Posted by: greeningwashington | December 25, 2010

Merry [Insert Holiday Observed]! And Happy Running!

We are Running People. Humans evolved to run long distances in order to track  and literally run our prey to death. Our running destiny as been highly debated in the scientific community with some evolutionary biologists touting the virtues of walking. Neanderthals, a parallel species to the Homo sapiens, were stronger and smarter, the “Ice Age All-Stars” as Christopher McDougall terms them in his homage to the spirit of running, Born to Run.

If we were born to run, poses McDougall, why do so many people despise doing so? Scientists reason when it comes to exercise our minds and bodies come into conflict. Our minds are efficiency seeking machines reasoning that buying our lunch and working out for 30 minutes is much more efficient than running down a deer for dinner. However, our bodies were designed to be lean, running machines. Marathon times span from 2.5-5 hours at 26. 2 miles. McDougall reveals the story of a group of Bushpeople in Africa who engage in persistence hunts where they meticulously track individual Kudus pushing them from the pack until it collapses and dies of exhaustion. The average time it takes to exhaust an African Kudu? 3-5 hours. As McDougall says: Recreation has its reasons. [we don’t drop and die from exhaustion because we are programmed to cool our bodies using thousands of sweat glands unlike other large mammals that use their respiration systems for internal cooling].

Running has never been my forte. My feelings toward the 10 thousand-year old way-of-life were apathetic at best. My running consisted of a painful two miles, blaring my i-pod to drown out the silence, feeling neither satisfied nor miserable at completion.

McDougall’s book transformed my apathy into joy. I HAVE DISCOVERED THE JOY  OF RUNNING! Running is about more than maintaining weight or losing a few pounds; it is about being apart of a community. A community of Running People. Running is about fulfilling personal goals and pushing to the limit (the endless run) not for the status of becoming a marathon or ultra marathon runner or to land the cover of a flashy cereal box or magazine, but to find a connection with nature, with all of human-kind. And while most of human-kind passes on persistence hunts for grocery stores, our most basic fundamental uniting purpose continues to unite millions in recreation. This past week I have been running with my father, a marathon-distance runner who completed 34 miles in China last month, and his effortlessness and joy of running has taken hold of my spirit. I am certain I run more as McDougall did when he began training; however, my determination will not be quelled.

Another startling realization in Chapter 25! For 99.9 percent of our Running history we have used nothing but barefeet, but within the past 40 years researchers have determined padding, inflating, and insulating our feet from the ground as much as possible results in improved running form. Well since Nike put its fancy Cortez shoes on the market, the number of running related injuries have increased steadily. Some scientists have concluded that runners are 123 percent more likely to get injured than runners in cheap shoes [Bernard Marti, MD].  Why would more injuries result from inflated, bouncy, micro-chipped shoes rather than simple, thin running shoes? Well McDougall and others reason that certain shoes, often the most expensive, that insulate and contort the feet too much alter the running form so much so that injury results. Certainly the type of shoe is not the determinative factor for running injuries but if we survived so long with no shoes on our feet, it must count for something.

McDougall recounts an encounter between two Nike reps and the Stanford University track coach in 2001. In sum, the Nike reps were surprised to find the track team training barefoot upon their arrival. The head coach explained the team runs faster and suffer fewer injuries when training barefoot [I realize shoes prevent injuries from glass, etc. but in a perfect world!]. And Nike did what it does best: created the Nike Free, a thin shoe bolstered by ads containing dozens of images of sports performed without shoes and boasting the slogan “Run Barefoot”. Imagine that.

McDougall and top running coaches believe the fact that the Tarahumara and many Olympic runners spend time running in thin pieces of leather or no shoes at all must give credence to the idea that running barefoot should yield the same results as it did thousands of years ago [again remembering to account for broken bottles and other foreign objects we litter]. Some of McDougall’s conjectures are supported by hard science, others were formed after careful observation.

For a true barefoot running experience kick off the shoes and take to the streets, or try the Vibram Five Finger shoes, or anything similar! Happy running!

The book is far to detailed and filled with nuances to adequately summarize in full.  It was an inspiring read, and I recommend it to all beginning or prospective runners!

Until next time.

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