Born To Run by Christopher McDougall

Born to RunMy father gave me this book.  The actual title is: Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen. How many times in life can you say that you’ve picked up a book and actually had it make complete sense to you?  To the point where you want to go out and either try the new tool or scale a mountain or run barefoot?  McDougal’s book has done that to me.

For those of you who have followed my training I have had multiple issues with my left calf.  I’ve spent hundreds of dollars on shoes, muscle rolling devices, heat wraps, ice wraps, DVD’s on running techniques, I even went to a podiatrist who told me I didn’t have to run!  As I sat in coach on my round trip flights from LA to Milan, I read this book.  Maybe it was the tight seating in my cabin or the snoring gentleman sitting next me who kept waking up with drool dripping down his chin, or the woman sitting in the window seat who refused to put her bag in the overhead compartment until two flight attendants told she HAD TO but I lost myself inside the pages of this mans own adventures in running.  The theories, techniques and wacky characters he meets all made perfect sense to me.  Maybe I’d found a cure!!??

Christopher McDougall is a former war correspondent for the Associated Press and is now a contributing editor for Men’s Health.  He has written for Esquire, The New York Times Magazine, Outside, Men’s Journal, and New York. He does his own running among the Amish farms around his home in rural Pennsylvania and has had his own issues with running injuries.  He sets up the story of running beautifully as he follows his own exploits into the Copper Canyons of Mexico, to the first 100 mile ultra-marathon and ultimately a race with the Raramuri (translated as the “Running People,” who are more commonly known to outsiders as the Tarahumara).

Along the way we learn that since the beginning of time man ran without gel induced super rubber running shoes- duh, right? But I said to myself, “You know, he’s right!”  It was only in the mid-70’s that we became a world of shoe obsessed humans.  We wear them morning, noon and night and are drawn to the latest “technology” that is supposed to help us run and/or exercise better.  McDougal peels the wax off the shiny packaging and helps us see that Nike, etc. change their line of shoes at least twice a year in an effort to sell more shoes – not to improve the support or whatever to help us run better.  He also takes the time to point out how running injuries have risen since the 70’s and blames the shoe industry for a variety of things (child labor etc.).

The book isn’t only a condemnation of the shoe industry it’s also the story of his own journey to find a smooth effortless running form.  He meets many elite runners along the way.  Scott Jurek, arguably the best ultrarunner on the planet, Luis Escobar, who is another accomplished ultrarunner, Jenn Shelton and Billy Barnett, two young hard-partying ultrarunners who like to live life on the edge (often drinking to the point of blackout the night before running 50 miles) and finally Eric Orton, who helps transform McDougall into someone who manages to make it to the starting line of a 50-mile race fully intending to finish.  It is here that I think I have found a solution.

As McDougal begins to take us through his training regime with Orton he recounts the story of Barefoot Ted and how after another injury he took off his shoes and began running barefoot – thus his name!  Maybe it was the jet-lag but I think this story sunk in.  After the last run around Buckingham Palace I had to try something else, so the following morning, back in LA, I left my shoes in the closet and went for a one mile jog completely barefoot!  No socks, no shoes, nothing but naked feet.large

For the first time in about 6 months of training I felt no pain in the calf.  It might have been that I was terrified I’d step on something and pierce my foot but the feeling I had reminded me why I like to run.  It was really exciting.  So I have found a store that sells these really cool “barefoot” protection shoes called Vibram Five Fingers.  They sponsor Ted and he’s run many marathons, ultra-marathons and all sorts of other races in them.  If they work for Ted, then they have to work for me – right??

Below is a cool animation from the Newton Running Shoe Company demonstrating what I’m attempting to do.  The cartoon is simplistic but you get the idea – toe to heel (forefoot Strike) in bare feet instead of heel to toe (heel strike).  Try it – you can’t run heel to toe in bare feet.

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