I finally read the last page of the “controversial” book Born to Run by Christopher McDougal. It was a fun, interesting read (albeit a bit ADHD) and incredibly eye-opening at the same time. I feel a bit like I am the last to know about minimalist or barefoot running (I did *notice* the FiveFingers shoes and disregarded those runners as crazy). But I figured I’d write about it, just in case there are others like me who just love running and don’t so much follow the trends. But you might want to take a look at this one. It’s a new idea that’s really not new at all, which is my favorite kind. And it goes against what most consider to be conventional wisdom, even of doctors, major shoe companies and running magazines. Bonus!
The author suggests that our bodies were built for running. Imagine that, a perfect Intellectual design! It was only with the advent of the modern running shoe in the 70s (blame Nike here) that people focused on longer strides and striking heel first, which has led to injury-prone runners (who then visit podiatrists and buy new shoes … sound suspicious at all?).
More complexity, higher technology, super cushioning, pronation prevention and stability control cost more money and are marketed to help runners avoid injury. However, all that technology actually interferes with how the muscles of the foot and leg respond to the ground. One researcher remarked that the extra cushioning is akin to navigating in the dark. Without tactical input, the foot is missing adequate stimulation to avoid injury. And, in fact, weakening the arch and other foot muscles, causing common running injuries like plantar fasciitis. Running is, no doubt, hard on the body. But McDougal adds that attempting to protect the body this way is like wrapping an egg in cushioning then slamming it onto a hard surface. It will still crack.
I was suddenly grateful that I have always bought cheap shoes! They may actually be better for you in the long run. And you really may be better off in your old, worn-out shoes than new-fangled ones with all the bells and whistles (don’t miss this part: *especially* if you have flat arches, pronate or are prone to injury). Of course, if you want, you can jump in on the trend that brand manufacturers are taking advantage of and buy a minimalist running shoe at a price. Or, go old school and wear inexpensive plimsolls like our parents used to.
The key is to run the way your body is meant to. When done correctly, the body is built to absorb the shock.
The best way to describe the “correct” way to run is to mimic the body form of sprinting: torso leaning forward, knees bent, landing on your foot’s midsole. Take off in the grass barefoot and you’ll start to understand. Run like a kid again! When I watch my son run, he has perfect natural form. And he’s fast. It’s awkward at first to change my stride and the way that I run, but it’s starting to feel more natural after a couple weeks. I must be doing something right because my calf muscles are killing me. As an aside, while I agree that there’s some awkward changes, the important thing is to feel what’s natural. I don’t think everyone should try to copy a particular person’s running style. Have you ever seen women’s marathon record holder Paula Radcliffe run? Did somebody just NOT tell her she’s not supposed to bob her head while running? She holds the women’s course record for the Chicago Marathon from 2002 also. I remember because she finished just as I crossed the halfway point. Ugh. I tried to mimic her style to see if it helped me run faster or longer at the time. It didn’t. So, keep it simple. Run what comes natural, just natural without the “aid” of running shoes.
The realization that shoe marketing is misleading will come gradually as runners figure out the truth, which they have been and will continue to when they actually try it.
Granted, I’ve read one book. I maybe should have done a little research of my own before I jumped on the bandwagon, but author Christopher McDougal already did all that work for me! From high-tech science labs to the reclusive Tarahumara Indians of Mexico’s treacherous Copper Canyons, his adventure to search for answers makes for a pretty rock solid case that everything we thought we knew about running was wrong.
He builds the case following a cast of characters (a bunch of lovable but crazy people, if you ask me) who in the end become friends in a fifty-mile race through the heart of Tarahumara country, that pits the rag-tag bunch of Americans against the tribe. It’s a compelling, heartwarming (leave it to me to get emotional!) story.
My favorite quote of the book is a life lesson we could all learn from and is a Biblical principal, even if the book isn’t at all spiritual. It was about Scott Jurek, whose journey to become a star ultrarunner started in high school in the back of the pack and launched when he ran, and came in second, in his first 50-mile ultra on a dare by a college buddy. His passion for running was more about connecting with others and being a part of something outside himself: “But the joy he got from running was the joy of adding his power to the pack. Other runners try to disassociate from fatigue by blasting iPods or imagining the roar of the crowd in the stadium, but Scott had a simpler method: it’s easy to get outside yourself when you’re thinking about someone else.”
I got chills when I read that not only because I’ve never been able to articulate my desire to keep my mind in tune with my body and surroundings when I’m running but because it’s a principal for life. In our small group, we often talk about life’s paradoxes. God seems to turn everything upside down from the way that we think it should be. Because so much of what the author writes sounds upside down, I’m thinking he just may be on to something. Injured? Run with less support instead of more. Feeling pain? Embrace it, run faster. Exhausted and feeling sorry for yourself? Find out how your neighbor’s doing. Afraid? Take a leap of faith and do something crazy.
I’m thinking I need to get in touch with my crazy side more often.
“I have not been called to the wisdom of this world
But to a God who is calling out to me
And even though the world my think
I’m losing touch with reality
It would be crazy
To choose this world over eternity
Call me crazy
You can call me crazy
Call me crazy”