Born to Run

There’s something so universal about that sensation, the way running unites our two most primal impulses: fear and pleasure. We run when we’re scared, we run when we’re ecstatic, we run away from our problems and run around for a good time. – Born to Run

So, as I mentioned in the last post I just finished Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. And wow. Loved it. I don’t know why I haven’t read it sooner. Well maybe I do. I have an affliction to trendy books. I don’t know why. It’s kind of a stupid, elitist thing. So when this book came out and became the most buzzed about book in all the running circles, I decided to stay away. But obviously I didn’t stay away forever and I’m very happy I decided to give it a shot.

First impressions: I highly prefer to read non-fiction, love reading a journalist’s writing, and I like books that take on an anthropological view. Oh, and it’s about running, which is kind of my thing, so how bad could it be. Second impression once I began reading it: Man did it take on a million directions. Like I said, I love journalistic writing, but this seemed like one ADD reporter if you asked me. But I trusted him. I trusted that he was taking me on a journey and setting me up for something. And I liked that this “something” was something that I didn’t see coming. Looking back I realize that maybe it was somewhat obvious, but for me, the moment I was totally hooked was when I realized “Shaggy” was Caballo.

Before I go into anything else, let me just say that while I’m still slightly skeptical, I’m becoming more and more sold on the idea of barefoot/minimalist running. So much so that I intend to begin a slow regiment of barefoot running in Newport next month, being extremely mindful that this is something that should be done gradually. And I’m not ruling out the Vibram Five Fingers being a part of my future. Pete’s brother has them and seems to love them. But I’d like to hear from some women who wear them first. The arguments the book makes are very compelling. And as someone who has been battling injuries, much of what is said about shoes and form really speaks to me. For example, until it was pointed out to me I never noticed that I’m a little “knock-kneed”. When I run my knees brush past each other on almost every stride, and even when I’m walking I have noticed it happening as well. But without shoes? Nope, not so much.

Vibram FiveFingers

But ok, with my support and interest clearly stated, I must say that there are a few counter arguments I have. I guess the first regarding ultramarathoning: I simply don’t think just anyone can run an ultra as is implied (even though I know he’s not saying that ANY person RIGHT NOW can run one). I’m just saying that there are certain things that I believe takes super-special athletic ability and that’s one of them.

I also don’t think that barefoot running is for everyone, or that running shoes affect every person’s stride in a negative way or any way at all. Listen, I recognize in the tone of the book that he’s not arguing that does. I just felt that there was way too much generalization being made. What worked for him, doesn’t necessarily mean that it will work for everyone. I think the arguments are there, I think the examples and evidence are there, but I can’t help but think that it’s all that simple. But maybe it is.

One thing that I thought was interesting was a little anecdote he told about a great ultra runner who loved to run in his old sneakers. Then he went and tried to buy new shoes and it didn’t turn out well. So he went back to his old shoes that had hundreds and hundreds of miles on them, but didn’t cause him any injury. Well I guess first of all this seems to me to be an example of an individual story and not something that can necessarily translate to the general population. It’s like the line from He’s Just Not That Into You: You’re not the exception, you’re the rule. BUT, let me just point out this: I began running 4 years ago. I had no idea what I was doing really. I bought a random pair of New Balance xtraining sneakers and for almost three years I ran 3 miles on the treadmill, seven days a week. But then I decided I wanted to become more serious. So I bought a new pair of shoes, followed a training plan, and voila…I became a much better runner; and a distance runner at that. But let’s also put this in perspective: I haven’t been able to run seven days a week in who knows when. I’m constantly injured. I feel like I barely run anymore. I’ve been to a million specialists, had my feet examined, bought shoes that are supposed to help me, ect. It’s pathetic, but running 3 miles at a 10 min pace, seven days a week seems like I dream I could never reach. And so I have to wonder, what if I went back to those old beat up New Balance cross trainers…hmn.

Last point because I know this is getting a little long: A lot of people say Born to Run is a book about barefoot running. It certainly is. It craftily weaves science with storytelling. But I think there’s a whole other element of the book which, to me, was even more powerful: The joy of running, which is ultimately the greatest lesson we can learn from the Tarahumara. I love the stories about ultra runners, really good ultra runners, seeing the Tarahumara pass them at some un-godly mile, laughing and smiling. Of course they were tired. But their ability to enjoy running, their joyfulness, is what makes them the greatest runners on Earth.

I feel like I’ve left a substantial amount of information out, so I urge you all to go pick up a copy and read for yourself about the wonderful runners in the Sierra Madres.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Born to Run

  1. A pretty inspirational read so far for me. Your third to last paragraph rings true for me as well; a serious runner for 10 years, 4 of those have been plagued by injury and poor performance (after knee surgery). I’ve casually taken up barefoot running, and it’s been brilliant so far. I hope to race barefoot next year, and then I’ll see about finally doing an Ultra :).

    I don’t want to seem rude here because I liked your article, but a few things it made me think about are where you’ve said: “I simply don’t think just anyone can run an ultra as is implied” and “I also don’t think that barefoot running is for everyone”.

    Perhaps Born to Run isn’t suggesting these things at all. It endeavours to inspire; that much is very evident. But perhaps it merely wants to lead people, non-runners and runners alike, through the author’s journey in an attempt to encourage *you* to take your own journey and discover what in running actually can do for you?

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