Christopher McDougall speaks about of running
The journalist studied the Tarahumara, or "running people," tribe in his 2009 bestseller
April 11, 2012, 11:34 pm · Updated April 15, 2012, 11:30 pm·
In a remote part of Chihuahua, Mexico, the Tarahumara eat, sleep and run 100-mile marathons.
This year’s Peterson lecture at the Penn Museum was given by Christopher McDougall, journalist and author of the 2009 bestseller “Born To Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen.”
His speech focused on the importance of enjoying running, the Tarahumara people and the life and death of Micah True, who passed away two weeks ago.
The Tarahumara people are an indigenous group in the “off-the-radar sector of Chihuahua, Mexico,” public relations assistant of the Penn Museum Tom Stanley said. They believe all humans are made to be runners and spend their time running marathons of up to 100 miles. The Tarahumara — which literally means “running people” — raise their children to do the same, “so within this one little hut is like a dynasty of megatron runners,” to McDougall said.
McDougall’s book details his experiences researching and living with the Tarahumara people. He said he had been unaware of how difficult talking to the group would be. “If we’re sitting in a room silent for three minutes, it’s bad enough,” he said, “But can you imagine, sitting there trying to interview [a tribe member], and he doesn’t talk at all?”
True, who also went by Caballo Blanco — Spanish for “white horse” — was the only person outside the tribe who fully understood the Tarahumara and was able to communicate with them, so McDougall was referred to him.
“He was this weird man, wearing a straw hat and a bathrobe, and he had this stupid Spanglish accent,” he said.
True taught McDougall how to run, by telling him to “stay right behind me, do what I do,” and so he learned from watching him, a method McDougall continues to support and promote.
“The Tarahumara don’t run as individuals,” he said. “The pack expands and contracts together [and] their kids do the exact same thing.”
He also talked about the Tarahumara’s belief in animals as superior beings. “We like to think of ourselves as megaminds,” he said, “but we all know that Usain Bolt could never outrun a bunch of squirrels.”
As well as believing in animalistic behavior, the Tarahumara are egalitarian, as they ignore any predetermined factors that might be determined by a person’s gender or age.
“How did we stop running?” he asked. “Our bodies are supposed to be adapted for motion, but our brains say no.” He argued that over time humans have lost their intrinsic ability to run the way the Tarahumara do.
True died when he had gone running on the morning of March 27. He was found lying with his feet in a creek, and, according to McDougall, “he looked really peaceful.” It appeared he had lost his way during his run and decided to lay down near the creek.
The talk was in conjunction with “Run! Super-Athletes of the Sierra Madre,” a photography exhibition at the Penn Museum now dedicated to True.
Philadelphia residents Beth Callan and Gail DiBerardinis both attended the five-mile fun run with McDougall prior to the lecture.
“It was a pleasure to run with him … he was hopping all over, trying to interact with everybody,” DiBerardinis said.
“It’s kind of a once in a lifetime chance to go running with somebody who wrote such an amazing book and then to be able to speak to him,” Callan added. “I’m really glad he did it.”
“I was curious to see, so soon after the death of Caballo Blanco, if he would address it, and he did,” DiBerardinis said about the talk. “It was like a synopsis of the book.”
McDougall noted that the most important thing to True was his integrity, and his passion for running. A multinational corporation once approached True and offered to sponsor him, “but he said, ‘It shouldn’t be about money. Run free.’”