Author explores area's running wealth

May 08, 2010|By ANDREW MASON

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. -- Author Chris McDougall ventured deep into the deadly Copper Canyons of Mexico to study the Tarahumara Indians' ancient art of distance running for his national best-selling book, "Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen."

On Friday, he drove two hours to Shepherdstown, W.Va., from his home near Lancaster, Pa., to spend a day learning from Dr. Mark Cucuzzella, the standout marathon runner who works at Harpers Ferry Family Medicine.

The two met at a seminar last month at the Boston Marathon.

"I heard Mark speak at Boston," McDougall said. "And I thought, 'Here you have a guy who's a physician, a 2:35 marathoner, a guy who teaches Chi (a form of running that applies the principles of Tai Chi). I'm going to pick his brain as soon as I can.'

"So I'm really happy to be invited down here by him."


Cucuzzella then invited the community to meet his special guest.

McDougall joined about 50 runners for a casual five-mile jog on the C&O Canal towpath near Shepherdstown early Friday evening.

"A place like this to run on all the time is just unbelievable," McDougall said of the towpath. "People would cut off a limb to have this in their backyard. You are really lucky."

He then gave a 30-minute talk about his book in front of a packed house at Mellow Moods Coffee Shop in downtown Shepherdstown. The majority of the audience brought copies of "Born to Run" for McDougall to sign.

His book challenges traditional perceptions of running, runners and running shoes.

"I was sort of ticked off that I was told guys my size (6 feet, 5 inches tall, 200-plus pounds) shouldn't run, or that running was bad for you in general and that you were going to get hurt. I believed it and quit trying to run for years," McDougall said. "But when I heard about the Tarahumara Indians, I was like, 'Hang on a second. How are these dudes who are 70 and 80 years old not wearing running shoes, and running is OK for them -- yet I'm half their age and can't run three or five miles a couple times a week, while these guys are banging out 100 miles at a time?'"

Blending his craft of storytelling with scientific research, McDougall attempts to answer the question in his book, which is loaded with colorful characters.

"None of us know even 50 percent of this stuff. We're learning new things every day," Cucuzzella said. "(McDougall) has given us all permission to get rid of a few old ideas and open up to some new ones."

McDougall's book has spent about the entire past year on The New York Times Best Sellers list, reaching as high as No. 4.

"Thank you, Jon Stewart," said McDougall, who appeared on "The Daily Show" last summer. "Going on that show was unbelievable. I went to bed, (the book) was No. 80-something. I woke up in the middle of the night to get a drink of water or something, and it was 12. And then in the morning, it was 5."

For information about McDougall and his book, visit

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