Customer Review

259 of 275 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 5 stars for inspiration, 3 stars for some hyperbole, July 5, 2009
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This review is from: Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen (Hardcover)
I have to ditto other readers who said this book changed their life. And that is not hyperbole. Prior to reading this book I viewed myself as a fast short distance runner and I rarely, if ever, ran more than 3 miles at a time. I felt this was just the way things were and that I should accept it.

"Born to Run" completely changed my internal thought process about running. I was already aware of the running shoe issue. I've been slowly using Vibram Five Fingers for over a year and I've been trying to alter my gate from heel strike first to toe strike first. I found that it just takes patience and time to adapt in getting those muscles developed. McDougall is no liar - we've been screwed over by the running shoe companies. The first time I ran with the Vibram's I could barely walk for a week I was in so much pain. Now I can climb mountains in them.

What changed for me after reading this book was just the simple notion that I wasn't limited by some personal flaw or lack of will. I was failing to run longer distances because both my mindset and my running style were flawed. One, we can all run farther than we think. Two, don't get obsessed over speed or time, just run at a pace that feels comfortable. Your body will tell you when you can step it up a notch. In other words, just enjoy the experience.

Before I started the book my max was 3 miles with a hard push on the first two. Five weeks after reading the book I can now do 8 miles or more. I can probably do 10 or more now, but haven't pushed because I'm still working on getting those calve muscles stronger and adapted to the new running style. Don't get me wrong - I'm running slow! But wow, does it feel good. I'm enjoying running more and I feel better than ever before. My blood pressure, which was high, is now below normal and I feel great. One of the points McDougall makes in the book is that many experienced ultra runners don't run that fast. Many of them are just doing 10 minute miles. That's part of what caused me to rethink my obsession over speed.

Unfortunately, as a few critics have pointed out, McDougall's book does come off as hyperbole in some parts. I also strongly disliked his focus on extremists. "Barefoot Ted" is one example.

Just search the net for the term "barefoot running" and you'll find some of the most absurd absolutist garbage about how the only way to run is barefoot and anyone who stoops to using shoes (even the likes of Nike Free shoes or the Vibram's) is misguided or even stupid. The sad reality is that we have all been lied to by the shoe companies - Nike especially. These lies are pushed on us by the alleged "experts." I recently picked up a pair of Nike Hayward Prefontaine runners. "Runners World" gave them a mixed review and slammed the shoe for not having enough support. So we have the barefoot absolutists telling us to ditch our shoes and we have the mainstream press telling us we need to wear the very shoes that are making us weaker runners. And the accepted normal shoes do make us weaker - I was told by a doctor after two major ankle injuries that I'd be limping for life if I was injured again. That ankle is the strongest it has ever been after changing my running style.

You don't change people's minds by using extremists to make your case. And that's unfortunately what comes across at times in McDougall's book. I would have personally preferred more information about his personal transformation and less on the likes of "Barefoot Bob" and the other runners who share very little in common with everyday people who just want to get into shape.

I don't think "Born to Run" is going to be that interesting to those who are already hardcore runners. The more you already run, the more the hyperbole will stick out. But I do recommend the book to those who thought like I did about what was physically possible for them. After reading this book you won't be able to watch a marathon again and think of how it's beyond your abilities. You won't make it into the Olympics, but the odds are you can run a marathon.

And speaking of marathons, McDougall makes an earth shattering point about older runners and their ability to outrun teenagers. The age at which you can beat a teenager (in long distance running), assuming you've trained appropriately, will blow your mind. Since it's one of McDougall's "secrets" I won't post the spoiler here. It's just one of his many points that will make you rethink your own ability to run.

EDIT: I have to scoff at all the critics of this book who say to take it all with a grain of salt. Each person is obviously different so your mileage will vary. Nonetheless, the central message in McDougall's book is that YOU can run and you can run longer distances than you think.

I served in the Army and I was a runner in high school. And yet, at almost 40 - with heart disease and a stent implant! - I'm now running longer distances than I have ever run in my life. One of the reasons is simply because I took McDougall's advice. I'll never run ultra-marathons, but that doesn't matter.

There are nuggets of truth and inspiration in this book along with all the exaggerations. If you're already a long distance runner there's very little meat for you to digest and the hyperbole will annoy. But if you're one of the many people who've never gone more than a few miles there's a powerful message here.

I now can outrun all 3 of my nephews (15 to 24) nephews in the long distance. On one fast 4.5 mile mountain hike (Mt. Monadnock in NH) I beat my athletic 15 year old nephew by more than 3 minutes. He led the entire run/hike until the end when I left him in the dust after he ran out of steam. He had the speed, I had the stamina - just like McDougall presents it in his book.
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Tracked by 2 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 10 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jul 6, 2009 7:29:31 PM PDT
Solid review.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 20, 2009 12:01:03 PM PDT
K. W. Lowery says:
Very thoughtful comments, thanks.

Posted on Sep 7, 2009 1:06:49 PM PDT
S. Smith says:
Tortoise and the hare!

Posted on Nov 16, 2009 5:12:32 PM PST
H. hamel says:
I noticed your edited comment. The reason why I take his ideas with a grain of salt is because his theories are interesting but need more scientific backing. Must you really scoff at that?

Posted on Feb 18, 2011 2:58:25 AM PST
Ken Zemach says:
Totally agree with your comments on absolutest views missing the point entirely.

Barefoot absolutists seem to miss the fact in the book that McDougal himself went from injured in running shoes to running a tough 50 miler... in running shoes. Doesn't this prove the point that shoes are not necessarily injurous? What he did was learn how to run correctly IN running shoes. I'm not saying minimalism and barefoot running isn't the right way to go, but the conclusion that shoes cause injuries is flawed. Shoes do not cause injuries, they allow one run in a manner that can cause injury. They also allow one to run in a manner that does not cause injury, but you have to know how to do that. In contrast, running barefoot does NOT allow you to run with most of these seriously bad habits.

Anyway, nice review, and good luck in your running!

In reply to an earlier post on May 12, 2011 5:49:33 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 17, 2012 12:45:32 AM PDT
@H. hamel : First, there IS more than enough science in the book. If you need references you can go from the scientists mentioned there.
Second, like in many, many, many other fields science is WAAAAYYYYYYY behind reality, so the OUTCOME, that means stories about what can be achieved, are more valuable than waiting for a "final word" from science. What, you won't move before it has been scientifically proven beyond doubt that you should? Excuse me - science by its very nature is ALWAYS behind reality/nature. It's meant to (slowly, tiny piece by piece) understand what is already there.
So for my part I'm VERY glad about the science part of the book, but I certainly don't require or wait for science to catch up.
That said, I also (d|w)on't FORCE myself to exercise. Ever. If I don't FEEL like doing it, even if it is for months, I won't do it, so I am NOT advocating to do like many of those "runners" you meet in the park, in whose faces you can see that they'd rather do something else, but that they believe they have to force themselves (their body) to run. What your own body tells you (if you learn to listen) is better than any (external) advice. I see this book clearly in this tradition: "scientific" medical men told him one thing, but he FELT it not to be true (and was proven true).

Posted on Jul 16, 2012 1:46:00 PM PDT
"My doctor told me, one more major ankle surgery and I'll limp for life" just logically should not be followed by "recently, I've quickly ramped up to doing long runs, and race my much younger nephews" Injuries can develop out of continued exercise, and 5 weeks isn't enough time to say the danger is behind you and you've shown the skeptics wrong. The standard advice for people who aren't getting older and on the edge of permanent lifetime debilitation is an increase of 10% per week.

Posted on Aug 4, 2012 11:29:26 PM PDT
Yes, yes, YES!!!

Posted on May 17, 2013 8:48:08 AM PDT
barefoot ted runs in sandals made by his company Luna

Posted on Apr 11, 2014 6:55:41 AM PDT
C. Johnson says:
Your comments are right on.

I am reading this book for the fourth time. I went absolutely extreme and ventured into barefoot running and Vibrams successfully completing several marathons in the VFFs. I have since re-evolved into minimalist footwear up to 4 MM offset and could not be happier. I now have two 50 milers to my credit.

I agree with the reference to the hyperbole and first dealt with it when I realized McDougal continued to run in shoes that would not really be considered minimalist.

The key to this work is to rethink what crap we have been sold by the shoe companies, explore options, and then determine what works best for you.

The benefit is that there are many runners who have rejoined the running community by adapting their running style, and often footwear. This is so great.
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