Thursday, November 15, 2012

Staff Picks

Hyperbole in reviews is not uncommon, but I am not exaggerating when I say Christopher McDougall's book Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen had a profound impact on my life.  All throughout school, and even after I graduated college, I was the type of person who would rather sit down for a gaming or TV marathon rather than go outside for any type of running.  Two years ago, I had the strange urge to look into recreational running.  When I started looking into how to start a friend suggested I read a book called Born to Run.  I gave it a shot and it inspired me to lace up (well, Velcro up) and head out.  A 5k and a marathon later, I'm still doing it and having more fun than I would have ever imagined.

Christopher McDougall, author and journalist, wanted to know why running injuries were so prominent.  He had "ridden Class IV rapids on a boogie board, surfed giant sand dunes on a snowboard, mountain biked across the North Dakota Badlands" and "reported from three war zones for the Associated Press" but apparently running took the hardest toll on his body. McDougall suffered from ripped hamstrings, strained Achilles tendons, and other injuries simply from running.  The question that drove him to write this book was, "How come my foot hurts?"

Born to Run is the search for the answer to this question.  McDougall takes an enjoyable approach to his writing; intertwined with his research into running injuries is an engaging and entertaining story.  He works with the quirky Caballo Blanco in an attempt to gather together a colorful cast of elite distance runners to race against the Tarahumara--natives to the Copper Canyons in Mexico who are sometimes referred to as "the running people."  The Tarahumara are initially introduced in the book as somewhat of an injury anomaly.  They run with nothing more on their feet than thin huaraches (sandals) sometimes made up of nothing but scraps of leather and tire rubber, yet running-related injuries are essentially unheard of.  Why do we, with multi-million dollar corporations focusing on running innovations, suffer so many injuries?  McDougall's research provides a compelling theory backed with scientific findings.

So when I heard that Scott Jurek, one of the runners McDougall features in Born to Run, had recently released a book of his own, I had to read it.

In Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness, Scott Jurek shares his life story.  This book is much more of an autobiography than McDougall's Born to Run, but it covers similar topics and even gives an alternate perspective on some key races.  Jurek has an impressive list of accomplishments under his belt.  As a runner, Jurek focuses primarily on ultramarathons; ultras are essentially any race longer than the 26.2 miles of a marathon and can range from a 50k (roughly 31 miles) to 100+ miles.  He showed up for the 100-mile Western States Endurance Run in 1999 as an unknown and won it--and then won it again each year for six years in a row afterwards and set a course record while doing so.  Jurek has also won the Badwater Ultramarathon, a 135-mile run through Death Valley, two times.  One of the many interesting aspects of Jurek's running career is that he has done it on a vegan diet.

Eat and Run covers a lot of Jurek's motivation for his plant-based diet and describes his transition from a traditional American diet to the one he has now.  Each chapter also ends with a vegan recipe ranging from smoothies to chili to pancakes.  While I am not vegan, or even vegetarian, I did sample a few of these recipes and add them to my collection.

For anyone who has ever been curious about running--either doing it yourself or if you have a friend or family member who does--I would certainly suggest giving Born to Run a read.  It's a nonfiction title that informs while it entertains and never sounds pretentious.  Eat and Run is a more personal story about Scott Jurek; from his childhood in the Midwest growing up with a strict father and a mother suffering from multiple sclerosis to his career as one of the most successful distance runners worldwide.

When you're finished, consider signing up for a local 5k fun run!  A great place to start is with the free Couch to 5K program.

Jake Bennington
Information Specialist