Born To Run -Book Review

Happy New Year’s everyone.

I just got back a few hours ago from the Briones Run.  A yearly tradition that my dad and his running friends started around 30 years ago.  Sadly the past three years have been run solo, only by me, since dad and the others developed a case of old age. There is one guy left, however injured shin splints last year, and the scent of a woman this year has had me keeping the streak alive in solitude.  It’s fine, but feels like I am keeping their streak alive even though I am very much a part of this club.  This would be my 22nd of 23rd year of doing it which is pretty surprising given that I haven’t lived too many years up here outside of childhood.

The 7.5 mile run takes place in the Briones Hills on New Year’s Eve, come rain or shine.  Due to the timing of the run, it is usually a slop fest with mud caked over the shoes, up the legs, and splatters up the back.  Following the run, we all get drunk on champange and do our best to drive the winding roads home in the dark without accruing a vehicular manslaughter tick on our records.

This year’s course was muddy, but not too bad.  Legs certainly resembled shotty brown leg warmers when finished.  The back….eh…a wee bit.  As for my shoes…well, they didn’t get a speck of mud on them.  How you ask?  Yeah dude, one of you asked….well it’s because I didn’t wear any shoes.  And why do such an idiotic sounding thing?  Because I read this book.

Or should I say, I’ve almost finished reading this book.  I was going to wait to close the book on the final page before writing about it, but the timing feels right.  So here we go…

First off, this is just an awesome book to read.  I first heard about it through Runner’s World several issues back, and happened to stumble upon it a few days ago in Barnes & Nobles.  Me equipped with a handful of B & N gift certificates from the holidays.  I actually thought I had already read the bestseller when a few weeks earlier I found this one.

I mean how many bestseller running books can their be?

As it turned out, this book was an average one for my tastes.  Being a book about running AND a bestseller seemed like an easy score, however, I wasn’t too impressed or motivated by it.  It was kind of interesting, and I kind of liked the style of the author, however no part of me felt like lacing up and hitting the road.  And that says a lot, doesn’t it?  I have to say though that the book is actually a translated work from this Japanese writer, so perhaps the Japanese version is unbelievable.  I don’t know.  Surprising though that not only was it a bestseller, but also that Runner’s World would list it as the all time best running book to read.

But as I said, I had the wrong bestseller.  Runner’s World wasn’t referring to Murakari’s book, but to McDougall’s Born to Run.  And man, it not only didn’t disappoint, it knocked my socks (and shoes) off.  (Ha ha…ha….ho…ok).

Anyways, let’s get to it…

Born to Run, not a biopic on The Boss, is a true story of the author’s journey into the depths of these Canyons in Mexico to find this mythical tribe of ‘Indian’ runners called the Tarahumara.  As legend goes, these ghosts of a people have these amazing abilities to not only run quickly, but to basically run forever. Two to three hundred miles in a seemingly effortless shot.  And not only that, they did so without the aid of high tech footwear.  Instead they wear these simple flat sandals that provide next to no support other than protecting against thorns and jagged rocks.  And what’s even more amazing about these people, is that they don’t get injured.

Naturally it sounds a bit bullshit, and naturally this goes against nearly everything we know here back in the States.  Us with our $100 -$250 dollar shoes.  Set up with arch supports, gels, shock absorbers, what have you.

And with these rocket ships for shoes, what do our runners have to show for it?  Yearly run ins with such issues as planter fascititis, fucked up knees, achilles problems, you name it.  Basically we’ve come to accept three things: one that we need a running shoe over the $100 dollar mark; two that nagging and more serious injuries are part of the game; and three that we have only so many miles we can put on our knees before we are fucked.  The price to pay for being a runner.

And yes, I can’t even claim to be a runner yet since I am 2x/week-er, but something appears to be going on with me.  I now find myself reading running magazines, running books, and now I’m posting shit like this, for Christ’s sake.  I guess it was inevitable at some point to follow in the old man’s footsteps, but we will see.  It’s not official yet.  At the very least, the enthusiasm for it has seemingly come out of nowhere.

Anyways, the Tarahumara sounds more like a story than reality.  However, to shorten this up a bit, the author, a 6′4″ 230 strapper who was a casual runner with aches and pains, headed down into these canyons in Mexico where he was exposed to these runners and witnessed their abilities.  Men not only in their prime, but men in their 80’s running 80 mile runs.  Just crazy shit.   And not only did he witness their unbelievable abilities, he also transformed his own running style and became an ultramarathoner  himself.

Cool.  Sweet.  An interesting enough story, but that is just a part of the story here.  Basically what the author became involved in was a race of all races between our best ultramarathoners heading down into these treacherous unpopulated canyons (except for the Tarahumara) to take on these guys in a friendly 60 mile foot race.  I have yet to read the outcome there, but that is not why I took my own shoes off to do my race today.  And why I’m writing now as opposed to waiting for that ending.

What is really interesting to me, is that the author (any many top notch professionals for decades have argued) is that modern running shoes are actually the problem.  I will wait and let you read the details of all of this in the book if you are interested, but basically the idea behind it is that all the cushioning and arch support in our shoes, has actually done our feet and bodies a huge disservice.  Our feet are incredibly sensitive body parts that give the brain the feedback regarding the terrain.  When we slip on our Nikes, we are basically disconnecting the flow of information between our feet and our brain.  And how that affects our running is that we endure more pounding on our bodies, since we don’t register pain, AND our feet do not function as they are designed.  The arches in our feet are designed to bear weight, however when they are supported this way and the other, and aren’t allowed to supinate and pronate properly, they weaken over time.

I’d like to think that I am not a sucker, so let me say for me to find the ‘logic’ to be compelling enough to take off my own shoes, well let me say that it is pretty convincing to me to at least attempt my own experiment with it.  Again this isn’t one guys half brained theory.  This is one guys reporting on many.  Not to mention I adhere to the principle of simplifying and trusting our own inherent design.

So, the result of my one day experiment..

It was a lot of fun.  I didn’t know what to expect, other than me limping back to the car at some point.  If I was smart I would have carried a pack with shoes, just in case, however, I said fuck it and went for the adventure.

Long story short is that I have never run the course faster, had more fun, and breathed easier throughout.  It may have just been the novelty of it all that garnered more enthusiasm, but my pacing was effortless, and felt like I wasn’t even breathing.  My form definitely was different due to working with the terrain.  Certainly lighter.  Normally I am thinking about form, how I should pump my arms, and how fast I can go without fucking up my breathing.  However, by having to focus on the terrain, I found it to be much more like rock climbing where you are totally dialed in with the elements out of necessity.  And I strangely found that I didn’t have to think about keeping my posture, or how to move my arms, or how fast I should run to breathe correctly.  It all just fit together.

I have to say that even though I was going purist, I was glad to have the iPod accompanying me.  If only for the fact that I didn’t have to chit chat with the walkers who looked at me with an open mouth waiting for the eye contact to speak, while certainly thinking I was a fucking lunatic, idiot, or combination thereof.  One guy did give me the marine “ooh  rah”, which I replied with a no eye contact wave.

Really interesting run though.  My running hasn’t felt as natural since being a little kid scurrying down the street.  Not to mention I felt not only faster but fatigue was far less of an issue.  Usually I am a bit fucked after this run due to the elements, but upon completion I wasn’t even breathing and wanted to keep going.  Maybe a fluke, maybe not.

Anyways, read the book.  There are so many eccentric characters in this book that it is entertaining for that by itself.

Oh, and the results on the body?  Those will have to wait until tomorrow.  During the run, I noticed that muscles in my upper leg were working where they normally didn’t come into play.  (If you were wearing tightey-whiteys, they would be where the tightey meets the thigh).  Also, I have one blood blister on my pinkie toe, but that’s about it.  Which is quite remarkable since I was running through sticker bushes and whatnot.   I do suspect that my lower calves and arches are going to be a problem tomorrow.  You’re supposed to ease into this thing, but hell as long as I didn’t injure myself it will be worth it.

Final note, I was going to run the race in these creepy looking things called Five Fingers…

…that allow the barefoot experience on paved roads and whatnot to protect against glass and thorns.  REI was the only store reportedly that had them, however I found out Boston was the only store that carried them.  Thus the unplanned barefoot attempt, and I have to say the barefoot success.

I do think there is a good chance I may be a barefoot runner for a while to see how it goes.  The Five Fingers are in the mail, so we shall see.

Again Happy New Years boys and girls.

And to all a good night.


*UPDATE*  Finished the book.  Awesome from start to finish.  There was a fascinating chapter on the evolution of man and a theory of how long distance running was used as our most efficient ‘weapon’ to hunt.  I will leave the sentence as cryptic and unfinished as that so as not to spoil.  Highly recommend if you are one prone to heading out for runs.  If not, then I recommend anyways.

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