Book Review: Born to Run

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Ok, I had a super busy week, and didn’t have time to get anything together for a post.  So here is a review of the book “Born to Run,” by Christopher McDougall that I wrote for a mythology course while in grad school.  I will have something fresh and new next week, but it is Thursday and I want to stick to my self-imposed deadline.  Enjoy.

 

Born to Run

A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen

By Christopher McDougall

 

                 Born to Run by Chris McDougall, is a bestselling book that has been read by almost every runner in the country.  It is a story of McDougall’s journey to Northwest Mexico’s Copper Canyons in search of the fabled Tarahumara Indian tribe.  After contact is made with Carballo Blanco, an American living among the tribe, an assortment of ultra-marathon (50 miles and over)runners assembled by the author visit the tribe.  Their mission, half fueled by curiosity, half with competitiveness, to see if the myths about the tribal member’s ability to run extremely long distances quickly are true.

                The cast of visitors is as diverse as “ultra” runners come, all with very different, spiritual reasons for making the journey.  Scott Jurek, one of the elite ultra runners in the world, is looking to see how he measures up with the best in the tribe, and possibly learn some lifestyle differences which make the Tarahumara more apt to run farther more consistently.  Jenn Shelton is a college dropout, former surfer/lifeguard, and owner of the fastest time ever recorded in a 100 mile race ever run by a woman.  She and her boyfriend, Billy Barton, are on a quest to find a deeper spiritual meaning to their running, and an amazing travel experience.  Eric Orton is a world class running coach and is in charge of keeping the runner’s pace, distance, and emotions in check.  Because of the energy of all the eccentric members of the group, Eric was brought to keep everyone level headed and safe.  The final member of the group is the center of one of the two areas of mythology covered during the story.  Barefoot Ted was one of the founding fathers of “barefoot running.”  A movement whose members believe modern running shoes have caused many common athletic injuries today, such as plantar fasciitis, knee strains, and Achilles’ Tendon tears, and a return to barefoot running will cure many people from recurring running injuries.  Ted is on a mission to commune with his barefoot soul mates; the Tarahumara run barefoot throughout the Copper Canyon despite the extremely rugged landscape they inhabit.  The group travels to Mexico knowing there is a good chance they will not meet the Tarahumara, they may not be welcomed if they do, and the temperature, terrain, or wildlife may end their life on any run.

The Tarahumara run.  The book describes games children play while at school recess where 7, 8, 10 year olds will chase a ball up and down the hills for 45 minutes without stopping, then be disappointed when it’s time to go in.  Running is a means of traveling through the Canyon, and, until recently, used for hunting (chasing animals until they wear out and collapse). The Tarahumara also use running to foster celebration, togetherness and community.  The book culminates with an inter-village race that includes the American visitors.  The town of Urique closed for the day and the singing, dancing, and celebrating continues long after the last runner finished.  Great personal connections were made amongst runners, and a few Tarahumara runners competed in the Leadville (Colorado) 100, shortly after the race in Urique.  While the personal stories and travelogue presented in this book are fascinating, it is the deeper subjects in the book that make it an essential read for anyone interested in different cultures. 

                The Tarahumara culture is a world away from what the visitors are accustomed to.  Their settlements are mostly in the only shady places around; between rocks or in caves.  McDougall describes how it is common for the residents of these settlements to hide from outsiders who know nothing of their culture. Visitors can walk through an area normally filled with life and see nothing but rock and heat, occasionally feeling as though someone is watching.  Because of this, Tarahumara culture is one of the few in the area that were untouched by the Conquistadors and other foreign “visitors,” following  “the principle that the best trick for throwing off pursuers was to travel places only a lunatic would follow, the Tarahumara snake their trails over suicidally steep terrain.”  (pgs. 19-20)  The rugged conditions, elusiveness of tribesmen, and the heat have given this area an aura of other-worldliness touched by spirits of past wisemen and bandits/travelers/warriors who have entered and never left.  The lack of contact with the outside world has allowed the mystique of the Tarahumara grow; occasionally fed by a journalist who tries to penetrate the area and thinks better of it or a missing persons report.  This book is groundbreaking because of the intimacy the author is allowed with a culture rarely written about.  He reveals the Tarahumara to be quiet, peaceful people, who simply do not enjoy contact with outsiders.   

The lifestyle lived by the residents of the Copper Canyon has attracted increasing interest as authors such as McDougall ask why  residents of the area are suspected to be devoid of cancer, heart problems, foot / knee injuries, and most common illness known to the outside world.  Their diet is fueled by pinole (cornmeal, sugar, and chia seeds) and chia fresca (water, chia seeds, and lemon or lime), their shoes are described as nothing more than canvas with some well-worn rope, and running as a means of travel can last anywhere from 50 to 200 miles regardless of weather or terrain.  It seems the ability to keep the outside world out may also mean keeping illnesses out as well.   

                The second myth McDougall addresses is modern running shoes.  Three chapters in the book travel away from the Copper Canyons, and into the laboratories of sports scientists in the United States and Europe where the human stride is studied at length.  Researchers from Palo Alto, California, to Bern, Switzerland, have complied evidence that the barefoot striking of a foot is a much healthier, more natural way to run.  McDougall quotes Dr. Daniel Lieberman, a professor of biological anthropology at Harvard University:

A lot of foot and knee injuries that are currently plaguing us are actually caused by people running with shoes that actually make our feet weak, cause us to over-pronate, give us knee problems.  Until 1972, when modern athletic shoes were invented by Nike, people ran on very thin-soled shoes, had strong feet, and had much lower incidence of knee injuries.   (p. 168)

There is a very effective combination of anecdotal and scientific evidence throughout the book to support the barefoot runners’ beliefs.  This book has started a major discussion among the running and sports science communities, and has led to an increase in sales, marketing, and development of “minimalist” shoes.  The Vibram Five Fingers are discussed in the book, worn by the author and our widely accepted as the first shoe of this kind (it is like a heavy gardening/ work glove for a foot).  While these shoes gained in popularity, it allowed other shoe companies to strengthen the foothold (no pun intended) these shoes have created in the running shoe market.  The Nike Free, Brooks Green Slice, and Saucony Kinvara have become staples at running events throughout the country.  A quick internet search of “barefoot running” will show the pros and cons of this issue.  This discussion has been started, and caused many runners to at least rethink (though not always change) the way they process information presented by industry.

                “Born to Run” has sold millions of copies, started a polarizing debate, and shone light on an area of mystery for hundreds of years.  As a result, Chris McDougall is a “running” celebrity and running tourism has blossomed in the Copper Canyons, bringing many changes to a culture removed from others for so many years.   This book also contrasts different cultural extremes: on the one hand, a scientific lab where running is studied. On the other, a culture that doesn’t use shoes at all while quickly covering vast distances. I pose that McDougall is exploring two types of myths here: science as the foremost authority vs. the wisdom of pre industrial cultures.

                After writing this paper, I researched its affects on the Copper Canyon and how the popularity has changed the Tarahumara culture.  It’s a very interesting debate, and when I have a few minutes I will gather some info and write another post about the changes that the fame of this book has brought to the culture. 

                Thanks for reading this longer post.  Click through the link on the right when shopping on Amazon.

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Monday Song #7

This song was made immortal for many people born after 1975 by the disco scene in “Boogey Nights,” and is a great “I-don’t-know-the-name-of-that-song-but-it-goes: ner neh ner ner n-n-ner na neh ner…..” song, and most people will know what you’re talking about. Also, the album version is definitely crisper sounding, I am just a sucker for old Soul Train clips.

NBA Draft and Wikipedia

A while back I got in this weird obsession of looking at Wikipedia pages of NBA Drafts over the last thirty years.  Not sure why, other than I needed some “shut my brain off” time.  I guess I like the nostalgia, and I enjoy seeing which players drafted in the second or third rounds and made a career for themselves, and who were the big-time busts.  I decided to go through from 1980 until now, and just write some random thoughts (most of the thoughts are stuck in the ‘80s, by the way) and share them with you.  None of the information in this post is taken from the little article on the top of the Wikipedia page, where they list famous picks for the year, memorable trades, etc. I went through the charts of the draft picks and made these observations myself (with two exceptions marked with a *). I had a great time just clicking around thinking, “Oh look, Jim McIlvaine!” and other similar thoughts.  Enjoy.

  • The first NBA draft was in 1950.  In years past it was the BAA draft.  The first official pick was made by the Boston Celtics, who chose Chuck Share from Bowling Green University.  However, Paul Arizin of Villanova was chosen before him as a “Territorial Pick” by the Philadelphia Warriors.  A territorial pick was a move when the league was starting out where a team could forfeit their 1st and 2nd round picks to take a college player within a 50 mile radius in an attempt to boost local interest in the newly formed NBA teams.*
  • Why am I outraged that there isn’t every pick of all the rounds for 1982?  The sequential list ends at 46, and another column entitled “Other Notable Picks” has the highest number of 220 (Sean Tuohy).  Who else was on that list that was left out?!?!  We could be missing out on the basketball equivalent of Jerry Don Gleaton.  Apparently not everyone at Wikipedia shares the same sense of humor when it comes to names of average-to-below-average professional athletes’ from the ‘80s.  [One recognizable pick on the list: All Star and giant Mark Eaton, #72]

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 “Huh, look at that.  Someone at Wikipedia thinks I’m notable,” says Eaton over breakfast one day.

  • Steve Kerr was the last pick of the second round in 1988.  He went on to win five championship rings (3 with the Bulls, 2 with the Spurs) during a 1 year career, and have highest career three point percentage in NBA history.*
  • LeMone Lampley (#38, 1986) is the only guy I saw that did not have a highlighted name with a link to his own Wikipedia page.  I have the urge to start one, and just write, “Picked #38th in the 1986 draft.  Only player without a page,” or something like that. That is, if I had time to mess around on Wikipedia and stuff.  Some guys have a red highlighted name with a link that goes to a page saying “this page does not exist.” LeMone didn’t even qualify for this.  I’m intrigued.
  • More from 1986:  The best seven guys in their prime drafted in the second round (in my opinion) would trounce the best seven taken in the first round:

          2nd Round Team:  PG – Mark Price, SG – Nate McMillan, SF – David Wingate, PF – Dennis Rodman, C – Larry Krystowiak, Bench – Otis Smith, Jeff Hornecek

         1st Round Team: PG – Scott Skiles, SG – Johnny Dawkins, SF – Chuck Persons, PF – Roy Tarpley, C– Brad Daugherty, Bench – Del Curry, John Salley

  • Never mentioned in the “Dumbest Trades in Sports / Basketball History:”  Scottie Pippen traded on draft day from Seattle to Chicago for Olden Polynice. 
  • Three of the top five picks in the 1994 draft played in the 2011-12 season.  Jason Kidd and Grant Hill are still going at it this year, and Juwan Howard won a ring with the Heat last year and hasn’t resurfaced.
  • They wouldn’t have permission to use game photos on Wikipedia.  This leads to some silly ways to put famous draft picks’ faces on the screen.  Like this ridiculous picture of Michael Smith (#13, 1989).

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  • 1989 was the first year the draft was only two rounds.  Looking at the list of players picked, probably the worst of the drafts.  Coincidence?  (Pervis – #1, Stacey King – #6, Pooh Richardson #10)
  • There isn’t much interesting writing material on the 1990’s and 2000’s.  The mid to late ‘90s were tough for the NBA with tons of less than stellar draft picks getting tons of money, so writing something like, “I can’t believe Dickey Simpkins, Eric Piatkowski, and Yinka Dare were all first round draft picks in the same year,” didn’t seem too interesting and once the 2000s hit, it’s recent memory, so there’s nothing new or surprising.  One observation I will make:  I started recognizing less and less second round picks as the years progressed.  I guess that shows a progression of scouting technology.

 

So that’s that.  Most of the stuff I wrote was news to me, and I hope you all found it informative and entertaining.

Click through the link at the top of the page to do your Amazon.com shopping.  Doesn’t cost you any extra, but it gives us a little kick-back, a little scratch, a little something something, if you know what I mean.

 

 

Monday Song #6

I know this song has words, but no one describes this song by saying, “Yeah, you know that song that starts, ‘Hail to the chief we have chosen…,’ “. The description is more along the lines of, “da da duh daa da duh da-d-da-d-da…” I figured with events of today and the theme of the song of the week, this is a perfect fit.

Thoughts About Food and Cooking

In the last couple of years, I have gotten really into cooking.  It has become a very enjoyable hobby, or dare I say passion, and a great way to be creative and cheap at the same time.  I have been wracking my brain on how to work my interest in cooking into this blog without writing posts like, “Homemade organic shade grown mango mint chutney is a nutritious and fun treat for the whole family,” and since all the recipes I have come to master are taken from somewhere else, I don’t want to write, “Hey, check this recipe out that I found somewhere and made it exactly how it says,” cause that’s not interesting reading either.  So what I have decided to do was just put some random thoughts down, things I have learned as I look more and more into cooking with garden / farmer’s market items, experiment with spices, and develop a baked goods repertoire.  So here are some random thoughts in no particular order.

Anyone who likes bread should read this article and do what it says.  I don’t understand why more people don’t, but it is your own loss if you ignore it.  I SWEAR the recipe listed here is as easy as it sounds.  I have been making artisan bread for the last three or four years, and it is just so freakin delicious and so freaking easy.  So read this and do it!!  I’m sorry for you if you don’t.

http://www.motherearthnews.com/Real-Food/Artisan-Bread-In-Five-Minutes-A-Day.aspx

Here’s a link to a great talk about the essence of bread and life, and how they’re intertwined.  I found it wicked interesting.  I would not argue with anyone who did not.

I love experimenting with Indian spices.  The sharp spices can change bland to ……damn, I was try to think of a word for ‘great’ that rhymed with ‘bland’ to no avail… Adding any combination of curry, coriander, turmeric, and cumin to certain grains (lentils, rice, couscous, etc.) can help make cheap meals and side dishes, and a good way to mask foods that are no longer totally ripe but not yet totally spoiled.  Here’s a go to for us.

http://www.realsimple.com/food-recipes/browse-all-recipes/chicken-curry-hurry-10000001586856/index.html

http://allrecipes.com/recipes/world-cuisine/india/Main.aspx

Pictures are sometimes important when getting a new recipe off a food blog, just to make sure I’m off on the right foot, or my finished product looks the way it was intended.  What I love is pictures posted before the cooking starts.  It usually consists of cups of flour, tea spoons, uncracked eggs, and milk.  I always crack myself thinking, “Good golly I would have been lost without that picture.  I totally forgot what milk in a cup looked like.”  I know that sounds snobby, but I think the people who do this could probably save a step and skip this picture.  This pic is the most extreme example of what I’m talking about.

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I love making my own pizza, something I can remember mocking and dismissing a couple of years ago.  Inspiration for this blog post hit last week when I needed out the dough quickly and evenly in the pan.  I thought back to the first couple times I tried making my own dough, and how I would have shit stuck to my fingers, the dog, and the counter, and in the pan, there would be sections of the pie with big balls of dough, and others with little to no dough around it.  I remembered that as I slid my good looking pie in the oven and thought, “It’s funny what a little practice and stick-to-it-ive-ness can accomplish.”  Then I got all reflective on life and stuff, thinking, “Isn’t that what everything’s about, man.  Trying something new, not getting it right the first, second, or third time, but sticking with it until you get it right, that’s the stuff.”  Then I got on a role, and thought about how tastes from different parts of the world (curry, pizza, tacos, regional BBQ sauces) work together to help make life just a little more interesting and a little spicier; how in food and in life in general it’s hard not to overdo it when you’ve found something that suits your tastes perfectly; and how I’m burning this pizza cause the timer’s been going off and I’m lost in thought.

So that’s my first post about food.  Maybe I’ll try some new and exciting recipe no one’s ever tried before and have a full photo collage for next week.  How does salmon encrusted spaghetti with a ketchup and hollandaise glaze served over roasted pineapple tofurkey sound?

Oh yeah, you definitely want to click on the “Amazon Item of the Month” and read the reviews.  Hilarious!!!  And while you’re there, do some shopping so Firecat Central can get some greenbacks.

Monday Song #5

If you hear this song regularly, you either:

1) live in a mansion, with a tennis court, a nicely groomed landscape, and have a wimpy yet handsome son who will be left waiting at the alter while the bride to be runs off with a guy who “doesn’t quite play by the rules” or isn’t “one of us.”

or

2) have a HUGE remodeling or cleanup job and a ridiculously short timetable, but because you all worked hard and together, you got the job done seconds before the uptight landlord / dean walks in the door.

One way to Spot a Liar

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With the NHL lockout finally over, I can finally not care about hearing about scores, rather than not caring about collective bargaining negotiations.  I don’t hate hockey, I actually consider it far and away the hardest sport to play.  Take ten random people off the street and get them to play each of the major sports.  There is no doubt hockey will be the one most struggle with (well, that is if this experiment was performed anywhere in the US south of I-90).  The thing is, I’m a basketball guy through and through, and I have come to realize that basketball and hockey are the exact opposite in every way other than when their professional seasons take place.  People’s brains are wired for ways: 1) you really love basketball, 2) you really love hockey, 3) you’re equally interested in both but neither really touches your soul, 4) you really could care less.  B’ballers and hockey-ers(?) can’t really talk with each other in-depth about the other’s game because they are so different.  I came up with this compare/contrast list in my head a while ago, and now I would like to share it with you all.  I will start with the more obvious examples, and work towards the more complex.  So without further ado:

1)      Hockey is played on ice.  Basketball is played on wood.

2)      Basketball is played on a rectangular playing area.  Hockey is played on an oval.

3)      Hockey players wear padding, basketball players do not.

4)      Basketball requires sneakers, hockey requires ice skates.

5)      The typical basketball player is much taller than the average person, and height gives you an advantage.  Hockey players are typically average sized (in height), and having a lower center of gravity is very beneficial.

6)      A player can use any part of their body and a stick in hockey (but hands can only be used briefly) to control the puck.  Basketball players are only allowed to use their hands.

7)      The net in hockey is large, protected, and on the ground.  The net in basketball is small, unprotected, but 10 feet above the ground.  (trivia:  an official basketball hoop is exactly twice the size of an official ball)

8)      Because I have admitted in the past I have no problem stealing ideas, I want to point out right here and now that George Carlin’s bit “Football / Baseball” has in no way influenced me to write this.

9)          The majority of professional hockey players are white (93% source: http://www.wsbtv.com/news/sports/thrashers-top-nhl-with-highest-percentage-of-black/nFC2p/) and the majority of professional basketball players are black (82%, source: http://www.nba.com/2009/news/06/10/NBA.diversity.ap/index.html)

10)   The net is square in hockey and round in basketball.

And finally, simply the origins of both sports couldn’t be more opposite:

11)   Basketball was invented in 1891, in a gymnasium in Springfield, MA, in an attempt to give kids city kids a workout during the winter months.  Hockey has history dating back to the 17th century, where there is early evidence of “stick and ball games” played on ice.  According to Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ice_hockey#History), there are a few theories on how the game was made into what we know today, but there is no one person who can be credited with its invention.

So here’s the explanation of the title:  If someone you know claims to be a huge hoop fan and a huge hockey fan, it simply cannot be.  They are a liar.  There is no way both of these sports help shape how you view the world, or shape the kind of person you are.  They can have above average knowledge of both, but the two sports are so philosophically opposed there is no way anyone be fan enough that they enjoy watching Playoff Round 1 postgame press conferences of random teams in both of them.

I could go on about the greatness of sports, and how all who devote their time to teams, goals, focus, etc. really all learn the same thing.  Well I guess I just did, and I don’t want my super bias to swoop in at the end, so I am going to quit while I’m ahead.  I’m glad my hockey-fan friends have their game back.  Oh yeah, I guess the one thing the two sports have in common in that both professional leagues really could care less about their fans and have no problem denying them the games they love, or offering a sub-par version, in order to improve their own bottom line. 

 

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