Chris McDougall and his rescue donkey Sherman
Chris McDougall and his rescue donkey Sherman (Photo: Matt Roth)
Adventures in Audio

Why the Author of ‘Born to Run’ Trains with a Donkey

Chris McDougall and his rescue donkey Sherman

No one has had a greater influence on modern recreational running than Christopher McDougall. His 2009 book Born to Run introduced the masses to barefoot running and became a revolutionary bestseller. As a result, the multibillion-dollar running-shoe industry went through a dramatic upheaval, and today runners have a broad range of shoe types to consider, from minimalist slippers to ultra-cushy maximalist fatties. Now McDougall is back with a book that chronicles his work training a sickly donkey to be an endurance athlete (no, seriously). Titled Running with Sherman, it tells the story of an unexpected journey that was really good for the donkey—but also for McDougall. Outside editor Christopher Keyes spoke with McDougall about this surprising turn of events and whether it means the rest of us should be running with animals, too.

Podcast Transcript

Editor’s Note: Transcriptions of episodes of the Outside Podcast are created with a mix of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain some grammatical errors or slight deviations from the audio.

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EPISODE BEGINS 

Peter Frick-Wright (Host): From Outside Magazine and PRX, these are dispatches: Stories from our writers in the field. 

It's possible that no one has had a greater influence on modern recreational running than writer Christopher McDougall. Back in 2008, he began working on a story about a little known American ultra running fanatic named Micah True, also known as Caballo Blanco. And he's writing about True’s quest to put together a race that would showcase the running culture of Mexico's Tarahumara Indians. That story became a book, and that book was Born to Run, which became a revolutionary bestseller and popularized the idea of barefoot running. This month, McDougall is back with another book—his third—which, in some ways, might be even more radical than his first. The title is Running with Sherman, and it details his work training a sickly donkey to be an endurance athlete and eventually run with him in the world championship of human donkey running events. Which is a thing. It's not a story you hear every day. So Outside editor, Chris Keyes, who is himself an obsessive runner and endurance athlete, spoke with McDougall about just what he thought he was doing and whether he now believes that the rest of us should start running with animals too. Here's Chris. 

[Ambient sound from a marathon start line plays in the background]

Chris Keyes: Every summer, in downtown Fairplay, Colorado, a marathon starts on Front Street next to the Hand Hotel. More than 50 racers crowd the avenue, shaking off nerves, downing gel packs, and preparing to set off into the mountains on a rugged course that never dips below 10,000 feet. 

In other words, it looks like your typical trail running start line, except for one thing: Every runner is paired with a donkey. And when the starting gun goes off? Total chaos ensues. 

[Sound of a starting gun, followed by cheers and donkey hooves]

Welcome to the world championship pack Burro race, perhaps the oldest marathon in the US. So. What exactly is burro racing? 

[Music begins in the background]

As Christopher McDougall writes in his new book—which chronicles his own comical foray into running’s strangest discipline—quote: Pack burro racing is a throwback to the gold rush days, back when prospectors would hit pay dirt, heave their gear onto burros, and hightail it to town to file their claims. He then explains how in the 1940s, long after prospectors that disappeared from the mountains surrounding Fairplay and Leadville, locals started to revive the bygone practice, racing each other in informal weekend events between the two towns. In 1949, the informal events became an official race. It has since been held annually ever since. There are essentially only three rules: All donkeys must carry a miner's pack. No one can ride their animal. And the first human donkey team to cross the finish line wins. As McDougall tells it, he never really set out to become a burro racer. Around 15 years ago, he and his wife bought a small farm with a log cabin in Peach Bottom, Pennsylvania, the heart of Amish country. 

The pair had no farming experience, but slowly acquired a few starter animals, as he calls them. First, a few stray cats showed up. A couple of years in, and they bought some chickens, and eventually a few goats. Then their nine year old daughter started asking for a donkey. MacDougall put the word out to neighbors. And one day, his friend Wes told him he'd found one: a donkey in serious need of rescuing from its owner. A hoarder. Perfect, McDougall thought. He didn't realize it at the time, but this donkey would eventually lead him to the start line of the world championships in Fairplay. But first the donkey, who they named Sherman, would have to learn how to walk again. 

[Cut to interview with MacDougall]

Christopher MacDougall: That's right. So my neighbor, Wes, is a Mennonite elder. And you know, the Menonite community is very supportive. Very, um, comforting to all of its members. And they knew about a guy who was a member of the church, and his family was actually in financial trouble, because this guy was spending all of his money getting animals, and feeding the animals, and not paying for food for his family. So Wes and some other Menonite elders were stepping in to help the family out. And when they went into his barn, and they saw what was going on there, they basically set up the red alert. Like, we gotta get these animals away from this guy. So Wes told me about this, and I'm thinking: Oh hey, cool man! Cute little donkey? Dynamite. It's free, you know, that's, that's my favorite price. So my daughter and I drove out with Wes to the hoarder’s farm, and he took us around back. And right off the bat, as soon as I saw this shed, I just got this feeling in the pit of my stomach, like: Oh man, I don't want to see what's inside. 

And we opened the door and this thing is like an inquisition dungeon. It is just dark and dismal, gloomy, so knee-high in water and muck that the goats are standing up on bales of straw just to stay out of the muck. And we're looking around, like: I don't, I don't see any donkey here. And then finally, in this tiny stall against the back wall, we see this like gray shadow, and it just kind of limps toward us. And I look at this thing. I just go: Oh my God. Like, this is not... this is not the cute, playful donkey we were hoping for. And then, the second thought is: Oh my God. We've got to get this thing outta here. So we tell Wes, like, yeah, yeah. We’ll... we'll take him.

Keyes (Narrating): After some tricky negotiating, Wes managed to convince the hoarder to part ways with the donkey. MacDougall got his first look at the struggling animal when his friend delivered him the following day. Sherman was so debilitated, he could barely make it down the trailer ramp. 

MacDougall: The most crippling thing about him was that his hooves had never been trimmed. And animals in captivity don't naturally, you know, pumice their own hooves. They grow out. And this thing had never been trimmed. So his hooves, they were like sled runners. Like swim fins. They're about a foot long and, and curled up in the front. So this donkey couldn't even walk. He could barely get off of the trailer. Its fur was just in miserable condition: just matted, and fetted, and rank, and crawling with parasites. Uh, its mouth was a mess. You know, some of the teeth were falling out. And we looked at this thing, and I don't... I don't know animals, but I looked at this one and thought: I don't think this thing is going to survive. 

[Audio of a conversation plays in background]

Keyes: Peach Bottom is a half hour away from any sizable town. And, like all residents of this rural area, the McDougalls had learned to tap into the friendly communities’ collective wisdom whenever they were in over their head. And they were definitely in over their head with Sherman. So Chris immediately called his neighbor Scott.

MacDougall: ...Scott, who just came in, whipping up, and he gets out of the car. And he's all reassuring to us. He's like: Don’t worry, I've seen it all. And then he looks at his donkey. He’s like: I've never seen this before. And I was like: Oh, good gravy. So the hooves were the problem. You know, when, when something is that far gone, it is very hard to reshape them again naturally. And usually, that means the animal is going to be lame, and if it's a donkey, and if a donkey is lame, it can't digest its food. And that's it. It's a goner. 

So Scott looks at this donkey and he's like: All right, here's the hail Mary. Do you have a hacksaw? Which is something that you want to hear in a medical situation. So, I’m like yes, I got a hacksaw. And so I get a hacksaw. And then Scott... Oh man, this dude pulled off to me just the epitome of bedside manner. Imagine taking a shell shocked donkey, and approaching it with a hacksaw and saying: I'm going to, I'm going to cut through half of your hoof. But he did it. He managed to trim these a, these hooves—these overgrown hooves—with a hacksaw, to the point where it seemed as if Sherman might be able to walk again. 

Keyes: But healing Sherman's hooves was only the start of a long rehabilitation process. Scott's wife—Tanya, an expert at raising donkeys—also stepped in to help. If Sherman was going to survive, she told McDougall after taking one look at him, he'd need a reason to live. That got him thinking back to his scant knowledge of burro racing: something he'd learned about while reporting his book Born to Run. He started hatching a plan. Maybe Sherman could run a marathon. 

MacDougall: The pivotal factor was Tanya. You know, so when the second wave of the assault on Sherman's healing came in the form of Tanya, she shows up, and she's got like buckets, and sponges, and clippers... And in the middle of all of her ministering to his health needs, at one point she turns to me, and she's like: You can't just fix them up. You just can't shoot them with painkillers and antibiotics. He needs to have a reason to live. He needs a... he needs a job. And I'm like: Dude. You know, I'm a writer. What... what job do I have for donkey? I'm not, like, pioneering westward. This is it, man. He's standing in the field. But even as I'm thinking this, I'm also remembering: Oh yeah, you know, there were those burro races in Colorado. And I wasn't thinking that moment about actually racing. 

My only thought was, well, you know, those people all seem to have a good time running around donkeys. Like, maybe I can get Sherman to join me, every day, on a run. Because I'm going out every day anyway. So maybe he can go with me. And so that was just the thought. And I kept it to myself, because I just kind of thought that if I said anything about this, like, Tanya would just basically take the animal away from me. Like I'd be an unfit parent. But that, that was the process. Like, I wonder if this would work. And when I finally got the confidence to share the idea with her, she was kinda down... she was kind of down with it. And yeah. It was rough, man. It was a rough four or five months to get started. But Tanya gave us two thoughts. 

One was, you have to bond with that donkey. Because one thing you learn about donkeys is: if it's not their idea, it's not happening. And number two is, anything you start, you have to finish. So anything you begin with a donkey, you've got to be confident enough to see that step through to the finish. Otherwise, to the donkey, your hesitation is going to be interpreted as danger. And they won't try it again. So again, step number one was: let's see if Sherman will put one foot on the road. So we led them down to the road. He looked at the asphalt, which he'd never seen. He's like: Nope, not doing it. And so Tanya loops this rope under her butt. And she sits back on it like she's like a water skiier or something, and just sits back on this rope and just settles in. 

And so Sherman is pulling one way, Tanya's pulling the other. And I... this is probably like 25, 30 minutes of this tug of war. And the tractors were coming down the road, and they're kind of veering around Tanya. And Tanya's like, I'm sitting here, I ain't going. And after like 25 minutes, Sherman puts like one foot on the asphalt. Tanya’s like: Okay, we're done for the day. Feed him some treats and send him back in. That was what our training was like. 

Keyes: It took more than a month of patient encouragement before Sherman would even walk on the road, let alone cross it to get to the trails that beckon beyond. To get him there, Chris soon learned this job wasn't necessarily to lead Sherman, but to listen to him. 

MacDougall: And to me, this was really about a partnership. And a partnership is about understanding the needs of the other half. It can't be you just telling the partner: This is what we're going to do. That's not a partnership; that's a dictatorship. And with Sherman, what finally started to sink in was, you could actually get him to do a lot, if you're paying attention and channeling what he wants to do. This donkey is actually instinctively ready to move, but he's not going to just take my orders. And so again, the big breakthrough was weeks and weeks and weeks. We finally get him on the asphalt, couple of steps, and then one day, my daughters come home from school. And I tried to show off, like: Hey, look what we’ve done. We got Sherman stepping on the, on the pavement. Isn't this cool? And then my daughters show up. Not only is he on the pavement, he's trotting up the road. Like completely caught me by surprise. And it finally clicked. 

What was going on was that it had always been me and Tanya trying to get him to follow us. But once we had a herd—once it was me, and my two daughters, and the three of us surrounding him—once he's in the middle of a pack, all of a sudden, it was game changer. And he's ready to start trotting. 

Keyes: And here was the key realization that finally unlocked Sherman's potential: he needed a pack to run with. So Chris borrowed two donkeys from Tanya, Flour and Matilda. So now we had another problem. Each donkey needed a runner. He successfully recruited his wife, Mika, but how would he find a third volunteer to join such a dubious project? As happened so many times in this story, just as a new problem presented itself, a solution magically appeared out of the blue, and old friend called McDougall and asked if her son, Zeke—who had just mysteriously dropped out of Penn State—could come spend some time running with him. 

Zeke was not only game to run with Sherman; his participation in the burro racing project would come to illustrate the book’s other main theme: the healing powers of animal bonding. 

MacDougall: And as soon as I got that phone call, my kind of spidey sense was tingling. Like, Zeke's home from college? This doesn't make sense. This is a straight arrow, straight A, super achieving kid. Um, there's nothing that would keep this kid out of school. He was like top of his class in high school. Nationally ranked swimmer, who's gone in like 4:00 AM practices when he was in like third grade. And for him to take time off, that doesn't make any sense. And you know, our friend Andrea didn't know that we were running with donkeys. She thought it was just a lot of trail running. So I said: Yeah, listen, Zeke can come by. But you know, I hope he's down for running with a donkey. And it's kind of a testament to how bad things must've been for Zeke where she didn’t even blink. She's like: Yeah, that's fine. So the next day, Andrea and her son Zeke show up. And, you know, again, I'm looking at this kid now. I don't see any signs that anything's wrong. Cause you know he's, he's a big, strong, super handsome kid. Funny. Just dings all the marks. This kid's a winner. And then it turns out what had happened was he actually tried to um, he tried to harm himself really badly. 

[Sound of McDougall hitting himself]

Sorry... I've got to take a beat there, cause he's a great kid. Alright, I'm cool. I'm cool again. 

Yeah, I’m sorry. Uh, it just, when you think about this, like, man, this great kid. And that's what is so aggravating about this mental health problem with depression. I just wish they would just name it something else. ‘Cause it ain't the blue man. It's not, you know, Zeke was feeling a little sad cause he got a D. Which never happens. This is a medical condition. This is a cancer of the brain that needs to be treated like another illness and it's not. Um, and that's what happened was he, you know, Zeke thought: Oh, I'm feeling a little sad, I'm going to muscle through this. And next thing you know, he's, you know, he's in an emergency ward explaining why he tried to hang himself. So, um, luckily I think those two factors: the fact that we were running, and we were running with donkeys, opened up a door that Zeke might not have ever had to, um, help him, help him get better. 

Keyes: And you immediately put him with Sherman, right? 

McDougall: Zeke put himself with Sherman. So it's kind of kid Zeke is, man. You know, Zeke, he's... this kid was watching this like Richard Feinman physics videos when he was like in sixth grade. And, um, this dude likes a challenge. And the harder it is, the more interested Zeke is. So it took him about, I don't know, a couple of nanoseconds for him to just kind of scan the herd and realize: Oh, this one looks really hard. That one's for me. 

So, um, yeah. We thought at first we would sandwich him between Flour and Matilda, who are the two stronger runners, with Sherman in the middle. But once Zeke got his hands on that rope, and he saw how a vexing Sherman can be, instead of doing like a normal human and saying no thanks, he was down for it. And that's it. They became partners and buddies ever since. 

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Keyes: Starting in November of 2015—some nine months before the race they hoped to enter in Fairplay the following summer—McDougall, his wife, and Zeke began training with the donkeys nearly every day. And even in Amish country, they were an unusual sight. 

McDougall: You know, out here, I'm surrounded by horse and buggies. You know, I'm surrounded by kids walking their pet goats over to each other's houses. We have drive-your tractor-to-school day. So I think that we're the normal ones compared to these guys. And then I would see our neighbors like slowing down, like rolling down their windows, like taking pictures of us out our car windows as we're running.

I thought: Eh, maybe we’re not so normal after all. So yeah, what we would do is, you know, Zeke would roll up like clockwork around 9:45 in the morning, and come on inside, and down about 75 espressos. And then we'd, um, halter up the donkeys. And the donkeys got to the point where it's almost like they're tapping their watches on their wrists, like: Hello? 10 o'clock. They are at the gate when it's time to run, like ready to go. 

And that was it. We'd halter them up and we each had a rope—about 12 foot rope—and we just kind of fell into formation. You know, Matilda's the bravest. She would start. And then Flower is the strongest, and she would kind of waft on by. And Sherman would always do the minimum necessary. Like, he would only run as fast as necessary to keep the other donkeys in view. Otherwise he’s just, you know, trotting along. And what we started to do was just experiment with terrains, and distances, and routes, and just see what, what happened. And what we found is once we got the donkeys on dirt, they were just like a bunch of secretariats. Like, they would just rock it. And we found all these farm lanes and trails and this really cool maze back in an old slate quarry. And um, yeah, they, they started to really enjoy it. The more fun and weird it was, the more... Oh! 

[Sound of an animal in the distance]

Dude, I don’t know if you can hear this... But Sherman is braying in the background right now. 

Keyes: Oh. Yeah.

McDougall: How about that. So... yeah, we started to just take them out and experiment and explore every day. 

Keyes: By the time spring rolled around, Sherman was proving himself a burro racing natural. The idea of running a marathon started to look less like a misguided mission. But then, yet another series of setbacks. McDougall broke his hand playing basketball. And just as it was healing enough to handle a donkey again? Zeke broke his foot. 

McDougall: I thought there was no alternative. You know, this was, this was less than a month... Was it even two weeks? I think it was like a week before we were ready to leave. Zeke was lifeguarding. That was his day job during the summer. He was lifeguarding. And he was actually working out doing a parkour workout on the playground. And that's fine. And then he's hungry, and he's jogging back to his car, and he hits the curb and he snaps his foot. And that was it. So we got the call that night from his mom, and we like sort of rush over to the house, and he's got this boot on and he's bummed. And I'm trying to be, you know, consoling. But in the back of my mind I'm like, well dude, that's it man. That's, that's game over. Because, you know, Sherman is a finicky creature. You know, he's tough. And Zeke has spent a long time not just making Sherman trust him, but also learning all of Sherman's quirks. 

‘Cause everything about an animal is anticipation. So before Sherman does something, you know, wacky—like do a U-turn and head back to the barn—you got to see it anticipate it, head it off the pass. So I’m like: Man, I don't know. I just don't see the point of trailering three donkeys all the way across America—you know, from Pennsylvania to Colorado—and they had to be together. Not one of them will run without the other two. And so we kind of, again, we throw when these hail Mary’s. And you know, this guy named Roger Pedretti, whose brother Rob had been a great burro racer in Colorado. They live up in Wisconsin. 

And I called him and said: Do you know anybody? He says: Oh yeah, yeah, my sister in law. So he just like shoved his sister in law out as a volunteer. And he's like: she'll do it with ya. And so at the last second man, uh, we, we got a volunteer, I didn't know how I was gonna work, but at least we had a body.

Keyes: In July 2016, the team set out for Colorado, McDougall riding in a truck with another friend of a friend who'd somehow been convinced to haul three donkeys on the two thousand mile trip. To play it safe, rather than run the full 29 mile championship distance with a handler Sherman would be meeting only a few days before the race, they decided to enter the shorter 15 mile event held the same day. 

McDougall: And so we show up on the day of the race. And when you come into the town of Fairplay on burro race day, the donkeys themselves are just like electrified. Because they're looking around, and for the first time, like, it is a world of donkeys. You know, donkeys as far as the eye can see. And they're all braying, and excited. And you know, Sherman sees this and his ears are just like, were like, skyrocketing. So it was cool. 

And so the people who do this, you, you realize early on in your burro racing career that the more time you spend with the animal, the more fun the race is. And so most of the people there are almost exclusively Coloradans with a couple of weird exceptions. And one of them is the Pedretti family, who live in Wisconsin. And they've been coming out to this race every single year now, for I believe it was 15 years. Ever since their brother Rob, um, took his own life. And Rob was a great burro racer. And so the Pedretti family has been commemorating Rob, and holding their family reunion in the town of Fairplay, every single year. And it's at the point now where like so many Pedrettis have been doing it. It’s like in-laws, and boyfriends, and kids, and every year there's a whole, there's a whole army of Pedrettis there. But everybody else, these are native Coloradans. They raise their donkeys, they're experienced and savvy, and they are trail tough. 

Keyes: Describe the start line of a burro race. Because I think, you know, a lot of our listeners and myself included have been at a lot of different start lines before, and it's full of nerves. And I'm just imagining what it's like when you add, um, an equal number of burros, uh, all in a tightly packed space. What's it like? 

McDougall: You know, you go through those, you know, the waves of, like, death. Like there's denial, excitement, sadness, whatever. But you have to do all those things. So you get your donkey and you put the pack saddle on it. The donkeys all have to run with a pack saddle with a certain weight limit. And traditional miners tools. So you get your… you’re really occupied at first. Cause you want to make sure that the halters right, and your rope, and the saddle. And so your brain is on the details. And then: Boom! Like, the shotgun blows off. Which just scares the crap out of all the donkeys. And for some whatever reason, man, you know, it's Colorado. What do you expect? But that's, that's what they do. So you have all of these donkeys all crowded onto a road, and the road’s narrow, so 60, 70 donkeys, and they're runners, you're going pretty deep. 

You know, it's, uh… You’re 10 or 15 rows deep on this thing, and that shotgun goes off, and it's just as like the sea of turmoil. Like donkeys spinning in circles, and tangling up their ropes, and pack saddles falling off. But the savvy people know to either get way in front or way in the back. And we were cautioned to just get your asses to the back of the pack here. Let the madness ensue. And then, once things simmer down, you can set out. So we did that. Um, the fast runners are up front. They're off like a rocket. There was chaos in the middle. And then we just kind of sidestep them and ease our donkeys on past. And man. I'll tell ya. Our crew—our gang of three—they were, they were champs. They really kept their stuff together. 

Keyes: Are there, are there any donkeys that just will refuse to run when these things start 

McDougall: Every kind of donkey misbehavior you can imagine, you're going to see in the first five minutes of that race. So yeah. Yeah. Some donkeys hunker down, say no thank you. Other donkeys get panicky and start to like sort of nip and jump on each other. Um, people get wound up in their ropes. Uh, I've seen people dragged. People who have been heli-vaced to hospitals because of donkey wrecks. So yeah, it can get pretty, pretty mayhem-ish.

Keyes: Okay. At this point it would be a breach of literary etiquette to spoil McDougall's entire book. If you want to know how the so-called donkey with a heart of a hero performed on race day, you'll have to pick up your own copy of Running with Sherman. But before I said goodbye to McDougall, I wanted to know what the whole experience—running with donkeys, rehabilitating Sherman, watching an animal help Zeke heal, and vice versa—had taught him. 

McDougall: You know, I'm as guilty of this as anybody else. I think that whatever I happen to be doing in my little sphere, in the year 2019, is what humans have always done. So you just sort of assume that our life has really been consistent for the past, you know, thousands of years, more or less. But it's really been dramatically different. And up until less than a hundred years ago, almost all humans had some close contact with animals. You know, our food came from nearby, so if you're eating meat, the slaughterhouse was in your town. If you are having milk, the dairy was right around the corner, and the milkman was bringing the milk to your house. Everybody had dogs and cats. We were around animals a lot, and it's only in the past hundred years or so that we made this radical departure, where we sealed ourselves up in, uh, cities, and we are in office buildings, and we have our own individual cars. 

So we're no longer relying on animals for protection, or for transportation, or for nutrition. And again, in the long span of human history, this is a brief and startling change, you know, tens of thousands of years, and then all of a sudden in the past hundred years, we shut out these partners. It's not as if we just lost pets. We lost our main source of security, and guidance, and sustenance. And what I do believe is that because of that partnership that exists—that existed for so long—it became hard wired into our DNA. You know, our brain is wired to pay acute attention to animals—to watch what they're doing—both so they don't get us, and also so we can follow their guidance. I mean, I think there's a reason why when, right now, if you bring a dog into a cancer ward, you're going to notice instant changes in people's physiology. 

Stress levels go down, blood pressure levels go down, pain medication is cut in half. The necessity of pain medication. And I think the reason why was, if you can imagine early humans out in the wild and you have a domesticated lupine with you—a wild dog that you've domesticated—and you're going to sleep at night in your cave, and that dog is purring contentedly, what does that tell you? That tells you that a creature with far better night vision, far more acute hearing, far better sense of smell... If that animal is at peace, that sends a message to you that you can relax as well. And I believe that that became hardwired into our brain chemistry to have a sense of security and relief and confidence whenever we're around animals. 

[Music begins]

You know, we keep finding these answers, but because they're inconvenient, we just try to dismiss them. And yet it's not just that whole legacy. You know, it's not this tens of thousands of years of demonstrable evidence that this has been a good relationship. But in studies—in every aspect of whatever you look at—you look at soldiers with PTSD, you look at kids with attention deficiency, you look at maximum security prisoners...You go into a maximum security prison and you sub some kind of animal training program? They do it with security dogs and also with wild horses. You go to those prisons, and you find the recidivism rate is cut in half. Uh, incidences of prisoner-on-prisoner crime are just slashed. The health and security benefits in all of these communities, no matter where you look, skyrocket. And yet, the problem we face is unfortunately for the lives we’ve created for ourselves, it's inconvenient. And so we just kind of refuse to look at the evidence that's right in front of our eyes. 

Keyes: Three years later, that idea of our need to pause and listen. It's something McDougall hopes to share with the rest of the world. These days, he invites people to come to Peach Bottom to run with the donkeys, showing them the area’s secret stash of idyllic trails. 

And, in case you're wondering, Sherman is thriving. 

McDougall: Sherman is rocking, man. He is really good. Uh, we had some friends out here this past weekend, and took them out, and uh... Yeah, he's good. And he the other two donkeys have formed a super-tight bond, and they seem like they're really having fun. But every once in a while I’ll be sitting out on the hill, just watching him do his thing. I think: Man. Oh man. What a different life this guy has now. You know, to be out here having fun, running around… Uh, he's in a really good place. 

Frick-Wright: That was Chris Keyes, talking with writer Christopher McDougall about his new book, Running with Sherman. Find it wherever books are sold. This episode was brought to you by Bob's Red Mill: making ingredients that are the backbone of proper nutrition for athletes. More at BobsRedMill.com/Outside, where you can enter to win prizes. 

The Outside Podcast is a production of Outside Magazine and PRX. 

We'll be back next week with a story about adults who miss recess so much that they're creating leagues so they can play games with each other. Some of them are taking it too seriously.

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