Born to Run: some running inspiration in book form
(Cross-posted from my group NOLA 2010 training blog.)
Thanks to a recommendation from Christine, I recently read Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen, and I think you should read it too. Here’s what I wrote when I pimped it on another blog:
The Amazon blurb starts out describing this book as “Full of incredible characters, amazing athletic achievements, cutting-edge science, and, most of all, pure inspiration.” It’s an absolutely fascinating read, deeply satisfying on a number of different levels. You can simply enjoy the fast-paced story that builds up to a fifty-mile foot face made up of semi-crazed ultrarunners and a tribe of nearly superhuman Tarahumara Indians, or you can also soak up the brain-bending thesis about why we were born to run and why the current plethora of overly cushioned fancy athletic shoes is making it so hard on our bodies to do so. Finally, I can almost guarantee reading this will change how you think about running, and light a fire in your soul to get out there and give it a try.
I loved every page of this book, it was so exciting and interesting and just the perfect thing to be reading right now. I’ve always thought of running as something unpleasant that people do anyway because it’s healthy, and this book got me to begin understanding the passion behind it. The people in the book are mainly ultrarunners, and you’d think that mindset would be hard to identify with—I mean, they run hundreds of miles, on PURPOSE—but this perspective, their hardcore love for running, infused me with a newfound determination.
“…Ann insisted running was romantic, and no, of course her friends didn’t get it because they’d never broken through. For them, running was a miserable two miles motivated solely by size 6 jeans: get on the scale, get depressed, get your headphones on, and get it over with. But you can’t muscle through a five-hour run that way; you have to relax into it, like easing your body into a hot bath, until it no longer resists the shock and begins to enjoy it.”
There’s also some mesmerizing stuff in the book about how we humans were evolved to run, how we physically peak as runners at 27 but don’t start to decline until 64 (!!), and how we are designed to run without shoes.
“The deconditioned musculature in the foot is the greatest issue leading to injury, and we’ve allowed our feet to become badly deconditioned over the past twenty-five years,” Dr. Hartman said. “Pronation has become this very bad word, but it’s just the natural movement of the foot. The foot is supposed to pronate. [...] Your foot’s centerpiece is the arch, the greatest weight-bearing design ever created. The beauty of any arch is the way it gets stronger under stress; the harder you push down, the tighter its parts mesh.”
The chunky heels on Nikes were originally invented because the company’s co-founder thought runners could get a longer stride if you step ahead of your center of gravity and land on your heel, instead of the natural mid-foot strike. As more arch support and side buttressing has been added over time, the more our feet have atrophied as a result. Basically, the idea is that the more fancy your super-cushioned running shoes are, the worse they are for your feet. And the more injuries you will get as a result.
“We found pockets of people all over the globe who are still running barefoot, and what you find is that during propulsion and landing, they have far more range of motion in the foot and engage more of the toe. Their feet flex, spread, splay, and grip the surface, meaning you have less over-pronation and more distribution of pressure.”
I’m probably not going to get out there and run barefoot, but I did buy a new pair of shoes after reading this book. And you know what? I absolutely love them. They don’t look anything like my old shoes: they’re lightweight, really flexible, and I can feel my toes gripping with each stride.
(Plus, they’re practically neon red. I may look like a dork out there, but by god you’ll see me coming.)
Anyway, Born to Read is a great, great read. I highly recommend it, especially for novice runners looking for inspiration.