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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Born to Run

This is both a training post and a book review.  Strengthening the legs and cardio is a great way to train for the MS150.  Here's a book review of a book on running a friend recommended.  It also has an MS connection.  Scott Jurek's mother had MS.  Scott is one of the ultra-marathoners highlighted in the book.

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall.

Ok.  First of all let me say -- I like this book and would recommend it to anyone who wants to be athletic in any way.  The "secrets" the author reveals about running can easily be transferred to other sports, even to life in general.  It's a good book.  That said let me say there were a few parts where I just thought -- what in the world?  That's crazy?!  Ok.  Maybe lots of parts but the author was able to defend his positions and in most cases make me want to believe.  Other times though I just thought he was off his rocker LOL  For instance:

Page 241
"... caring for kids on the fly isn't that hard, as American ultra-runner Kami Semick demonstrates; she likes to run mountain trails around Bend Oregon, with her four-year-old daughter, Baronie, riding along in a backpack."

Ha!  There is NO way I'm going to be strapping my 45-pound 4-year-old to my back and running (even walking) anywhere!  That's why I go to Weight Watchers -- so I DON'T have to carry extra weight around!  In his next breath he writes -- "Emily Baer beat ninety other men and women to finish eighth overall while stopping at every aid station to breast-feed her infant son."  Good for you Emily.  Not happening any time soon with me!  LOL

Most things in the book though excited and inspired me.  Barefoot running.  Lighter, smaller, meatless meals.  Running quick and light as if running on hot coals.  Japanese monks running marathons daily for seven years.  It made me -- someone who still struggles to run more than two or three miles -- feel like I could run 10 or 20 miles no problem!  Fifty miles?  Piece of cake!  It made running seem fun and effortless and even natural!  When Marianne said she needed a running partner this week I eagerly volunteered.  "I'm running 14.5 miles," she said as she looked at me with that "are you crazy?  there is no way you can do this" look.  I only hesitated a little.  Then I went home and ran three miles.  Hmmmmm.... hesitation started brewing.  It does that after a run when I nurse my aching legs but then I remember the book, the inspirational stories, the "secrets" and I again start thinking of doing crazy things like running 50 miles in hills and canyons, past dead snakes and through raging rivers! :-)

The author starts the book talking about his experience with running.  While he was far more injury prone than I tend to be, his journey sounded very familiar.  He was running two or three miles every other day.  In his words he was "barely running at all."  He was tall and heavy.  Taller and heavier than me but I relate to the spirit-animal name he was given in Mexico -- Oso, Bear.   Yep.  I felt heavy and big as a runner.  In fact as a teenager I was out running once and a car actually pulled over to ask me if I was alright!  I must have looked pathetic.  That experience made me stop running for over two decades!  I didn't start running again until I was 40.  Yep.  And still I will oftentimes opt to run on the treadmill alone because I don't like to run in public.  Crazy, eh?   Anyhow.  By the end of the book this same guy is running a 50-mile ultra-marathon race in the canyons of Mexico.  Of course it took him a year or two to get there but still!  That's incredible!

The author reveals the secrets of ultra-marathon running while telling the stories of a tribe of runners in Mexico (the Tarahumara) and a handful of ultra-marathon runners.  Very interesting characters.  Very compelling story.  As he introduces new characters he introduces new running "secrets."

One character is named Barefoot Ted.  He actually ran the 50-mile Mexico ultra-marathon barefoot.  He's always wearing some shoes called Vibram Five Fingers.  I looked them up.  They look cool!  There is at least one chapter dedicated to barefoot running.  The author talks about why it's good and gives great success stories of runners that used barefoot running to build strength in their feet and legs.  It has inspired me so much that I run the first bit of my runs barefoot now.  Well, in socks that is.  The treadmill can be a bit brutal on naked feet!  I love running barefoot though.  It makes it much easier to run light and easy and it feels much more natural.  When I put my shoes back on after a mile it takes a bit to get adjusted.  It feels heavy and not so as good.  There's no way I could run outside barefoot though! 

Two other characters are Jenn and Billy.  A California surfing couple.  They decided to try running but decided that if it ever became less fun than surfing than they would stop.  They would run at midnight and quote their favorite authors.  They had fun running.  "When I'm on a long run," the books quotes Jenn as saying, "the only thing in life that matters is finishing the run.  For once, my brain isn't going blehblehbleh all the time. Everything quiets down, and the only thing going on is pure flow.  It's just me and the movement and the motion."  It's things like that, quotes from people about running -- how it makes them feel -- that gets me excited about running (that and stories about people running fast! :-).  Basically Billy and Jenn loved running.  They had fun with it.  Kind of like the Tarahumara runners.  

The author talks about when the Tarahumara runners came to Colorado to run in the Leadville 100 ultra-marathon.  They were scrambling up hills and smiling -- even after going for several miles.  They enjoyed what they were doing.  Makes sense.  If you are going to run for that long it better be fun!  That made me think of the following quote from the book:  P. 211 "'The Tarahumara aren't great runners.... They're great athletes'.... Runners are assembly-line workers; they become good at one thing -- moving straight ahead at a steady speed -- and repeat that motion until overuse fritzes out the machinery.  Athletes are Tarzans.  Tarzan swims and wrestles and jumps and swings on vines.  He's strong and explosive.  You never know what Tarzan will do next, which is why he never gets hurt."  Interesting, eh?  I guess I need to overcome my pride and start running off of the injury causing treadmill!  

Another character is Scott Jurek.  Ultra-marathon legend.  Not a flashy kind of a guy.  The secret of running that he had mastered is running with others in mind.  He takes time to think of others even in the midst of running hard and breaking world records.  He is a nice guy.  He isn't buried within himself as he ran.  He runs for the love of running and is gracious when he loses (which isn't very often!).  Incidentally, he also eats a Vegan diet.  Very similar to the Tarahumara diet.  

According to the book, the Tarahumara diet is basically pinto beans, squash, chili peppers, wild greens, pinole and lots of chia (p. 209).  Not a lot of meat -- even though there is hefty part of the book dedicated to persistence hunting (basically running after antelope etc. until they fall over exhausted.)  It's interested me enough to look up chia and pinole.  We will be having less meat for a while.  Maybe even some chia :-)  We'll see how that goes.  Bill has already told me he's not terribly excited about this part of the runner's journey :-)

Technique?  Think light and easy, knees bent and driving forward, back straight.  This made sense to me.  I read Chi Running about a year ago.  Good book.  Posture and technique definitely make for a nicer run.  The other thing I found interesting was the idea of running at 180 beats per minute (p. 205).  Apparently Kenyan barefoot runners run like they are running on hot coals.  Short, quick, light strides --- and fast!  Speed is something that would definitely make running a lot more fun :-)  

All in all this was a good book.  I read it really quickly, could hardly put it down.  Very inspiring.  Two thumbs up.


  1. Christopher McDougall was on Radio West yesterday. This is a link to the interview. Very interesting. Once again it inspired me to want to run -- and to run barefoot :-)


  2. I have a pair of vibram five fingers. I started running in them and soon came up lame. You really have to CAREFULLY transition into them. You use different muscles when you run in them and I ended up with some wicked shin splints. I did like the light feeling of running in them and I hope to transition into them once I am done training for this triathlon.

  3. Good to know! I don't think I run enough to worry too much about transitioning. LOL I'm basically still starting out. Slow and steady :-) I'd love to try the Vibram Five Fingers. Online it says that 26.2 has some. I need to check that out. Where did you get yours?