Through the Prism

After passing through the prism, each refraction contains some pure essence of the light, but only an incomplete part. We will always experience some aspect of reality, of the Truth, but only from our perspectives as they are colored by who and where we are. Others will know a different color and none will see the whole, complete light. These are my musings from my particular refraction.

6.19.2010

Born to Run Review

For the first time, it hit me how cut off we were; we had no way of knowing what was going on in the outside world, or letting the outside world know what was happening to us. We were putting a hell of a lot of trust in Caballo, and once again, I had to wonder why; as knowledgeable as Caballo was, it still seemed crazy to put our lives in the hands of a guy who didn’t seem too concerned about his own.

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Christopher McDougall’s epic adventure began with a simple question: Why did his foot hurt? He was trying to run 2-3 miles 2-3 times a week, but couldn’t stay injury-free enough to do so. Doctors and experts consistently told him it just wasn’t meant to be; his body wasn’t built for running and he needed to find another activity. But if that was so, then why were so many other people so successful at running massive distances? And what was the secret of the mysterious, reclusive, so-called running people of Mexico? According to legend, they could all run 60 miles a day, day after day, until well into their late years. If doctors wouldn’t give him a satisfactory answer, he’d try to find out for himself.

The short version of the answer McDougall found is that the modern running shoe has taught us to run with incorrect mechanics. By cushioning the heel and allowing us to land on it, shoes have caused us to lengthen our stride, extending our legs in a way that creates a much harder impact and jerkier motion. We need to rediscover our natural gait, with our feet gently landing directly underneath us while our knees stay bent in a shorter, more fluid movement. Of all the creatures of the earth humans have the bodies most well designed for distance running, and we’re all more than capable of ultra distances if we can unlearn our bad habits and begin to function the way we were built to.

That’s the summary, but McDougall shares his entire journey of conversion and more. He’s one heck of an entertaining storyteller, and he has woven countless tales throughout the book. In his quest to discover his own inner runner, he has been part of a convergence of U.S. ultra marathoning and the Tarahumara people of remote Mexico. Along the way he’s had more than his share of adventures into the Mexican wild lands, science, and the ultrarunning subculture, and met an amazing number of amazingly colorful people. Reading about them is endlessly fascinating. His inquiry started well before his training, but less than a year after McDougall started relearning how to run in the barefoot manner of the Tarahumara, he successfully joined their best runners and a group of the top ultra runners from the U.S. in a fifty mile race up and down (not through) some of the wildest, most severe canyons in the world. He develops the story so well that I wanted all of the (real) characters to win that climactic race and couldn’t decide who to root for. Even if you’re not interested in learning to run like him, it’s an absorbing and stirring story.

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We followed the stony riverbank for a mile, then turned into a dry gully. Without a word, we all spontaneously broke into a trot. The gully was wide and sandy, leaving plenty of room for Scott and Barefoot Ted to flank Caballo and run three abreast.

"Check out their feet," said Eric. Even though Scott was in the Brooks trail shoe he’d helped design and Caballo was in sandals, they both skimmed their feet over the ground just the way Ted did in his bare feet, their foot strikes in perfect sync. It was like watching a team of Lipizzaner stallions circle the show ring.

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By the eve of Race Day, our numbers had tripled from eight to twenty-five. Up and down Urique’s main street, debate over who was now the true top seed was running hot: Was it Caballo Blanco, the wily old veteran who’d poached the secrets of both American and Tarahumara runners? Or the Urique Tarahumara, experts on the local trails who had hometown pride and support on their side? Some money was riding on Billy Bonehead, the Young Wolf, whose surf-god physique drew admiring stares whenever he went for a swim in the Urique River. But the heaviest street action was divided between the two stars: Arnulfo, king of the Copper Canyons, and El Venado, his mysterious foreign challenger.

"Si, senor," I replied to the shopkeeper. "Arnulfo won a one-hundred-kilometer race in the canyons three times. But the Deer has won a one-hundred-mile race in the mountains seven times."

"But it’s very hot down here," the shopkeeper retorted. "The Tarahumara, they eat heat."

"True. But the Deer won a one-hundred-thirty-five-mile race across a desert called Death Valley in the middle of summer. No one has ever run it faster."

"No one beats the Tarahumara," the shopkeeper insisted.

"So I’ve heard. So who are you betting on?"

He shrugged. "The Deer."

The Urique villagers had grown up in awe of the Tarahumara, but this tall gringo with the flashy orange shoes was unlike anyone they’d ever seen. It was eerie watching Scott run side by side with Arnulfo; even though Scott had never seen the Tarahumara before and Arnulfo had never seen the outside world, somehow these two men separated by two thousand years of culture had developed the same running style. They’d approached from opposite ends of history, and met precisely in the middle.

I first saw it up on Batopilas mountain, after we’d finally gotten to the top and the trail flattened as it circled the peak. Arnulfo took advantage of the plateau to open it up. Scott locked in beside him. As the trail curled into the setting sun, the two of them vanished into the glare. For a few moments, I couldn’t tell them apart--they were two fiery silhouettes moving with identical rhythm and grace.

"Got it!" Luis said, dropping back to show me the image in his digital camera. He’d sprinted ahead and wheeled around just in time to capture everything I’d come to understand about running over the past two years. It wasn’t Arnulfo’s and Scott’s matching form so much as their matching smiles; they were both grinning with sheer muscular pleasure, like dolphins rocketing through the waves.


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Comment I added to the review:

Browsing through the reviews, I see some readers were put off by the times McDougall seems to be making a sales pitch. He’s definitely making a persuasive case about something he feels passionately. But if you’ve ever been a runner, you know what he’s talking about and it’s not snake oil. At times in my life I’ve made a habit of running 10 miles at 10 at night, almost always feeling better after I finished rather than tired or sore. I’ve gotten up at 2 a.m. in the dead of winter to run a hill workout because I was too agitated to sleep. I’ve gone out at noon in 100 degree weather because that’s what my schedule allowed and it was too good to miss. In college I wrote a research paper about runner’s addiction because I could relate. Runner’s high really is as awesome as advertised. One of McDougall’s main contentions is that running and compassion go together. I feel I was a kinder, gentler, better (though more reclusive and with less initiative) person when I ran more. I’m 90 pounds heavier now than at my peak and struggle to get through 4 miles without walking these days, so it wasn’t good enough to keep me totally hooked and disciplined, but I’ve felt it and always want it back. I can see how you might not be convinced by him if you haven’t experienced what he’s talking about, but what he’s selling is real and if you have experienced it I don’t see how you won’t love this book.

1 Comments:

At 6/20/2010 9:50 PM, Blogger Hadrian said...

Still looking forward to the book despite my associations with running: shin splints, ankle pain, and phlegm. Yeah, that's right, phlegm.

 

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