Author Christopher McDougall has Stories to Help All Runners
Christopher McDougall, the best-selling author of ‘Born to Run,’ will visit the VCU Health Richmond Marathon expo on Friday, November 15, in conjunction with Richmond bookstore Chop Suey books, to talk about his new book, ‘Running with Sherman: The Donkey with the Heart of a Hero,’ meet expo attendees, and share a few tips (and Sherman tattoos) to help runners as they take on the marathon, half marathon, and 8k.
Sports Backers: Tell us about the new book—how did Sherman come into your life, and how did it all end up making for such a compelling story?
Christopher McDougall: ‘Running with Sherman’ is an adventure that took me by surprise. I never expected to find myself adopting a rescue donkey, and once I did, I was stuck facing the big question: “Now what?” What do you with a donkey in your backyard who needs movement, joy, a reason to live? Just as an experiment, I decided to see if I could train him to become my running partner, and before I knew it, we were training for the World Championship Pack Burro Race together.
SB: As you’ve traveled to share the story of Sherman, what’s the response been like from audiences?
CM: Everyone is enchanted by Sherman and they love hearing about how he transformed from a sick, shell-shocked invalid into a fun and feisty mischief maker, because it really resonates with an experience all of us have. We all have some emotional connection to an animal, whether it’s a favorite pet or a memory from our childhood or some creature we admire, and it’s thrilling to see that kind of relationship play out in a story like this. By the end, everyone is rooting for the Sherminator.
SB: What lessons or inspiration can runners take away from Sherman and your experiences with him?
CM: As much as we did for our donkeys, they did for us in return. We ended up adopting two more donkeys to keep Sherman company, and once he was surrounded by pals, he blossomed. But three donkeys meant we needed three runners, so my solo operation turned into a team sport. And I’m so glad it did. I had to learn to run in a pack, and it improved my runs enormously. I learned to pace myself better, be more consistent, learn from the people (and animals!) around me, and most of all, to make sure I showed up each day with a smile on my face.
SB: ‘Born to Run’ is one of the books that our Sports Backers Marathon Training Team coaches recommend to runners every year. Why does that resonate with so many people, whether they are experienced runners or taking part in their first marathon or half marathon?
CM: Most books and movies that deal with running always treat it as a misery. Running is always the terrible thing you have to endure to achieve some goal. But if that were true, none of us would run. We like it! So that’s the kind of book I set out to write. I wanted to show the real fun and adventure we all get from busting out the door every day, and the fact that it also featured the crazy shenanigans of Jenn Shelton and Billy Bonehead Barnett didn’t hurt.
SB: While in Richmond, you’ll be holding some Q&A sessions and meet and greets with runners and expo attendees. What can they expect when they stop in and take part in those events?
CM: Number one, expect to leave with Sherman tattooed on your arm. I’ve got some killer Sherman tattoos, and I’m pretty sure they carry a little donkey magic because everyone who slaps one on instantly feels happy. Number two, I like to overshare about what it takes to maintain healthy donkey hygiene, so prepare to hear some donkey bathing tips that may ruin your appetite. And number three, I’m just a student of running like everyone else. I have opinions, but I’m still looking for answers.
SB: What are the main pieces of advice you like to give to runners as they prepare for a marathon or half marathon?
CM: Ok, this is the one area where I feel I know something solid. I tell everyone who’s about to step into the unknown, be it their first marathon or first 5k, that there’s only one mistake they can make: they can forget to have fun. This isn’t a race; it’s a victory lap! You were brave enough to sign up, you were committed enough to train, so now it’s time to celebrate. The real challenge was pushing yourself out the door on those rainy Sunday mornings to log your long runs. This is your chance to savor the work you did and reap the reward of all that work. Make sure you finish with a smile and you did it right.