Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Born To Run For A Little While Then Stop

So I read Born to Run. Well, I put it into my brain through my ears via audiobook.

If you aren't hip to the trend, in Born to Run, Christopher MacDougall advocates for barefoot and minimally-shod running while telling the story of the sandal-wearing Tarahumara Indians and their running exploits, both in the U.S. and in their own Copper Canyon.  It's a hell of a tale, ending in a corker of a foot race through the hot, treacherous canyon with a Seven Samurai-worthy cast of characters.

MacDougall has a persuasive argument for (a) the anthropological evidence that our bodies were molded into running machines by a high-mileage lifestyle in the hundred thousand years we spent growing big, meat-eating brains and yet were not quite smart enough to make spears, and (b) the fact that our intricately arched feet are more damaged by the heel-strike running style that the modern running shoe enforces than by running in nothing at all.

MacDougall and several other like-minded barefoot-running or minimal-running enthusiasts and advocates urge that to go barefoot means to relearn to run, focusing on landing on either the lateral side of the midfoot or the ball of the foot, shortening your stride, and straightening your posture. He believes with these changes, runners (like himself) will be able to run longer with fewer injuries.

I bought it. It's worth a try. I've never been able to run longer distances over a long term without injury, pain or whining, and running shoe stores always outfit me with the "beast" style shoes for the problem pronators, something that MacDougall says only makes you more prone to injuries. What the hell? I have nothing to lose, since I wore out my last pair of running shoes by doing nothing but walking. I will give barefoot running a try, but with a skeptical eye, and a slow-and-steady approach.

I started, as many suggest, by slipping my shoes off once I got to the park, and running around the perimeter of the grass soccer fields for a mile or so.  It felt SPECTACULAR. And Scotty liked it too. I kinda felt like a kid, and not a little silly, but I kept it up for a week, and at the end of the week, I was ready to take the next step.

Although Nike has a bad rep in the barefoot running community by singlehandedly inventing the running shoe industry, I know a nice person who works at Nike, and I was able to get a screaming deal on a pair of Nike Frees, their entry into the barefoot running trend - a light slipper with a flexy sole - just enough to protect the foot, seemingly without messing with one's natural barefoot stylings.

I have worn them twice since I bought them, and I have to say, I am cautiously optimistic. My runs felt, if a little self-conscious about my new mid-foot strike style, quite easy and less tiring than usual, and my feet and legs feel no scary consequences other than a little (expected) tightness in the Achilles area (minimal shoes have minimal heels, unlike my usual stability runners).

I will report back if this fad sticks to me. I do tend to go whole hog on things. For a little while. Then I stop.

However, whether you buy the barefoot running thing or no, I do recommend the book. The story woven throughout is a page turner, and there is a lot of knowledge worth knowing in there.


Michelle Douglas said...

I read this book and it's great. It's also true that Nike has a bad rep in the barefoot community. They better stick with their running shoes. I personally love Vibram Five Fingers Moc over Nike in terms of comfort and convenience and I use it primarily as an aqua shoes whenever I go to the beach. There's also a book on "Benefits of Barefoot Running" which I came across last two days ago while surfing online. The reviews are awesome but I forgot the author. I'll search for it again.

Have a pleasant day!

piglet said...

I read Peter Sagal's review of the Vibrams in Runner's World. I think they would be my last choice, just for looks alone. I admit I am way too socially awkward to wear such a visually awkward shoe.,7120,s6-240-400--12828-0,00.html