A few weeks back, I was turned onto the book Born to Run by a Nerd Fitness reader (thanks again Evan), so I immediately told my friend Matt (nickname: Chappy), an avid runner, about the book. Before I had a chance to go to the store to buy a copy, Chappy had already bought one and read it. I asked him to write a review of the book for the Nerd Fitness community, and he gladly obliged. Take it away Chappy:
Have you ever gotten out of bed, slipped on your running shoes, and thought, “This is something I was built to do?” To be quite honest, I most certainly do not. Preparing for a jog these days seems more akin to suiting up for a battle against our own inclinations; high tech footwear to protect your feet and joints from their structural inadequacies, moisture wicking apparel to fend of our your sweat, and a seven function timepiece so you know the specific extents of your self-inflicted torture. This seems a far cry from any evolutionary calling. However, once you read Christopher McDougall’s “Born to Run,” you may see things a bit differently.
A few weeks ago, Steve sent me an article that featured a Mexican Tribe: one that has become an interesting case study in health and endurance. This group, known as the Tarahumara (pronounced Tara-oo-mara), has produced distance runners of mythical proportions and cultivated a lifestyle with an extremely low incidence rate. Initially, I smelled a gimmick, but as the article plummeted further into the Copper Canyons, it became quite evident that this was more than a quick fix or a new fad. These people were covering hundreds of miles of treacherous terrain…in sandals…and they do this for fun.
Well, it turns out this article was written by Christopher McDougall, and to my utter joy, he had a book about it. What I would come to find out was that this work stretched far beyond a study of one tribe. Complete with amusing back-stories, historical findings, and scientific analysis, this book serves well to entertain the reader while genuinely instilling the belief that there can be joy as well as purpose in our running.
You can’t help but appreciate the fact that the author (an average, overweight, injury plagued, forty-something) serves as his own guinea pig for the primary plot line. Over the span of a year, he goes from a grim outlook (given by several top doctors), to completing a mountainous 50 mile race in 100 plus degree temperatures. To spice things up, he is joined by some of the world’s top (and most interesting) ultra-marathoners, who bring with them a bevy of amusing and unbelievable stories. Put simply, my Google search got a workout just to confirm that these people and places were real!
One of the longer, more informative, chapters actually focuses on the biomechanical relationship between the structure of the human body and how it relates to our running ability. For an educated opinion, I put this section past my future brother-in-law (vet school student), but it all appears to check out. In short, we are built for endurance. Sure cheetahs are fast, but only for a few minutes. Believe it or not, there are documented accounts of humans running animals to death…read that again. Just for giggles, on your next jog, think about doing it for your own survival.
So, you are probably curious as to how any of this is applicable to the average Joe. Well, here’s what I have taken from “Born to Run”:
1. Rethink Your Footwear - First of all, my Nikes have been relegated to the back of the closet. After years of hip and back problems, as well as lackluster running form, I am skimming the pavement in my new Vibram Five Fingers. The key here is to allow your feet to do the work they were intended for. The only reason people run in a heel to toe rolling fashion is because Bill Bowerman (Oregon Track Coach and Nike Co-Founder) told them to. Running with a barefoot-style forefoot strike will shorten your steps and bring you back to the ground; thus giving you more power and efficiency. On a lunchtime run last week, I was literally having so much fun that I was smiling. This, ladies and gents, has never happened in my history. A homeless lady saw me coming and ever so originally yelled “Run, Forrest, Run!” One word of caution: Make sure you transition slowly to a minimal cushion shoe like the Five Fingers. Your feet need time to build the muscles that you haven’t been using.
2. Change Your Perspective – Every now and then, it is good to forget the watch and just take off for a while. I am absolutely guilty of staying within the bounds of specific mileages and times. What I have learned recently is that I only have limits because I put them there. Your body is capable of much more than you could imagine. One day, just start running at a comfortable pace and see where the road (or trail) takes you.
3. Eat Like You Care – The Tarahumara eat as if they could be headed for a run at any moment. This means that they avoid meals that will bog them down and kill their energy. Hey, I love food more than anyone (I’m captivated when a Taco Bell commercial comes on), but I certainly don’t like how tired and worthless I get after a big nasty meal. When your training gets serious, your body inherently will crave what it needs, all you have to do is go along with it.
I can attest to the fact that his book is in fact excellent bathroom reading. Thanks again Chappy.