Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest ..., by Christopher McDougall
I found this book accidentally. I was into running for last nine months and was looking for a book about itm just to look on other people's experiences. I googled bestselling books about running and was not very impressed. Mostly, it is how-to books and autobiographies of famous atheletes and I was not interested in either. I remembered few titles though, and when I visited local bookstore and saw Born to Run, I decided to give it a chance.
I will tell it right now - this book has changed the way I run, and my attitude toward running. It is not any kind of how-to/self-help manual, it is a solid and well written non-fiction. Author is not a running coach. Christopher McDougall is an journalist and writer, and obviously, a person who loves to run. His book was motivated by very simple question that I think every runner asked themselves: why do my legs hurt? The same question I was asking myself for last couple of months as well.
The main argument that the book unveils can be divided into two: humans are born runners and that modern running shoes are the cause of all current running injuries. As I am writing this, I realize that this sounds a bit absurd.
So let’s unpack it.
People are not born fast runners. In fact, among animals, human is the worst in speed runs. Instead, people are born long-distance runners. Fascinating anthropological puzzle the book uncovers is how primitive people survived without tools and weapon at very early stages of history. All other animals were better in everything: they run faster, they hide better, their vision is better, they teeth are sharper and their body is stronger. As weapons and tools were not invented at the time, humans had nothing to compete with wild predators. And yet, the ever-growing human brain required more and more proteins, which at the time, could be found in large amounts only in animal meat. So, on the one had, you had to feed your body with animal meat in order to survive, and on the other hand, you have to compete with predators for this meal and for them, you are perfect evening meal.
So what people would do? The book explains the theory of persistence hunting, where people in group chose an target, for example, an antelope, hunt after it and separate it from its pack, and run after it until the animal drops dead due to tiredness and overheating. At the first, the antelope would run fast and it will be very successful, however, people would not give up running after it. Animal body cannot sweat like humans do, and at some point after a long run and chasing, animal would stop as it body gets overheated. Thats where the running group of people would circle it.
In sum, long-distance running was humans’ evolutionary advantage. But then, if it is so, the book asks, why do most people hate running and got injured all the time?
Here comes the second part of the book’s argument — modern running shoes inhibit people’s ability to run naturally and caus all kinds of injures. Historically, people run barefoot. Even these days, people living in farthest points on the Earth still walk and run barefoot. As running was essential for hunting and surviving, human leg's surface evolved into sensitivity touchscreen that can feel and analyze the surface it was running on. The trick is that your feet is very strong or that its sole is unbreakable by any surface. The trick is that when you run barefoot, you feel the surface you are running on better and this pushes to adjust your run accordingly to avoid injuries. In contrast, when you run in your huge Nikes or Rebooks or Pumas with thick spongy sole, you do not really differentiate between rocks, grass, asphalt or any other surface. It is like swiping your smartphone with gloves on — it just does not work. Although shoes indeed provide protection, they overprotect legs to the extent that we fully gave up control over our run and stop adjusting our feet movements under different surface.
There is really no magic or superpower character to this argument. Try walking and then running barefoot on city asphalt and you will see how cautious and easy touching your legs become. If you run on asphalt the same way as you run in your puffy running shoes — it will hurt damn much. I know, I tried. In short, barefoot running was there forever, and running shoes appeared only in late 1960s. Since you do not feel surface, you plunge you feet to the ground and all the pressure and weight power that you pushed to the ground hits back at you. That is the cause of all injuries.
I hope I was able to get on the basics of the argument of the book, but there is much more. There is really no dogmatic or moral argumentation that shoes are bad and corporations that sell them do not know what they do. Rather there is an interesting and catching story-telling with the plot and main characters that develop these arguments into easy to follow narrative.
This book did not teach me any running technique. It did not teach how to run for long and do not get tired. There is no special secrets it holds that will help you to become a super runner. Rather, it changed my perspective toward running. I would even say, it taught a philosophy of running, something I did not think about before. I learned to be woke and present during my run and pay attention to my legs, body and mind. I learned not get drawn away in music during the run as I often do, but be here and now. Its not about immediately taking off my shoes and starting running barefoot. Rather, its about being attentive to legs and feel and understand surfaces better.
Finally, the book emphasizes the need to enjoy running and do not make it a hustle or a burden or just a check-point in your fitness program. My favorite quote is the one that I always remember at the start of each run:
“Think Easy, Light, Smooth, and Fast. You start with easy, because if that’s all you get, that’s not so bad. Then work on light. Make it effortless, like you don’t give a shit how high the hill is or how far you’ve got to go. When you practiced that so long that you forget you’re practicing, you work on making it smooooooth. You won’t have to worry about last one — you get those three, and you’ll be fast.”