It’s no wonder this entertaining tale is a bestseller that helped fuel the natural running craze–it has all the right ingredients: a mysterious Mexican tribe renowned for long-distance running ability, a legendary and equally mysterious American runner who gained their trust, superhuman athletes running ultramarathons in unbelievably punishing conditions, scientific evidence that natural running is…well…natural, and all told from an intoxicating “everyman” perspective that makes you feel that you too could learn to run forever.
As an inspiring story, I give it full points. But. As an ethnography or scientific case for natural running, not so much.
Yes, I am an unattractively skeptical person, but I’ve been burned before (see The Long Walk and The Third Eye) and something definitely smells fishy about this book. It is an issue of trust and McDougall doesn’t exactly make it easy for the suspicious reader. Thanks to the paucity of corroborating material online and the book’s lack of citations, endnotes, and pictures, one must simply trust that McDougall is telling a true story and not succumbing unduly to the temptation to sensationalize, romanticize and otherwise manipulate the truth. The author’s background in journalism is not enough to assuage my suspicion that much was sacrificed in the interest of The Story.
McDougall’s case for natural running features interviews with various experts in the field and interesting statistics/studies, but his approach is one-sided, oversimplifying a complicated topic that is still much debated and far from resolved. Also, if “a little learning is a dangerous thing” then readers beware–there is very little technical, practical information to arm the newly-inspired disciple of natural running. However, the author undoubtedly achieves what seems to be his main goals–general entertainment and inspiration.
[Why I read it: My dad was sorting through some of his books and thought I might be interested.]