Born to Run

"Running Should be Free" - Caballo Blanco

A little background before I get into it... 

I belong to a book club called the DeadEnders.  According to Sheryl Mackay, host of the CBC radio show North by Northwest, it's one of only two known book clubs in British Columbia that has exclusively male members.  The club setup is similar to Club Fat Ass in that each person in the Club hosts an event and they participate in their own event.  Rather than put on a run, members pick a book and provide aid station goodies in their living room.  Guests bring the wine and their opinions about the tome.  Emphasis on wine and discussion, which as often as not, involves geopolitics, war stories and other dude topics that have no relevance to the book whatsoever, but I digress.

We've been through about 30 books over the past few years.  The more creative members of the group who have chosen to discuss short movies, frontier poetry and fiction on their rotation, have generally received unfavorable ratings from their peers.  Gotta be dude reading to get the nod.  So far, John Krakauer selections have received the highest scores.

My turn to host is coming up.  Straight up, my earlier choice of Michael Ondaatje received sub-par ratings from the boys.  I received 6.5 - 7.5 for Robert Service, not because it was poetry, but because I required the guys to read their selections out loud.

"What's a good non-fiction story by a writer who tells a story like Krakauer?," I pondered.  "How about an adventure running story?"  And so we arrive at the perfect pick for the DeadEnders and a perfect read for a FatAss.

Why Read Born to Run? 

First reason why I recommend you read this book is because it's a good read.  Christopher McDougall is a former war correspondent who, like Krakauer, also writes for magazines.  He clearly loves risk and adventure.  He digs deep into the background of the people he writes about and his characters have lots of color, if not depth as well.  McDougall knows how to tell a story in a way that draws the reader into it.

Apart from being a great story, it's a story about running.  Ultrarunning and trail running in particular, and the author is himself an ultrarunner.  As a committed trail runner and ultrarunner, I like to read about other runner's adventures and experiences.  (Especially from runners I know and often run with... that's why I love the Club Fat Ass website!)

Good read.  Topic I'm interested in.  That alone would do it for me.  But it gets even better:  I know some of the characters in the book!  McDougall does an awesome job of describing them and their situations, but also shares things about them I didn't know.

More still.  I've been to most of the exotic places McDougall describes in the book.  I've run the Leadville 100 race course.  I think I ate beans in the same lady's kitchen in Creel, Mexico.  I hung my hammock in a person's front yard in Batopilas at the bottom of the Copper Canyon and I ran on trails in the middle of BF nowhere with the Tarahumara Indians.

Finally, there's stuff in the book that relates to my running performance and things I have experimented with, but never resolved.  Endurance things.  Equipment things.  Injury things.  Diet things.  Lots of things any semi-serious runner wonders about a lot, the author addresses with decent answers and at least enough research to make the running reader pause and say, "Hummmm?"

Jackson gives it a 9.5/10 (I think that's my highest book club rating ever!) 

I'm curious to know what you think of the book and how you'd rate it.  Especially curious to hear the opinion of female runners.

In conclusion, I should note the particular points that resonate with me that we might pick up on during a long run this year:

  • shoes.  Are they good for us?  Is cushioning and stability good for the runner or good for the running shoe manufacturer?
  • diet.  Should citizens of the 21st century revert to a caveman diet
  • money.  Why do we have to pay to run?
  • training.  How to complete an ultra.  How to compete in one.
  • the Tarahumaras.  Does their lifestyle trump ours?
  • injuries.  Would running barefoot eliminate them or compound them?



A Pretty Good Book

Ean, I read Born to Run over an afternoon around Christmas time. I'm not sure whether I would be quite as generous with the points as you, but it was a solid 6 or 7/10 in my opinion. That doesn't make it a bad book; it's just that there are so many fabulous books out there that I would recommend first.

Overall, I thought that it was a good book and I would recommend it to anyone who runs, particularly long distances. It was a really easy read with a good story and Christopher McDougall knows how to keep your attention. I'm not sure that I believe all of the ideas that he presents in the book but that doesn't make them less interesting to read.

I have to admit that I'm not an Ondaatje fan, so I have to agree with your book club on that point. If you're looking for future book club selections for men, I would highly recommend Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden. It's about two First Nations boys from the James Bay area who become snipers in the First World War. The Bishop's Man by Linden MacIntyre might also be a good book for a manly book club; it's about the abuse within the Catholic church from the perspective of the priest who is in charge of relocating the offenders.         

Ean Jackson's picture

Thank you!

You're a tough grader, Lara.  Thx for the suggestions for future reads.  I've heard of Three Day Road and your recommendation has pushed me over the edge.  Let's chat about it on a run one day!

teagirl's picture

bare-footed & happy (in the kitchen?)... re: injuries

I haven't read the book (yet! It's definitely on the list) but here's my professional medical opinion (however you're not allowed to sue me for it!): it absolutely makes physiologic sense to run, and walk for that matter, barefoot - BUT, you can't just switch to doing it "cold turkey" because if you live in North America you've probably spent your entire life (other than perhaps your very first steps) wearing shoes. So all your biomechanics, from your ankles to your neck, are based on a walking gait that revolves around the shoe - it's the first and only thing that actually hits the ground.

It's not at all what nature intended, and I'm sure if somebody bothered to do the study to prove it we could prove (it would be a relatively difficult, time-consuming & thus expensive study - so nobody's ever going to do it - so we can't ever "prove" it) that wearing shoes for your whole life as opposed to being barefoot your whole life contributes to musculoskeletal disorders. And all the orthopedic docs would be against the study and its findings because if everybody started going barefoot all their hip & knee replacement business would go out the window... and really, it's not super-feasible to actually "go barefoot" in our world...

But if you get yourself a pair of these, like I did: Vibram FiveFingers (VFF for short!) and work up to it (it takes a loooooong time to undo your entire life's worth of biomechanics!), you might find that a lot of your chronic musculoskeletal issues start getting a whole lot better!! 

You'll be sore first, particularly in places you've never been sore before (I never even knew I had those muscles!), and places where you've had injuries might feel kinda wacky for a while, but I've definitely noticed a big change for the better, even when I'm not wearing the VFFs.

I've worked myself up to about 25 minutes. Lysanne's had hers for just over a year (maybe?) and is up to over an hour. I haven't taken mine out on the trails yet (I use them to run-commute to work) but Lysanne says they're really amazing, particularly on the uphills 'cause you can really grab hold with those toes!

I know Nike have their "Free" sole, I tried a pair of those but they didn't do the same thing as the VFFs, and neither do Newtons which I've also tried. I haven't tried the MBTs (Masai Barefoot Technology), or the Skechers knock-offs. But those are all still SHOES, as in they have a heel and cushioning; to be barefoot you just have to freakin' be BAREFOOT! The VFFs let you be barefoot, but protect you from the sharp scary things you might encounter if you were actually barefoot...

This site has lots more to look at / think about, and this site has lots of cool socks you can wear inside your VFFs! I have the Classics which are great but I'm waiting for the women's version of the KSO Trek - a bit grippier sole & a kangaroo leather upper to help keep the dirt out (Vibram said they'd be out in March 2010 but they're still not... oh well). MEC sells some styles, but I ended up getting mine from these guys who had way more selection, better prices & really excellent customer service (I got them shipped to my address in Point Roberts, a great thing to know about if you do any online shopping!).

I also got myself a pair of thin-soled mukluks to wear when I don't want to look like I have gorilla-feet (!), but still want the benefits of being essentially "barefoot". The key is the super-thin sole, which makes you more likely to have a forefoot-only stride (with no heel-strike at all) - because it's not really comfortable to have a heel-strike when you have no cushioning. Even when you're "walking", you tend to go a bit faster and bouncier, so you sort of look like you're "running"... and if you think about it, that's probably what our ancestors did most of the time - if you're going from point A to point B, why wouldn't you go at a fastish (but still comfortable) pace? It's not really the shoes that cause all our health problems, it's our increasingly sedentary lifestyle in which we've removed all the opportunities for normal physical activity in our daily lives (cars, escalators, etc.). Our ancestors (and the human bodies we share with them) were up & about all the time, every day. Hunting, gathering, squatting (no chairs for them!), running from predators... all barefoot! And I've found, in my study of One (me) that the physical activity level in my daily life has increased while wearing shoes that make me "barefoot" because they make each step be a little more active than it would have been if I was wearing "normal" shoes.

So, that's my solution to society's woes: everybody should do everything "barefoot". Every step would be more physically active and that would solve a HECK of a lot of "medical" problems. Which are actually "societal" problems, that somehow doctors are supposed to be able to solve, with drugs. HA HA HA good luck with that.

Cheers all, I'm off to bed in hopes my pager is not going to go off again tonight; 

from Dr. Katie aka "runs-in-a-dress"

P.S. on the topic of diet ("caveman", also referred to as "traditional aboriginal"!), check out Dr. Jay Wortman's stuff here and here (he's a Metis doctor who became very interested in the diabetes epidemic among aboriginal peoples in Canada, and looked at archaeological research showing that back before agriculture they used to live into their 80s, be tall & healthy, and what they ate was meat meat meat dipped in fish fat... He himself eats a crazy high protein high fat diet - he puts butter on his steak! - but is a super healthy thin guy with excellent cardiac test results etc; he used to be an overweight guy who tried to "eat right" according to the Canada Food Guide... which has some definite issues...). Another interesting book for your group to read would be "Good Calories, Bad Calories" which addresses some of this stuff.

Ean Jackson's picture

Runnin Barefoot

Yo Teagirl,

When I was young and foolish and new to running (last year of high school), I would run barefoot on the track.  Older and wiser, but still young (first year of undergrad), I would do 10K barefoot night runs down Yonge Street in Toronto.

Thinking back to why I did that, I draw a blank.  Maybe the memory gap is due to the ensuing years?  Maybe the other things I was experimenting with at the time?  I think the logic was that it would toughen up my feet, and therefore make me more competitive... but on second thought, I was a lone wolf and didn't participate in any form of organized running at the time.  

Maybe it was a self-imposed rite of passage into adulthood? (e.g. get tough by behaving oddly while avoiding dangers like glass shards and beer caps.)  It certainly wasn't an experiment to return to my caveman roots or an attempt at injury-avoidance.

Anyway, my Mom gave me a pair of Adidas ROMs for my birthday and there ended my barefoot running experiment.

It's interesting to see how you and other folks who I run with now have adopted a form of barefoot running.  As an outside observer, I wonder if this is due to the fact that modern society is waking up to the fact that humans were around for a million years before Nike, or because of this book and another business (Vibram, for example) with an good marketing angle?

A few years ago when I was suffering with plantar fasciitis, the good doctor who diagnosed my condition insisted that I stop running around the house in bare feet.  Since then, I have used crocs as house shoes.  Now that the PF is gone, I've been wondering if it is a good idea to always have 5cm of injected plastic foam underfoot at all times?

As you pointed out, if someone were looking for an angle on a doctoral thesis, barefoot running would be a good one to attempt to tackle.  In the meantime, I'll be watching you and Lysanne (and Weiner and Ryan) to see if you blow up or continue to kick my butt on the trails with your platypus feet!

(I can see this as being an interesting forum discussion, as I'll bet there are other Fat Asses, trail runners and road runners who are curious, too.)


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