Sunday, September 11, 2011

Born To Run

I wrote earlier about my desire to learn to run again. It's gone fairly well. I have not pushed myself too hard in terms of mileage or frequency, but I'm happy to say that I've enjoyed it. I've been trying to feel a good pace (on the order of 8 minutes per mile) and avoid injury. It's been short, frequent repeats: half mile at a time on the road; quarter mile laps on a track.

My oldest daughter returned from a summer spent working in San Francisco. She had a pair of Vibram shoes and an autographed copy of Christopher McDougall's Born To Run. I asked her if I could read it.

I was hooked on the first page.

It's a riveting story, even if you're not interested in running. I recommend it to everyone. It begins with a visit to his doctor and a question: "Why does my foot hurt?" He's a middle aged runner, like me, trying to figure out why this activity is breaking his body down.

He learns about the Tarahumara, a Mexican Indian tribe that is legendary for their ultra-marathon prowess. It's a journey of discovery; he goes to the Copper Canyons to find them and learn their secrets.

That's a compelling beginning, but I think it was the way he wove other characters and places into the narrative that grabbed me. He introduced American runners and events. It all culminates with a race over rugged terrain between the Tarahumara and American challengers, including the author.

It's great stuff.

I loved the tie-in with evolution and biology. Homo sapiens is the ultimate marathon running species. Our bodies have evolved a unique combination of attributes that make us great runners (e.g. temperature regulation via sweating through the skin; Achilles tendon; a tendon to keep our heads from wobbling when we run; the capability to take multiple breaths per stride).

The day after I finished the book I went to the place where I swim to get a workout in before heading over to work. I noticed one of the fitness counselors had the book cover in the collage hanging on the wall that described his interests. I was astonished to see a newspaper clipping showing Christopher McDougall leading a group of barefoot runners in Bushnell Park last October!

I decided that I'd give barefoot running a try.

There's a small track upstairs from the pool. It's a mere 1/11th of a mile long, but it seemed like a safe place to try out barefoot running. I went up one day and ran two miles in bare feet. It felt strange but good.

The next days were difficult. My calves have not been worked like that in a long time, and the soles of my feet were on fire! But I was willing, even eager, to try it again.

My next effort was outside on a rubberized track at my local high school. It was far too much sensation for my poor feet, so I had to run on the grass instead. One visit turned into another. I ran again in bare feet tonight. It felt fine. I may begin to enjoy this.

I also picked up a copy of Ken Bob Saxon's Running Barefoot. I learned a lot reading it; I'm looking forward to putting it into practice. I was checking my cadence all afternoon. I wasn't able to make the 180+ per minute cadence, but I was consistently in the 160-180 range. I was easy, light, and smooth.

My latest goal is still in sight. The journey's been a good one so far.

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