JRW Member Kristen Green recently interviewed Christopher McDougall, the author of the NYT best seller Born To Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen. The book told the story of Mexican Indians that run hundreds of miles without injury in thin homemade sandals and sparked a debate about the running shoe industry. McDougall told Kristen that he originally set out to write a book about ultra marathoners, and it didn’t dawn on him to incorporate the Tarahumara Indians and a race he ran with them in Mexico’s deadly Copper Canyons until after it happened. McDougall, a featured speaker at the James River Writers Conference in October, is at work on an as yet untitled book about World War II resistance fighters due out next spring. He is also writing a screenplay of Born to Run.
Question 1: You are a former war correspondent for the Associated Press and a freelance magazine writer, so I assume you’re accustomed to cranking out copy. Was it painful for you spend so much time on one subject in order to write Born to Run? What was your process?
It was a really difficult learning process. Whenever you jump up in length, I think it’s a whole new discipline. For the AP, it’s 500 to 600 word stories, and that was its own discipline. You have to get it all super condensed into a very tight space. Then you move up to magazines where you’re like 2,000 to 5,000 words, and it’s like you’re looking across the sea and you can’t see the horizon, and it just seems way too far for anybody to swim. Then you learn that, and you jump it up to 100,000 words. What made the difference for me with Born to Run was I finally figured out to just make each chapter its own 2,000-word story. More