As mentioned in an earlier post, I found Earth Runners sandals while looking for footwear that was consistent with the practice of Ahimsa (non-violence or non-hurting). The fact that people ran in these sandals, and their connection to the Raramuri (Tarahumara) running people, was interesting, but entirely beside the point for me at the time.
In a rambling conversation with my niece (which was also mentioned in the earlier post about grounding) she brought up Christopher McDougall’s book Born To Run. A few days later we were at our favorite local used bookstore, and of course they happened to have a copy.
The book begins like a mystery thriller, and remains a page-turner from start to finish. The story is beautiful and compelling. The personalities portrayed are fascinating. The book is a pleasure to read.
Beyond that, it turns out to be a book that changes people’s lives, and it has changed mine.
When I was young, I took up running. This was during the jogging boom of the 1970s. I had not been an athletic child. I was routinely among the last ones picked during P.E. class for any team sport. I was clumsy, slow, etc. Running gave me a way to be active and sporting without having to compete with anyone but myself. At first I think the attraction was about trying to find a niche. Some people played basketball. Some golfed. Some played tennis. “Yeah. I’m a runner.”
As time went on, I found that I loved the act of running even more so than the idea of it. When I ran, I felt strong and vital and free.
I also felt sore, and exhausted and miserable a lot of the time. Twisted ankles, lower back issues, sore knees and the like dogged me. I learned from chats with other runners and from running books and magazines that this was normal. The human body is just not made for this sort of activity, they said. The cardiovascular workouts are good for your heart health, in moderation, but unless you are one of the lucky ones who are genetically predisposed, be prepared to suffer, both during runs and between them. Better to stick to “low impact” activities.
At some point, the pleasure didn’t seem worth the pain, so I got out of the habit of running. Once in awhile I would try to take it up again, but as I got older I became convinced that it was something that I just couldn’t do anymore.
Part of the beauty of McDougall’s story is that he found himself in a similar situation. Podiatrists (and nearly everyone else he consulted) told him that the human body – especially his body, which he describes a being Shrek like in those days – is not suited to running. Then he finds this tribe of folks who run incredible distances well into old age, injury free, wearing home made sandals that are little more than rubber tire treads strapped to the soles of their feet with thong. He gets swept up in the efforts of Micah True (one of the central characters of the book) to hold an ultra marathon in Mexico’s Cooper Canyons, and in the process uncovers a secret. Our species’ bodies are not only well suited to the activity of running, but actually evolved specifically to run long distances. We are, all of us, truly born to run.
On June 3rd of 2023 I pulled on my Earth Runners and ran down the street a few blocks just to see how it felt. It felt good. That was the beginning of a very cool journey of discovery. What I’m learning is that running does not have to be a test of will, every day a struggle to push through inevitable pain and suffering. It can be an opportunity to discover the limits of pleasure rather than the limits of endurance. I started with very short runs, and then added a block or two at a time as long as it continued to feel good. Three or four miles a day is my usual distance at the moment. Recovery time is minimal. No lingering soreness. No exhaustion. No ill effects.
There are some things that I’m paying attention to that have helped, of course. I’m working on keeping a short stride with my feet landing directly under my hips as much as possible. The single most important factor though, for me at least, seems to be that running in thin-soled, flat footwear prohibits long strides and heavy heel strikes. It just hurts too much to run that way, so we learn to stop doing it. So running in this sort of footwear (or barefoot) virtually forces you into better form. It’s not that our bodies aren’t made for running. It’s that they aren’t made for running in heavily cushioned footwear with hefty drops, “stability control,” arch support and such. Let your feet move the way they should, and they will provide all the support that you need.
Through this book, I have joined thousands of others around the world who have found the joy of returning to our deep ancestral heritage. We have learned that like the Raramuri, we are all the Running People.