I was Born To Run…

Here’s the good news, so were you. I recently finished Chris McDougall’s book, Born to Run, where he tells the story of the birth of running and a hidden tribe, superhuman athletes,  and an incredible ultra (not many had chance to see).

If we were born to run how come it’s so difficult?

One of my favourite themes of B2R is how we, humans, have engineered laziness. TV. The internet. Our hand-held, portable communication devices. Yes technology advances and it’s wonderful, but these little bits of technology eat into our necessary physical activity time. It’s so hard to run because so few of us practice running too infrequently.

Why are runners always complaining about injury?

Another theme of McDougall’s book is injury. The idea for this book was partially due to the fact that he was always injured while running, and it’s not like he was trying to train for an ultra, let alone a marathon. He wanted to be active and chose to run some miles a couple times per week. From every runner I know all of them have been injured and McDougall claims in B2R that 8 out of 10 of us will be injured when running! Those rates are higher than divorce so why do we commit to running?

Why do we run? Because we love it. Because it’s a simple activity to do before or after a work day. Because it’s a great time to think. Unfortunately I am no stranger to injuries. From a pulled intercostal muscle, knee pain to the latest another stress fracture in my shin? (Grrr, yes pot hole you won this time!). How come the Tarahumara never seem to be injured? (because there are not potholes in the Copper Canyon Mountains!) Here are some of McDougall’s reasons and my interpretations:

  • Shoes: Your shoes might be your own worst enemy. Heel posts. Stiff mid-arch supports. Gel. Rubber. Inflexible. These types of shoes help to make your feet weaker and think you can land in superhuman ways on dense, resistive concrete.  Thanks to the Nike Frees and other minimalist shoes things are looking better for our feet. Our feet will get stronger and we are more aware of how we land and where our weight is going. The Nike Frees are my favourite; the fashionhista in me comes out and fashion meets function! Or go barefoot. I recently wrote a training tip for the Sears Great Canadian Run on Easing yourself into barefoot running. Check out my training tip and the great cause they support.
  • Where we run: The Tarahumara do not run in the concrete jungles that so many of us live in. They run along the dirt trails in the Copper Canyon mountains. Remember Newton’s Laws? The third law says for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The amount of pressure that is transferred from the ground to our foot and through our bodies is based on the density of the material we run upon; density and pressure are related through deflection, or how much you compress a material. Concrete has a density of 2.4 g/cm^3 (asphalt is just below that at 2.24 g/cm^3). But compacted soil is well below that at 1.1-1.5g/cm^3. For arguments sake let’s say that a compacted trail will displace or compress about the same as a concrete sidewalk. That’s a lot more pressure exerted on your legs every time you run on concrete!
  • Form: The Tarahumara have these short, rapid strides where we tend to run with long strides. The Tarahumara land mid to forefoot with their foot almost underneath them where we land on our heels with our legs almost full extended. Step back for a second and think about how jarring it is on your back and your legs to land with your leg fully extended; that’s a huge impact! And the smaller the area you land on the larger the pressure; conversely the greater the area the smaller the pressure. Your forefoot has a greater area than your heel. In skiing we call it being ‘stacked’ when all your joints align and you can use your muscles in succession to generate the greatest force throughout the turn. You almost want the opposite in running, you want your joints to be stacked so when you land you minimize the pressure and resulting force on your body.

McDougall’s book B2R is well worth the read. His writing is brilliant and it tells us the history of running, and why we really were born to run.