Are We Born to Run?

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen (2011) by Christopher McDougall

 Summary from Amazon.com…
Isolated by Mexico’s deadly Copper Canyons, the blissful Tarahumara Indians have honed the ability to run hundreds of miles without rest or injury. In a riveting narrative, award-winning journalist and often-injured runner Christopher McDougall sets out to discover their secrets. In the process, he takes his readers from science labs at Harvard to the sun-baked valleys and freezing peaks across North America, where ever-growing numbers of ultra-runners are pushing their bodies to the limit, and, finally, to a climactic race in the Copper Canyons that pits America’s best ultra-runners against the tribe.

 

I’ve been on the road for work a lot this summer…like A LOT. One way I pass the time is to listen to some great audio books from the local library. Yes, they may be a bit dated, but they are FREE, so I am a fan. With that being said, there are several books that have been inspiring some thought over the past few weeks; the first of those is a book that has been my favorite so far this summer called ‘Born to Run’ by Chris McDougall. This is more of a reflection than a review…

I first remember long distance running during ‘conditioning’ practices when playing high school soccer. I heard about these days, filled with ten mile runs, endless heat, exhaustion, and pain. I feared these days.

I was a little surprised, when after two weeks of running all over the city during such conditioning practices… I was still standing. This was one of the first times I learned about the human body’s miraculous ability to adapt to limits that I once thought were impossible. A new world was revealed!

Over the years I kept running, more of an afterthought more than anything else. I ran to stay fit, just as much of my other exercise was focused. Every now and again I would join in playing more sports, or lifting weights, even biking and swimming. To be honest, I’ve just always enjoyed staying active; it makes me feel better and healthier, so every now and again I ran a mile or two, and didn’t give it much more thought.

In what seemed like the slow, imperceptible, transition into adulthood, I found myself altering exercises, hobbies, and passions. Over the past few years I started to enjoy running more and more. I started watching Youtube videos, talking with friends, and looking at running shoes. One day my friend Emy and I were talking; she was training for a marathon. We talked about foot strikes, and how she learned to run differently; something called a forefoot strike. At first I dismissed this notion as simply an odd trend…a fad more than anything. Why would anyone first want to run a marathon, and secondly, run with a different stride than a heel strike? So I continued to research further.

Last summer I decided it was time for me to try this running thing a bit more seriously. I bought some new shoes, found a running program, changed my stride to a forefoot strike…and injured myself. Maybe I jumped in too soon with too many miles, maybe I was running with an unhealthy stride after years of heel strikes. All I know is that I was ready to try this running thing and train, and now I was sidelined.

Eventually my legs healed up, and I began to run again. I learned a lot about patience and persistence. Earlier this year I ran my first 10k. Just a few months ago I ran my first half marathon! Yes, there have been minor injuries, but for the most part I’ve enjoyed the running process.

But was I really enjoying myself? Was I running to the best of my abilities? Was I running in a way that would prevent further injuries, and create a lifelong of health and wellbeing? After all, don’t all runners end up with bad knees and legs anyways?

I was asking these questions as I came across this book. I know it’s a bit dated, but I’ve never read (or listened to) a book about running before. I was hooked! First of all, it’s a great book even if you’re just looking to hear a great story. The characters are fantastic, the plot moves quickly, and the world that it depicts is really fascinating. But most importantly, this book shared a passion for running that is simply contagious.

Am I now a minimalist runner like many characters in the book? Well, no. But I am much more aware of how I run, and most importantly, why I run.

So why do I enjoy running? I run because it is a wonderful way for a person like me to enjoy the outdoor world while also pushing my own limits (I think of it as really fast hiking). Running helps me relax, work off stress, keep up my metabolism moving, and stretch out after a long day of sitting in the office. Running is filled with wonderful life lessons, from the spiritual to the practical. I run to experience the freedom and identity as a human being that McDougall captures with the stories of the ultra runners. I run to stay healthy and fit, but most importantly to celebrate being fully alive.

Just a few months ago I said I would never even think of running a marathon. Now, after learning to thoroughly enjoy running for the sake of running itself, I am beginning to understand why so many others do run such races. So I’ll keep running as long as I enjoy it. I’ll run further than I have ever done so in my life before. If that means 15 miles, then that’s great. If it means a marathon, then better yet. If running takes me even further, then I guess I’ll keep going. At the end of the day, this book allowed me to re-understand running from what at first I feared, to now as something that I can’t live without. ‘Born to Run’ helped capture this passion in a most life-giving way.

 

 

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