Born to Run – by Christopher McDougall

When I was on holiday recently, I read the following book: Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall.  I found it a little hard to get into for the first few chapters, but after a while it got really good.  This review sums it up pretty well:

Born to Run succeeds at three levels. First, it is a page turner. The build up to a fifty-mile foot race over some of the world’s least hospitable terrain drives the narrative forward. Along the way McDougall introduces a cast of characters worthy of Dickens, including an almost superhuman ultramarathoner, Jenn and the Bonehead–a couple who down bottles of booze to warm up for a race, Barefoot Ted, Mexican drug dealers, a ghostly ex-boxer, a heartbroken father, and of course the Tarahumara, arguably the greatest runners in the world. 
  
Born to Run is such a rip-roaring yarn, that it is easy to miss the book’s deeper achievements. At a second level, McDougall introduces and explores a powerful thesis–that human beings are literally born to run. Recreational running did not begin with the 1966 publication of “Jogging” by the co-founder of Nike. Instead, McDougall argues, running is at the heart of what it means to be human. In the course of elaborating his thesis, McDougall answers some big questions: Why did our ancestors outlive the stronger, smarter Neanderthals? Why do expensive running shoes increase the odds of injury? The author’s modesty keeps him from trumpeting the novelty and importance of this thesis, but it merits attention. 
 
 
Finally, Born to Run presents a philosophy of exercise. The ethos that pervades recreational and competitive running–“no pain, no gain,” is fundamentally flawed, McDougall argues. The essence of running should not be grim determination, but sheer joy. Many of the conventions of modern running–the thick-soled shoes, mechanical treadmills, take no prisoners competition, and heads-down powering through pain dull our appreciation of what running can be–a sociable activity, more game than chore, that can lead to adventure. McDougall’s narrative moves the book forward, his thesis provides a solid intellectual support, but this philosophy of joy animates Born to Run.

Don’t get me wrong I wouldn’t go out and run barefoot now that I’ve read the book (we’ve been conditioned to being used to running in trainers so if we tried to run without them it may be disasterous)… but there were quite a few things which enlightened me or struck a chord with me.

Suffering is humbling.  It pays to know how to get your butt kicked.
 
Don’t fight the trail.  Take what it gives you.  If you have a choice of between one step or two between rocks take three.
 
Think Easy, Light, Smooth and Fast.  You start with easy, because if that’s all you get, that’s not so bad.  Then work on light.  Make it effortless, like you don’t give a shit how high the hill is or how far you’ve got to go.  When you’ve practiced that so long that you’ve forgotten you’re practicing, you work on making it smooooooth.  You won’t have to worry about the last you – you get the first three, and you’ll be fast.
 
You don’t stop running because you get old.  You get old because you stop running.
 
We live in a culture that sees extreme exercise as crazy, because that’s what our brain tells us: why fire up the machine if you don’t have to?
 
The reason we race isn’t so much to beat each other, but to be with each other.  It’s easy to get outside yourself if you are thinking about someone else and how they are doing.
Just beat the course I told myself, No one else, just the course.
 
I kept thinking about Eric’s advice : If it feels like work, you’re working too hard.
 
Phenols are natural plant chemicals that combat disease.  They basically boost your immune system.  Corn has one of the highest quantity of phenols. And because it’s a low fat whole grain food, pinhole can slash your risk of diabetes and a host of digestive cancers – in fact, of all cancers.   One in every seven cancer deaths is caused by excess body fat.  The maths is stark: cut the fat, and cut your risk of cancer.
 
Change your lifestyle and you can reduce your risk of cancer by sixty to seventy percent.  Colon, prostate and breast cancer were almost unknown in Japan, until the Japanese began eating like Americans; within a few decades, their mortality rate from those diseases skyrocketed.  Heavier women and men were far more likely to die from at least ten different kinds of cancers.
 
The first step towards going cancer free the Tarahumara way, is simple enough: Eat less.  The second step is just as simple on paper, though tougher in practice: Eat better.  Along with getting more exercise, we need to build our diets around eating more fruit and vegetables instead of red meat and processed carbs.   The most compelling evidence comes from watching cancer cells fight for their own survival: when cancerous tumours are removed by surgery, they are 300 percent more likely to grow back in patients who eat a “traditional Western diet” than they are in patients who eat lots of fruit and veggies.  Why? Because stray cells left behind after surgery seem to be stimulated by animal proteins.  Remove those foods from your diet, and those tumours may never appear in the first place. Eat like you are a poor person and you’ll only see your doctor on the golf course.
 
The book talked a lot about the diet the tribesmen of the Tarahumara had and how good it was for runners:
 

Two main energy sources were mentioned: Iskiate and Pinole.

 
Iskiate is otherwise known as chia fresca – chilly chia.  It’s brewed by dissolving chia seeds in water with a little sugar and a squirt of lime.  In terms of nutritional content chia is like a smoothie made from salmon, spinach, and human growth hormone.  As tiny as those seeds are, they’re super packed with omega-3s, omega-6s, protein, calcium, iron, zinc, fibre and antioxidants. If you had to pick just one desert island food, you couldn’t do much better than chia, at least if you were interested in building muscle, lowering cholesterol and reducing your risk of heart disease.  After a few months on the chia diet you could probably swim home!
 
Anything Tarahumara eat, you can get very easily.  It’s mostly pinto beans, squash, chilli peppers, wild greens, pinole, and lots of chia. pinole isn’t as hard to get as you’d think.  
 

Here’s some more information about Pinole… I’ve still to decide if I’m going to try it:

More about Pinole:

Pinole is roasted cornmeal, ground into a flour and combined with water and some spices or sugar.  It can be made into a drink, an oatmeal-like paste, or baked to form a more-portable “cake.” 
 
If you don’t want to toast your own corn, you can get pinole at Amazon.com.  (Note: Masa harina is probably more authentic than cornmeal, since that corn has been treated with lime, the way the Tarahumara maize is.)

Pinole is a course flour made of ground toasted corn and chia is a seed. Pinole and chia are both highly hydrophilic. In other words, if you mix either in a pint of water, the water will thicken up from the pinole or chia dissolving.

Pinhole & Chia recipes
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