I got this after a friend had told me about the gist of it; there is a tribe in the canyons of Mexico that habitually runs long distances. They do this without modern running equipment, and yet they don’t get the injuries that plague so many long distance runner. This is because those injuries come from wearing modern running shoes.
If that all sounds dry, that’s because it is. McDougall’s skill is in bringing all of the science of and anthropology of running into the sort of narrative that you’d happily stumble across while browsing in a doctor’s waiting room, sneakily slipping the issue of Men’s Health in your bag before you go in for your appointment.
The problem, in as much as it is one, is that McDougall’s instincts are honed to write short form non-fiction for a specialty magazine: get ’em hooked, play up the characters’s whacky natures, and don’t stick on any points like the locals’ dire poverty. While all of those criticisms are true, I am not sure that he could have avoided them and have written such an engaging book. We know that Caballo Blanco doesn’t speak like Yogi Bear, or that the Tarahumara probably aren’t completely non-violent, but it still engages us with the fundamental points that he is trying to make: running isn’t an expensive sport to pursue, exercise can be fun, our culture’s value for making money isn’t the only way to live. It’s a great read and the more people it gets running the better.