What if we were born to run?

by jon on May 28, 2012

I read a book recently that really changed my perspective on running and re-ignited my passion to get out on the pavement. It was around a time when I was struggling to run more even though I love it. The book is called “Born to Run” by Chris McDougall. So what was it about this book that made such a difference in my perspective?

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Mr. McDougall makes a very compelling argument that our evolution and anatomical structure supports the idea that we were born to run in many ways. He profiles the most elite running people in the world or the Tarahumara runners in Mexico.  They can run for 100s of miles at a time and all with barely anything on their feet. Pretty much barefoot with a small leather sandal…and that is why this book set off the barefoot running movement.

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After all kinds of IT band, foot issues and stress fractures, I got rid of my heavy, cushioned shoes in favor of a lighter version. I started with Nike Frees, tried the Mizuno Ronin, the New Balance Minimus and finally…the Vibram Five Fingers. I have even tried actual barefoot running and haven’t been injured since the change. I find that running with less on my feet lets me really feel the earth and allows me to change my stride if I am running incorrectly. I could never feel this before, which could be why I was getting injured.

But what was most fascinating to me about the Tarahumara is that they are known to have uncanny health and serenity. And mostly live free of diseases that plague the rest of the modern world. I started to wonder if we just ran more as a culture, we might actually have a lot less health problems and be happier people.

So how did so much of our culture move away from running? I think our brains are largely the culprit. As stated in the book, “Our brains have been trained to try get more for less and store energy we need for an emergency. And there’s the bit of irony: our fantastic endurance gave our brain the food it needed to grow, and now our brain is undermining our endurance. We live in a culture that sees extreme exercise as crazy…because that’s what our brain tell us: why fire up the machine if you don’t have to. When in fact we evolved as a human race by running 50-100 miles a day just to get our food.  Nearly every top killer in the Western World-heart disesase, stroke, diabetes, depression, hypertension, and dozens of forms of cancer-was unknown to our ancestors.”

However, even with all this compelling data and great reasons to run, I still struggle to get out for a run sometimes. My brain tells me “you are too tired”, “you need to relax”, or “you run too much already.” Now I believe this is totally normal since I spend most of the day at a desk or in front of a computer. Of course my brain doesn’t want me to move. But when I finish a run, I am overcome with this incredible feeling of happiness and energy. Like I was really doing something I was meant to do. So I have been working on re-training my mind with my running.

I have made it a point to run almost everyday now to help with this process. And more just to be happy, be present and really take care of my body. Sometimes I even send a short video to friends. Yes, I am that guy. Ha.

I also try to not let my brain try to take over and say, “this is too much.” Instead of thinking, I just start putting my shoes on and before long, I am outside with a big smile on my face. And who knew I never even really needed shoes…

I think it is amazing that this one remedy…running…could really be something so important to our lives and our health. So what should you do? Well as stated in the book, “just move your legs. Because if you don’t think you were born to run, you’re not only denying history. You’re denying who you are.” Or watch this incredible video that always motivates me to get out there. Whatever will get you moving and outside more on your feet. But most importantly, don’t forget your brain has been trained to tell you to “slow it down.” So it may just take some work to remind your brain that you were in fact…born to run. Have a great week.

 

 

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Nikki May 29, 2012 at 8:35 am

Great post, Jon. It inspired me to put a little extra effort into my morning run!

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jon June 3, 2012 at 7:53 pm

Thanks Nikki! Love to hear it.

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Shayne Hughes May 30, 2012 at 3:21 pm

Absolutely loved this book when I read it and have recommended to anyone that might be remotely interested. I love the section on evolution and why man started to run upright vs. on 4 legs. Fascinating.

I mountain bike instead of run, and get a similar high. The best time to go is when I’m spent from the day and have no energy to do anything. A steep climb on my bike, lungs searing, and my energy counter has been reset.

I find it a great way to clean out the stress and anxiety that can build up. When the mind chatter evaporates, often clarity emerges.

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jon June 3, 2012 at 7:54 pm

Shayne, great to hear from you. Your story about the mountain bike is great. I love that feeling too when you first get outside exercising like, “ahh, this is awesome.” It certainly brings a lot of presence and clarity. I know you read Spark too and love reading these books about how exercise impacts the brain. Fascinating stuff!

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