Mar 16, 2011

From the Kashmir Valley to the Copper Canyon....It's the Full Peter!

On Tuesday Peter broke with tradition and made no effort to theme his meal with McDougall's ultrarunner's opus, Born to Run.  Instead, he treated us to an outstanding rendition of Kashmiri chicken laced with saffron he picked up in Kashmir back in 1992.  We may not have tasted the vintage saffron (nor seen evidence of its distinctive yellow coloring), but we did taste the freshly ground cinnamon and cardamom and the minced pistachios that flavored his dish.  I would have taken home leftovers, but in Peter's politically correct household (yes, the temperature stays at an even 62F to remind his daughters--and his guests--of their environmental responsibility), I couldn't find a single container of Tupperware!

Despite Peter's preference for the Himalayas, most of us prepared for a Mexican evening.  We brought plenty of Mexican beer and Stan even wore his bespoke sandals that were custom fit in the Copper Canyon in 2004.  John wore nothing (on his feet, that is), but Larry succumbed to the new ethos of minimal footwear and sported a pair of just-bought Nike Frees.

As we sat down to dinner, Peter was forced to recount the story of his failure to run a 5:00 mile at age 50, and the consequences thereof.  Suffice to say, none of us will ever join the Tamalpa runners on Tuesdays at the S.R. track without thinking of Peter's bold move last October on the evening of his 51st birthday.

The Book
McDougall's Born to Run showcases the extraordinary running abilities of the Tarahumara people in northern Mexico and culminates in a showdown in the Copper Canyon between Scott Jurek, a seven-time winner of the Western States 100, and a clutch of unknown Tarahumarans.  Most of us agreed with Doug that McDougall's story was perfect fodder for one of his magazine pieces (he writes for Men's Health, Esquire, Outside, and other manly periodicals) but a rather slender premise for a full-length book.  No matter.  McDougall lards up his paean to ultra runners with plenty of diverting (and distracting) anecdotes about every major distance runner since Emil Zatopek.

Despite our criticisms of the writing, everyone enjoyed the subject matter.  Indeed, as Paul and Larry both noted, the book was literally inspiring.  By attacking as myth the notion that distance runners are predisposed to injury, McDougall poses a compelling alternative:  that a naturally trained stride, a rejection of modern shoe technology, and a genuine love of running can produce extraordinary and extraordinarily durable runners.  He's certainly convinced Terry, who is back on the trails of China Camp, and John, who promises to go shoeless at his next early morning boot camp session.

Our rating for Born to Run (7.1) proves that a fascinating subject can overcome the choppy, journalistic prose that infuses so many acclaimed works of non-fiction these days. 

Next Up
Our next title is Jonathan Franzen's much-hailed novel, Freedom.  At 576 pages (and hardcover to boot), we've disregarded our usual 500-page limit in the hopes that this meaty study of current American manners will give us plenty to chew on when we meet next at Larry's.  If the novel is a bust, we'll blame Doug for misleading us with his riveting description of Franzen's storyline.


  1. I can't remember who to credit for "The Full Peter." George?

  2. No, it wasn't me, though I might have said the "fool" Peter. In following up on the ideals stressed in "Born to Run" I eschewed my shoes during a recent jaunt through the neighborhood. Okay so we all agree...we are doing the Naked Run in April, the Burning Man, and then the Mudder...RIGHT!!!

  3. I'm up for Tough Mudder, thinking about Burning Man, down on Naked Run, and no way possible on Brides of March. The man-in-a-wedding-dress concept leaves me cold. Or, as Dan says, perky.

  4. Great balls of fire, this is a wimpy exchange! Andrew admittedly would be happy if you posted passages from Self Comes to Mind he's so keen on getting us posting, but can't we have a little controversy here?

    Was thinking about this somewhat in the context of my NCAA bracket. We all look at "upsets" (for those of you who may be living in a different mental dimension and don't follow March Madness, I can't help you). We in a sense have our own upsets here. For example, what happens if someone's vote on a book is a huge upset vs. the expectation. Say, oh, the second lowest scoring book in our history, at a 4, and someone gives it a 10? I think we need to call these out and debate: Invdividualism in perception and great courage to go against the flow, or bullshit game playing? Of course, Andrew has been promising me statistics on everyone's votes for over a year, so that I can perform much needed statistical analysis, but he is stonewalling me. I think he's afraid that we'll call him out, either for being "upset prone" or for voting a 7 every month.

  5. OK, I've waited long enough for Stan to return fire. (It's possible he doesn't know who you're shooting at Paul, but I doubt it.) I agree that our ratings are susceptible to attempted hijacking by the likes of Stan. But I think your shot at me exposes the real weakness of our system. We all tend to vote in a narrow band (individually and collectively), which means most of our books cluster in the 6-7 range and don't appear very differentiated. I will send you a list of votes, for each guy and each title, and let you do your analysis. Meantime, stop hiding behind that Terminator moniker. You don't scare me!

  6. stan da MANMarch 19, 2011

    Really? Not only have I brought the best books to the club but I have voted my conscious. As I recall, Blindness, clearly the best book we've read, was unseated by In Cold Blood for the club's top spot, based on YOUR shenanigans. Bring out the voting record and you'll see I'm not the "it's a 6 or 7" guy. Paul and Andrew, go look in the mirror and say "I can be a MAN" and then vote with real conviction.

  7. Most amusing -- what type of slip was that, Stan? instead of saying you vote your "conscience", you said that you vote your "conscious". At first I thought that Stan had to vote his belief that he was awake. Then, I realized that he must really love Damasio's book to be voting for "conscious" thought. I guess I have to retract my criticism; apparently Stan really did think that book was awesome and deserved a 10. I recall him giving Born to Run a 9, though -- is Stan going soft on us?

  8. ra-sta-manMarch 19, 2011

    Paul, I was, in fact, barely conscious. Having skied 20 laps on KT in 3' of powder, and more importantly, having bellied up to our own local Tender Bar, aka The Chamois, I can assure you I have very little consciousness of the true state of my conscience. I will be posting future blogs during regular business hours. Good night.

  9. Sorry for the delay, I am very close to finishing the book and though it is to late to chime in with my vote I will stand my ground with an 8 rating.
    The book has inspired me to run more, disgard my $100.00 running shoes and purchase a new pair of Chuck Taylors (zero arch support) and rebuild my stinking feet. Fortunately, I live in my nonarched slippers so I don't expect an extensive rebuilding process.