by Christopher McDougall, Knopf, 2009, 287 pp., $24.95
Non-stop Ultra Endurance Running (races of 30, 50, even 100 miles or more) is one of the world's fastest growing extreme sports.
The elite racers in this punishing sub-culture of the runner's world include the Tarahumara (Raramuri) Indians of the Sierra Madres in northern Mexico's remote and perilous Copper Canyons region.
According to former Associated Press war correspondent Christopher McDougall, an Ultra runner himself, the Tarahumara have been running away from danger since the 16th Century, when the Spanish Conquistadors arrived in the Barrancas del Cobre to enslave them. Today, the Tarahumara continue their fleet-of-foot retreats outrunning the murderous drug cartels invading their lands.
The Indians of the Copper Canyons have had to run in order to survive: Running as a form of transportation to save your life, not as a sport, is how you learn to run really fast!
". . .the Tarahumara have responded to attacks by running farther and faster than anyone could follow . . . ,"writes McDougall. ". . .the Tarahumara . . . may be the healthiest and most serene people on earth, and the greatest runners of all time," argues McDougall, a contributing editor for Men's Health magazine.
Capable of going at top speed for days-on-end over extremely rough ground, the legendary Raramuri Indians are the focus of McDougall's new book on the art, science and spirit of Ultra Endurance Running.
Central to the author's story are races between Tarahumara runners and superathletes from the outside world, as he seeks to discover how these isolated people can run so fast for so long under extreme conditions. The Tarahumara so far have beaten all the world-class long distance runners who have challenged them.
Learning about the Tarahumara's enriching life-style is the reward for reading Born To Run. It is refreshing to discover that the Indians' training and equipment is so simple and antithetical to the scientific routines of modern superathletes. The Tarahumara run on flimsy sandals, with flowing white capes billowing around their shoulders . . . the ghost runners of the Sierra Madres.
Art Gould is a former newspaper reporter and book publisher. He lives in Anniston.