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Born to Run Happy

Mike and I both devoured Born to Run while on vacation. We are suspicious of trends, but this barefoot running trend seems to have something going for it. He's switched to New Balance Minimus shoes and I've started running regularly in New Balance 730s, a transition shoe. We owe it to Muffin. She picks up and runs, screaming "Run!" and giggling with every step. We want to love running as much as she does.

In case you're not familiar with Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen, from
An epic adventure that began with one simple question: Why does my foot hurt? 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. McDougall’s incredible story will not only engage your mind but inspire your body when you realize that you, indeed all of us, were born to run.

It's mentioned in both Born to Run and ChiRunning that children are the inspiration for lots of barefoot runners. Children run for fun and they don't care about form. If you watch children carefully, their running form is what most runners consider terrible. But they are laughing the whole time they are running. Born to Run also points out that the best way to find your form for barefoot running is to imagine you are playing barefoot in the grass with a child when she runs toward the street and you have to run after her. Your body naturally snaps into the best running form without even thinking about it. Mike didn't have to imagine that, as one afternoon Muffin made a run for the parking area of the vacation cottages where we were staying. (Thankfully there were no moving cars, so she was scooped up and deposited safely back on the grass within a few seconds.) It really made Mike think about barefoot form -- after Muffin's safety of course -- and later that afternoon we went to a park so he could actually run barefoot.

I like wearing shoes. There's too much broken glass and pee on the sidewalks here, when there even are sidewalks, for me to run barefoot. I think there's definitely something to wearing minimal shoes rather than thick-heeled running shoes though. My calves have loosened up yet strengthened. I'm still having some toe problems, but Mike says he had the same problem and just like the calves, the toes will work themselves out.

And I'm thinking about running happy. I still have my Garmin to track my final time and distance but I rarely look at it while I'm running. I tell my mind to run seven miles and not worry about the time and I just do it. I watch kids play in the park. I admire women in their khurtas and running shoes. I have to admit that I get grouchy when large groups of slow walkers are blocking the path and seem to think I'm the rude one for saying "Excuse me" so I can pass by them. But I'm working on that.

Born to Run is about ultramarathon running and while I doubt I will ever reach that level of running (I'd love to try but it takes up too much time!) there was one incident in the book that inspired me more than anything else. Two people are head-to-head to win something like a 100-mile trail race. One is running with science, timing the pace, the rests, every snack, down to the second. The other runner is just out there having fun. The first runner gets pissed when the second runner passes for the win, with a smile on his face. The first runner is bitter because after all that hard work, he's supposed to be the winner and you're not supposed to be smiling after such a hard race.

After reading that, I decided I want to be the happy runner, not the bitter runner. Making that decision really seems to have taken off the pressure I'd placed on myself to be a "good" runner. What is a good runner, anyway? It's all in my head.

In related news, I downloaded the free sample of Scott Jurek's book, Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness. I'm glad I read the sample before buying the whole book. I couldn't stand his writing style. I found him to be much more sympathetic and likable in Born to Run.

(Image from I was not compensated for this post in any way. Books were purchased by me for personal reading.)


alex said…
I'm not even a runner and found that book really interesting. Did you hear this?
Natasha said…
I read "Born to Run" a couple years ago and have been running in Nike Frees since. It was a transition at first -- alternating between "regular" thick-soled stability shoes for "overpronators" and minimalist shoes -- but I eventually made the full switch and have run a couple distance races in them injury-free. I don't think I can ever go fully barefoot though.

That's disappointing about Scott Jurek -- I've had his book on my to-read list. I met him at the Chicago Marathon expo last year and got a poster signed. (It's not hanging anywhere in my house. Haha.)
Stephanie said…
Alex, I did read that news recently. The article I read made it sound like he died how he wanted, just out running on the trail.

Natasha, I'm still getting over some aches but it feels like hurting in a good way. I've given up my thick-soled shoes completely after just a month. I'd still like to meet Scott Jurek and talk to him about food even if I don't want to read his book.
I've got to say, though, when I was a kid I ran barefoot, but it didn't work out so well for me. I had excellent callouses and could walk through an alley full of broken glass, but when running I would do things like fold my big toe over, scraping the flesh off until it looked like it was down to the bone. Hurt! Ow. :( I've often wondered if I would have been a more active kid and continued to be happy running if my parents could have bought me shoes that actually fit. (Might not have been possible, because my feet are so wide from having started out barefoot for so long.)
David Moon said…
I absolutely loved Born to Run as well, and I also read the kindle sample of Jurek's book, without buying it. Another running book I liked was Marshall Ulrich's book "Running on Empty." It's about his attempt to run across the USA and break the world record. It takes him 52 days to run 3000+ miles (avg. ~59 miles per day). He's not exactly the storyteller McDougall is, but it was an honest and impressive account nonetheless.

I switched to Kinvara 3's after reading Born to Run and love them. I also have a pair of Altra Lone Peak's that are great 'sort-of' minimalist trail shoes.

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