National Best Selling author of Born to Run, Christopher McDougall stopped off in Spokane to run with the locals and discuss his book. Invited as part of the Get Lit! Festival he spoke of his journey to become a successful writer, future projects, and his passion for running. Jenni attended the event and shares her experience with the book and meeting the author.
A few years back I read Born to Run. At the time I ran once in a while, short distances, mostly incorporated in my work-outs. My body never really felt good running but I enjoyed the famed “runner’s high” once in a while. My inconsistent running jaunts were sporadic, not timed, length unknown, and completed in my bulky traditional running shoes that an “expert” at a local running shop told me to purchase. Upon completion of the book I was more motivated than ever to be more efficient at running, focus on my form, and ditched those padded shoes.
When I began running in my minimal shoes I felt more connected with the ground. I actually felt my feet contact the ground, my toes reacting to the terrain below. I changed my mechanics by landing lighter, contacting the ground with the front part of my foot, and slightly shortened my stride. I wore these shoes in my regular workouts as well; lifting heavy, plyometrics, and everything in between. I actually felt my calves and leg muscles getting stronger. Before when I ran, I never really felt like my legs were getting more developed or taxed, I felt like running only worked my lungs. After the book I ran with more purpose rather than jogging a few laps around the block. I imagined myself as one of the Tarahumara Indians from the book; that I could run for a long time if I wanted to and that this really was what my body was made to do properly and efficiently. Bloomsday 2010 was coming up and I wished I had more time to train but I knew the consistent gym workouts and my new running gait were going to be very helpful. I completed the race with a personal best, 7.46 miles in 53:44. This time gave me the opportunity to run in the Open division the next year. I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to run fast and felt better than any Bloomsday before. It was the first time I read a book that inspired me enough to make a physical impact in my life.
When I heard author Christopher McDougall was going to be at Spokane Community College I was so excited to listen to his experience and what he had to say about running. Actually getting to run with him was the cherry on top. It was a little surreal that there were about 15 people standing shyly around him when we arrived. Did people not know about this book and how influential his writing was on the running industry? This book ruffled feathers in the industry, inspired many, and made a real impact. Here he was standing in his sandals 20 feet away from us outside a small community college, where he would later admit he should not be because of strict deadlines on his next projects. In a way I sort of wished he was being bombarded by hundreds of Spokies but happy to run in a small group with him. I thought he might run in his sandals like the tribe he so admiringly wrote about, instead he ran barefoot for our 5 mile loop. When we came upon him on our run I thought it might be bad karma to pass him or a sign of disrespect or something but he was zig zagging along to trail to avoid running on uncomfortable objects.
After the run we were able to speak to him briefly and get a few photos. I introduced myself and let him know that I was owner of a women’s gym and that we were beginning an endurance training group. I informed him that I wanted all the members to read his book to kick off their training. He was very polite and friendly to everyone that began to gather around him. He didn’t speak a few cordial words and then on to the next person, he actually engaged everyone he spoke with and was very sincere. After complimenting me by saying I was not old enough to own a business he asked about the type of gym Farmgirlfit is. When I gave a brief description he suggested that we look into Parkour work. He said it’s not just backflips but that the training focuses a lot on agility, balance, and coordination which can be great for running. He even offered to call into the gym at one of our endurance group meetings.
The auditorium was full after the run. It was obvious that many people skipped the run but were very interested in what he had to say. He was introduced by Don Kardong, Bloomsday founder and noted runner, who spoke very highly of his accomplishments. McDougall spoke easily and of a variety of topics. He covered his experience with is first book and how his writing style changed. He initially wrote books from the standpoint of an outsider, arranging the characters and placing them where he believed they would be most entertaining. Later he said his successful writing happened when he immersed himself as experiencing everything himself and portraying the characters and people he met as they were instead of how they thought they should be to suit the proposed agenda. He hoped the book conveyed the encounters as positive and not from an outsider looking in. When asked about the success of the book he thought it was because it wasn’t taken as a study but a true experience.
As he transitioned to speak more specifically about running, which many were sitting on the edge of their seat to hear, he said some very simple but profound things. He said “Don’t practice pain. Don’t expect pain and to put your head down and grind it out. Expect to have your head up and experience pleasure.” I believe this to be very important as well, especially when it comes to the female population. In my opinion it seems women run because they missed a work-out or ate half a cheesecake and this is their punishment. I also believe women can be intimidated to do other sorts of exercise like the heavy lifting, or similar conditioning that we do at Farmgirlfit and so they go for a light jog instead. On the other hand, women that tend to enjoy lifting seem to disregard running and simply say, “I’m no good” or “I ___ (fill in the blank) so I don’t do it or like it”. There’s always an excuse not to run and it may stem from the perception of the act of running.
It’s my opinion that some people want to run a marathon to be revered as having that notch off their bucket list, but expect it to be a treacherous experience rather than a pleasant one. You may think, if you complete a marathon you’re considered tough because of the traditional training- pounding the payment for a grueling number of hours, adding long distances and many many miles while pushing past the pain. Some believe marathons to be a sacrifice of the body to achieve the goal of completion. Instead, McDougall wants you to understand that humans have evolved as a species to be extremely good at running, especially long distances. He noted that every time you experience running in books or movies it is a negative experience rather than people running for the enjoyment. In the famous Rocky movies Stallone runs as punishment and wears himself down to complete exhaustion. If you expect pain and continue to practice pain, then how can expect enjoyment?
I agree that many people expect to feel pain and cause pain to their body when they run, and indeed it can be the result if not done properly. McDougall says that people should view running as an art form; a physical dance. When asked about running barefoot he says that the goal should not be for everyone to transition down from a traditional shoe to barefoot but to run as if you were barefoot. Imagine for a second what that looks like and feels like. Each step would have purpose and be intentional unlike the disregard you may have if your feet are completely protected and surrounded in a fluffy soft pillow that many traditional running shoes offer. McDougall says that if you run unconsciously you will do it poorly and with injury. If you run consciously you will do it well. He declares that no pain comes from conscious movement and the goal is to run in a way in which the shoe is irrelevant.
When it was time for questions, a lady in front of me beat me to the punch, “Can you speak of women runners and how they are becoming more successful?” McDougall sort of smiled and said “I don’t know how you women put up with everything. This could be the topic of whole different talk!” In discussing this topic he notes that most spectator sports require upper body strength and in general men have a greater advantage. He noted that more recently women are getting more notoriety for running and “keeping up with men” because running unifies the genders. He feels that ultra-running (50+ miles) women do very well at endurance sports because as humans evolve, the pack is moving together. He reiterated that humans are good at this thing called running and we can indeed experience running long distances if we are conscious of our movement and find pleasure in the experience.
As the questions lightened and he felt he got his point across, he invited everyone to join him at the nearest pub. Walking out of the auditorium I felt the same way I did after I initially finished reading Born To Run. I felt inspired to share these ideas on running and specifically the way in which we should run properly. I hope everyone will enjoy reading this book whether you plan to participate in the Farmgirlfit endurance training or not. The book is an easy read because the chapters are short and written well. Like many good books, the characters and experiences are genuine. The difference is, the book has the potential to change the way you run; consciously, with purpose because we were all born to run well and with pleasure.