Thursday, November 15, 2012

Born To Run by Christopher McDougall

That's my sister in the photo above. She's become quite the runner. I'll have to write more about her in another post. In this post I want to talk about a book I recently read though. :)

A couple of years ago, my friend Rich at Jay’s Daily Grind recommended a book to me. It is called Born To Run by ChristopherMcDougall.  It’s  a book about, well, running. The book starts off by talking about how runners today seem to be prone to a lot of injuries. I can attest to the injuries. In 2000, I had developed an injury in my tibialis major muscle that sidelined me for months. I was on and off with running after that. In 2007, I had shin splints, and in 2009 and 2010 I suffered from plantar fascia and Achilles problems. Right now, my sister and brother in law are both in recuperation from running injuries. And the author of the book had also developed his own share of injuries from running.

But the book isn’t just about running injuries. It’s really the story of a tribe in Mexico called the Tarahumara. They run with no support, but just simple thin sandals on their feet. They run for dozens of miles daily and do so without injury. They do so without the latest cushioning and running shoe technology. McDougall had heard stories about this tribe, and traveled to Mexico to attempt to discover them.

The journey led him into ultra marathons, minimalist running, and also into meeting some amazing individuals who were fueled by their love of running including Caballo Blanco and Barefoot Ted. They were minimalist and barefoot runners who ran out of a love for running.

The subtitle of the book was “A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen.” The Tarahmara are a bit reclusive, and the author was extremely fortunate to be able to connect with their people. The story he tells crescendos to a race in the Copper Canyons of Mexico where a handful of ultramarathoners join a handful of Tarahumara for a race through the jungle. You’ll have to read the book to see how it goes.

What I really enjoyed about the book was that it reiterated something I had wondered about for years. McDougall mentioned that maybe all of our fancy supports in our shoes actually have served to weaken the muscles in our feet that stabilize and can prevent injury. I am not a medical professional, but I often wonder if a lot of injuries people sustain could be prevented if we were doing exercises to strengthen some of these weaker stabilizer muscles. McDougall talks a bit about the history of running, and even shares some stories of how humans are built to be able to run incredibly long distances without fatigue, something pretty unique to people.

There was one section that I took some inspiration from as well. In the book, McDougall talks about the athletic development of individuals and how most people surge to their peak performance by age 27, and that the most significant spike happens between the ages 18 and 27. And after 27, things go downhill slowly. At age 54, I believe among the Tarahumara, runners have regressed to their performance levels at age 18. I am no longer 27, but I have many years before I reach 54, and if the slope of decline is that gradual, I could probably be 75-80 and running at the level I ran in junior high, which wasn’t too bad (It just wasn’t as fast as Bobby Black, Jimmy Tunison, James Jones, or Roger Logston—those guys could fly!!!).

If you pick up the book, I hope it will inspire you on a path toward greater fitness and health, and spur you on to start walking, jogging, running, or simply getting more exercise. Even if it doesn’t inspire you to get out and exercise, it is a pretty exhilarating read, and you might find yourself with a hankering for chia seeds. 

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