce of strength I needed to get over the line. Certainly having something nice to think about, rather than “my left knee hurts” pushes me forward towards the line.
Perhaps all our troubles—all the violence, obesity, illness, depression, and greed we can’t overcome—began when we stopped living as Running People. Deny your nature, and it will erupt in some other, uglier way.
It may be overly optimistic to think that if everyone went back to running like our forebears, that all the tyranny would disappear. But being nice to one another is certainly a good mantra to live to. And maybe if we were all running, we wouldn’t have time to be greedy and violent!
Christopher McDougall takes us to meet the legendary Tarahumara – a Mexican tribe known for their endurance running. First we meet them at a grueling 100-mile run in the heights of Colorado. This is a place where only people really dedicated to running and achieving seemingly impossible goals go.
Instead of a marathon, Ken created a monster. To get a sense of what he came up with, try running the Boston Marathon two times in a row with a sock stuffed in your mouth and then hike to the top of Pikes Peak.
Great. Now do it all again, this time with your eyes closed.
That’s pretty much what the Leadville Trail 100 boils down to: nearly four full marathons, half of them in the dark, with twin twenty-six-hundred-foot climbs smack in the middle.
On his journey, McDougall talks to scientists who say that we humans were indeed born to run! There is a tendon behind our head known as the nuchal ligament. The purpose of the tendon is to keep the head straight when running fast. It is not needed when walking. The tendon has been found only in dogs, horses and humans.
A jogger in decent shape averages about three to four meters a second. A deer trots at almost the identical pace. But here’s the kicker: when a deer wants to accelerate to four meters a second, it has to break into a heavy-breathing gallop, while a human can go just as fast and still be in his jogging zone. A deer is way faster at a sprint, but we’re faster at a jog; so when Bambi is already edging into oxygen debt, we’re barely breathing hard.
And so our ancestors were master huntsmen who would simply outrun their prey over very long distances — literally tiring them out.
We next meet the Tarahumara in their natural home for the book’s finale when a group of American runners joins McDougall on a trip to race in Copper Canyon.
Born to Run is an interesting read that I would recommend to anybody with an interest in running, human endeavour or anthropology. But more importantly it opened the door to some more interesting books, such as Eat and Run by Scott Jurek.