Thursday, April 08, 2010

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

Born to Run is a nonfiction story about a few elite ultrarunners and a tribe of Mexican natives called Talahumara.  The narrator takes you on a journey of discovery of the engineering of the human body, the evolution of the running industry, and ultrarunning.

The Tarahumara, named the "Running People" in their own language, live in the intense environment of the most remote regions of the Sierra Madres.  They are an isolated culture, one where the economy runs exclusively on the trading of acts of kindness and corn beer.  They are the most peaceful people on earth, even when duelling drug cartels prey on travelers in the area.  The Running People are also the worlds fastest ultrarunners, but you'll never see them.

Ultrarunning refers to distances longer than a marthon, usually found in distances of 50 kilometers, 50 miles, 100 kilometers, or 100 miles.  Not only is the distance itself grueling, but the events are usually held in the most difficult of climates, like the extreme heat of Death Valley, or at high altitude, extremely mountainous regions, or on an all-terrain trail.   Hallucination, severe dehydration, and severe injury are not uncommon.

After reading this book, I wish I was hardcore enough to do that.  It's hard enough for me to wrap my head around a ten mile run, much less a marathon or more. 

It was interesting to see the narrative images of some of the modern ultrarunners like Scott Jurek and  Barefoot Ted.   The group of elites that went on this trip to race with the Tarahumara in their homeland call themselves "Mas Locos" after the event.  You would have to be crazy in order to run 50 miles in that environment.  But they are all very unique individuals and the author shows their personality quirks delightfully.

There is a great deal of science in this book that is very interesting to prove two points: that the modern running show actually causes more problems than it prevents, and why the human is better suited to endurance running than any other animal.  Anthropologists and biological locomotion experts looked at animals like rabbits, deer, and cheetahs who can only breathe once per stride.  Humans are not limited in their breathing patterns to their running cadence, but most stick to a 2 steps to 1 breath cycle.  They also spent some time on how standing upright is actually a benefit over being a quadruped.  Humans can cool down quicker through the evaporation of sweat on our hairless skin rather than being dependent on losing heat through our mouths like dogs.   It was quite an interesting look at human evolution. 

The book goes on to claim that the modern running shoe is to blame for modern running injuries.  More people are suffering running injuries, but we have the most advanced running shoes ever.  Or at least the most expensive.  They are designed to insulate the feet from rough terrain, reduce natural motion, and decrease impact to your legs.  The theory is that by doing all that, they prevent the brain from receiving information from the feet.  This results in poor running form, which is the cause of all the common running problems: runner's knee, planar fascilitis, pulled tendons, etc.  I use motion control shoes, but it's because the theory is that the greater amount of sole will lessen the impact caused by my weight.  It's a standard rule for overweight runners.  The only issue I complain of is from intermittent lower back pain which usually works itself out with stretching. 

The sources listed in this book are only part of a larger set of information that is fueling a barefoot running movement among the running community. I normally walk around in rather supportless flats most of the time. I actually went to try on a pair of Vibram Five Fingers, one of the go-to names of the movement.  I originally thought that I wouldn't be able to wear them because I have webbed toes.  The first knuckle of my second and third toes are joined.  (I never knew anyone else other than my family who had this, but I discovered today that two of my coworkers have the same thing! Weird coincidence!)  My first impression is that I had the intense desire to wiggle my toes all the time.  And go dancing. It's interesting that you don't break in the shoes to your feet, you break in your feet to the shoes.  My toes feel a little sore from being spread apart for so many hours, but I'm looking forward to trying to get used to them in time to be able to wear them for a day during my Orlando trip.

This book did a great job of making a narrative out of ultrarunning events, anthropology, and sociology.  It makes me want to run twenty miles barefoot when I've never done anything like it.  The Mas Locos have some great photos from their run in the Sierra Madres.  Be sure to check them out! (This one of Jenn Shelton is my favorite of the bunch. She was the wild child.  Can you tell?)


Faith said...

I saw a lady run the PP10-miler in the five fingers...thought it was crazy, but people seem to like them. I like my podiatrist made orthotics myself. Let me know what you think of them...and if you ever run in them!

Ann said...

I want to attempt to run in them eventually, but want to acclimate my feet first. Trying not to be impatient so I don't hurt myself!

Keith said...

Great review Ann! Keep up the blogging & running : )