For those who haven’t read it, you have to get Born to Run by Christopher McDougal (Apple iBooks, Amazon print & Kindle). A coworker who is much more serious about running than I will ever be suggested it to me, and it literally changed my life. I just finished a run today, and it hit me just how much it changed my life. No, my run wasn’t 25 miles, and no I didn’t run each of the 3.2 miles I did in 4 minutes or less (I ran them at a 7:48 pace, if you’re wondering). The change is that I ran today. By choice. Just like yesterday. And every day before that since I got about 1/3 into the book this past February. I run a little longer and a little faster each time, and I run with better form, too. But, again, the change isn’t performance, it’s the fact that I’m performing at all and smiling. OK, sometimes, I wince when sweat gets in my eyes, but mostly I smile.
The reason? I always hated running. Hate’s a strong word, and you shouldn’t use it. I hated running. It hurt. It hurt bad. I have bad joints and was overweight and out of shape much of my life, so I was slow, awkward, and the impact on my body was intense. I have taken to wearing top of the line Nike running shoes for all the extra cushioning, and even then couldn’t run more than 30 seconds without my knees suffering from sharp pains (soon to be followed by my ankles and then the rest of the dominos would fall until I reinforced my feelings about running).
Born to Run changed that for two key reasons. First, it’s a fantastic education in how running really is primal. Humans were literally born to run. I know what you’re thinking – no one likes running except insane athletes, and even then, 90% of runners suffer an injury each year. Setting that aside for a moment, McDougal goes through human pre-history and arguments around how we really were born to run. He does it by chronicling the Tarahumara (or Raramuri) of Northern Mexico – a tribe of native runners who run either barefoot or in huarachis (basically, a piece of thin material laced to the foot) for tens or hundreds of miles at a time. And they’re happy. I know, crazy, right? This got my ears open, and told me I should think about running a bit more. Surely I can’t be in such a different situation that it would be impossible to apply the concept of human structure being ideal for running to me.
Going back to the stats brings us to the second reason. The injuries from running only really started in the late 1970s and early 1980s – the time when the modern running shoe came into existence with its raised heel and spongy and/or air-infused cushions. As each new model came out, our feet were getting more and more removed from the ‘dangers’ of feeling what’s under them. Then, a few short years ago, there was a movement to get running barefoot, or as close to barefoot as possible. The minimalist running movement came around. When you see people in Nike Frees, or New Balance Minimus, or Vibram Five Fingers, they’re practicing minimalist running. I tried it. You run differently – on the front half of your foot rather than striking with your heel. It’s more like how animals walk and running. Their heels are actually up what looks like their leg (they basically walk on their tip toes). It took some adjusting, and my calves burned for a few days. But what didn’t burn, or ache or yell at me for self-mutilation was my joints. They felt fine. Not ‘ok’. Fine. As in, no problems to report. No pain, no instability, no nothin’.
I’ve found this applies to more than just running. I do 35 minutes on an elliptical each day, and my knees hurt when I wear my Air Max 360s so much that I need knee braces when I do it. If I wear my Adidas adiPure Trainers or Vibrams, I’m fine. Not ‘ok’. Fine. As in, no problems to report.
So now I run by choice, and really don’t like to miss runs. I’m about to have double hernia surgery. I’m already missing doing pull ups because they did wonders for my arms and abs, but I can still run. I’ll have to stop for a bit (maybe 6-8 weeks) after the surgery, and I’m really sad about that. I’ll be ok, and will come back, but I’ll miss some great outdoor running weather and some fantastic feelings. Plus, running has transformed my body in a way nothing else I’ve ever done has. Why? Well, it’s great exercise and burns calories, sure, but it’s ultimately because this is what we were designed to do. Feed your body right, and it feels good. Work it right, and it feels good. Running is working your body right.
So, a huge thank you to that coworker and her book recommendation. I’m paying it forward by recommending it to you. Just go in with an open mind, and then try it out. I promise, you’ll be surprised. Pleasantly. You’ll enlighten.your.body.