The Once and Future Way to Run

Runners have it bad. 8 of 10 active runners succumb to injury every year. I’m a pretty light runner, but I’ve been lucky so far to be in the other 2 of 10. I’d love to keep running for a long time, and although I’d heard about barefoot running a lot, I’d largely dismissed it as the ravings of a bunch of weirdos.

Then, my friend Reid tweeted the New York Times article called The Once and Future Way to Run which first briefly introduces the author’s book Born to Run:

We were once the greatest endurance runners on earth. We didn’t have fangs, claws, strength or speed, but the springiness of our legs and our unrivaled ability to cool our bodies by sweating rather than panting enabled humans to chase prey until it dropped from heat exhaustion. Some speculate that collaboration on such hunts led to language, then shared technology. Running arguably made us the masters of the world.

So how did one of our greatest strengths become such a liability? “The data suggests up to 79 percent of all runners are injured every year,” says Stephen Messier, the director of the J. B. Snow Biomechanics Laboratory at Wake Forest University… Nothing seems able to check it: not cross-training, not stretching, not $400 custom-molded orthotics, not even softer surfaces. And those special running shoes everyone thinks he needs? In 40 years, no study has ever shown that they do anything to reduce injuries.

Two years ago, in my book, “Born to Run,” I suggested we don’t need smarter shoes; we need smarter feet. I’d gone into Mexico’s Copper Canyon to learn from the Tarahumara Indians, who tackle 100-mile races well into their geriatric years. I was a broken-down, middle-aged, ex-runner when I arrived. Nine months later, I was transformed. After getting rid of my cushioned shoes and adopting the Tarahumaras’ whisper-soft stride, I was able to join them for a 50-mile race through the canyons. I haven’t lost a day of running to injury since.

For whatever reason, this account moved me from skeptic to wanting to do it. Practically speaking, this is a bad time for me to start barefoot running. We’re in mid-fall and I don’t want to be learning this stuff while running in a Manitoba winter. But the article also has a video where the author demonstrates an old exercise regiment he discovered that helps barefoot runners develop better form, something that’s hard to do. I’m going to be doing this as part of my daily wake-up routine on days I don’t run. The video is on the original article.

4 responses to “The Once and Future Way to Run”

  1. I read the book a couple years ago and have been running in (and generally wearing) minimalist shoes for the last year. It takes some adjustment to get used to them, but I think its very healthy and beneficial to do it. The key to avoiding injury though is just to not increase your mileage too quickly, that’ll get you no matter what kind of shoes you wear.

  2. Nice post. I find myself leaning more towards distance cycling these days. I can’t seem to get into running. It always feels like taking cod-liver oil.

    A cycling friend of mine says that theres a saying: a runner is a person who doesn’t own a bike. :)

  3. @Halden Cool. I actually went out and tried this method today, and my calves and ankles are killing me. I overdid I think. I still have my old “normal” shoes too, which needs to be remedied.

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