Born to Run, or Determined to Try

Goodlifer: Born to Run, or Determined to Try

“I hate running.” How many times have you heard someone say that, or perhaps uttered the words yourself? Running is one of those divisive forms of exercise that you either love or loathe. One thing we all can agree on is that it’s good for us. I recently read a book that sort of convinced me we are actually born to do it. It also made me want to get back into running, and helped me figure out how to motivate myself to do just that.

I’ve always considered myself an athlete, and grew up with team sports, mostly basketball, as my main form of physical activity. The only times I would go for a run is when the coach forced us out into the woods for pre-season training runs, and I did not like it one bit. When I started college and moved to the U.S. I got more into gym-based fitness, lifting weights and doing cardio machines at the University gym on a regular schedule. I may have gone for a half-hearted weekend run around the neighborhood every now and then, but it was definitely more of an exception that a regular occurrence. What really got me started was when the computer lab assistant at my school told me that he had signed up for a 10K run. I’m not sure why this triggered my competitiveness, but it did. If this guy could do a 10K without thinking twice about it, then why couldn’t I?

Yours truly, after finishing my second half marathon in 2005. (Please ignore the plastic water bottle, I was desperately thirsty and it was offered to me.)

Yours truly, after finishing my second half marathon in 2005. (Please ignore the plastic water bottle, I was desperately thirsty and it was offered to me.)

I’m muscular and big-boned by nature, quite the opposite of what you imagine a runner’s physique to be. I decided to ignore this, started running on a more regular basis, signed up for a few 5K races, and soon found myself staring at the entry form for the Miami Half-Marathon, debating whether this would be a great challenge or absolutely crazy. It was hard to know in advance, but I signed up. If other people can do it, than why couldn’t I? When training for the Half Marathon I started to run longer distances, and that’s when I really started to get in to that zen-like, almost meditative, flow of running. I did not listen to music but instead let my thoughts come and go and learned that I could come up with many great ideas and solutions to problems this way. I finished the race in just over two hours, not great but not bad for a first-timer.

Running races are a strange thing, most people who sign up know that they will never win, or even come close and yet they keep signing up for them. Why? Logically, it makes no sense. You’re just paying money to, in a very crowded way, do something that you could do for free whenever and wherever you want. What motivates us to want to do this?

In Born To Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen, Christopher McDougall sheds light on the fact that humans have always run in groups. In fact, it’s how we used to hunt and survive. Could it be that the running race industry is fueled by this desire to once again be part of a pack, running together against a common goal (in this case, a finish line instead of wild game)? At no time was this more obvious than when I, in 2008, participated in Nike’s ambitions Human Race, a 10K run where everyone had to wear identical red shirts.

Nike's Human Race, where runners all wore identical red shirts, was the most obvious display of the collective appeal of running that I have ever experienced.

Nike's Human Race, where runners all wore identical red shirts, was the most obvious display of the collective appeal of running that I have ever experienced.

I ran a second Half Marathon the year after my first, and finished in 1:55. This was seven years ago and since then I have slowly have become lazy and stopped running as much. Why, I don’t know, but work seems like an appropriate excuse. Reading McDougall’s book made me not only want to start running regularly again, but really learn how to run. I had never really before reflected on the fact that even though running is probably the most common form of recreational exercise, you rarely see anyone actually practicing how to do it. This, McDougall says, is the reason why as many as 80% of runners become injured every year. A recurring injury was, in fact, what motivated him to write the book.

Christopher McDougall's bestseller Born to Run is a must-read for anyone who is or aspires to be a runner.

Christopher McDougall's bestseller "Born to Run" is a must-read for anyone who is or aspires to be a runner.

After visiting the legendary Tarahumara tribe in the deep canyons of Mexico and speaking with scientists who have done extensive research on how the human body works and why it is configured the way it is, McDougall finds strong evidence that humans are, actually, born to run. Everything, from the way our bodies are built to the way we absorb oxygen, speaks to it. What keeps most of us from running is, ironically, another one of our evolutionary strengths — the desire to conserve energy. Humans are hard-wired to take the easiest route possible, which served us well when we had to run after wild antelopes on the savannah but not so well when modern convenience has put everything we need one short car ride to the supermarket away. The only thing that can save us from becoming corn syrup-fueled drones is common sense and motivation, and perhaps a bit of competitiveness. If your ancestors could run around barefoot on scorching hot plains all day then why couldn’t you?

I’m determined to reconnect with my running past, but this time I am approaching it differently. Instead of considering a run something to just do, I’m going to learn how to run and train to actually become a better runner. To start this, I’m doing three things:

1. Setting a sort-of regular schedule of 3 runs/week
2. Trying out a few different brands of barefoot running shoes (expect to see reviews here shortly)
3. Doing pre-run drills that will help me perfect my technique, starting with 100-ups (this video is a good starting point, too)

Who would like to join me? Come on, if I can do it, you can!

Shortly before finishing Born to Run, I heard of one of the untimely passing of one of the book’s main characters, Micah true, aka Caballo Blanco. Take a moment to read Christopher McDougall’s moving account of their friendship on BBC News.

About author
A designer by trade, Johanna has always had a passion for storytelling. Born and raised in Sweden, she's lived and worked in Miami, Brooklyn and, currently, Ojai, CA. She started Goodlifer in 2008 to offer a positive outlook for the future and share great stories, discoveries, thoughts, tips and reflections around her idea of the Good Life. Johanna loves kale, wishes she had a greener thumb, and thinks everything is just a tad bit better with champagne (or green juice).
2 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. Nice post, Johanna, and timely for me. I am attending a 3-hour running clinic on June 2 at my gym (come with me!). Your post inspires me to read this book before then. Thanks!

  2. The funny thing is I am big-boned, mesomorphic male so running should not be my thing. But it is. The feeling of pushing yourself when you think you can’t makes running so fun. After a long hiatus, I am jumping back into this world. I hope our resolves are fulfilled in the end. Good luck!!
    – Jessen T.

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