“McDougall is a beast of a man, standing at what appeared to be eight feet high in his heavy duty socks, which he favours over running shoes. His book covers it all - the great Nike rip-off, the curious fact that your 65-year-old self can run a marathon as well as your 19-year-old version, the Mexican tribe of indians who don't train or have training plans or recovery schedules, but do drink heavily and run 160 kilometres for fun. The only running book to feature asides about The World According To Garp (the best book ever written but that's another list) and drug gangs burning off genitals.”
—Rick Broadbent, sports columnist for The Times of London, in naming Born to Run his favorite book on running.
I’ve had a lot of lucky breaks, mostly due to showing up and hoping for the best. During my last year in high school in Philadelphia, I was a mediocre basketball player who wandered down to the river on a whim to check out the rowing team. That one year of pulling an oar went a long way toward getting me into Harvard, and that education later landed me a job interview with Susan Linnee, the Madrid bureau chief for the Associated Press. Operating on her own logic, Susan hired me as the AP’s new Lisbon correspondent, even though I didn’t speak a lick of Portuguese and had just about zero news-writing experience.
I also had no clue that I’d be covering Portugal’s former African colonies, one of which chose my first day on the job to break out in civil war. Having hired me for a job I was unqualified for, Susan then knuckled down to teach me how to do it. If she’s better at one thing than reporting, it’s roughriding newly-hired blockheads into picking up the skills. For the next few years, I shuttled back and forth between Portugal and Africa, covering wars in Angola and Congo and the genocide in Rwanda.
One downside of newswriting, especially at the AP, is space; you accumulate more and more knowledge, but you don’t get more room to express it. I eventually left Europe, Africa and the AP to return to the U.S. and break into magazine writing. Outside sent me to the North Sea to try my hand at an ancient Scottish tradition of city-wide, no-rules rugby; the New York Times Magazine hired me track down a fugitive Mexican pop star named Gloria Trevi (a bizarre experience which led to my first book, Girl Trouble); and New York magazine had me write a cover story about why America hasn’t been hit by another terrorist attack since September 11. Men’s Health has been great about cutting me loose to explore physiological oddities, like a freethinking Frenchman who works out in coconut trees in Brazil; and the health benefits of old lumberjack saws; and of course, the Tarahumara.
I’m currently at work on another book that I think has as much great raw material as Born to Run. Nowadays, I do most of my own running in bare feet among the Amish farms in rural Pennsylvania, where I live with my wife and two daughters, plus a constantly expanding population of cats, turkeys, ducks and chickens.