In honor of the Badwater Marathon beginning, I thought I’d do a little repost of something I wrote last year after I had finished The Chris McDougall book Born to Run, about (you guessed it) running and the Tarahumara tribe:
photo credit Andy Batt via Outside Online. Jenn Shelton, an ultra-warrior on the path to zen.
I had never heard about “ultramarathons” before picking up the book Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall. Now I am intrigued to no end about this sort of running.
The book started with the author wondering why, if he bought the most expensive shoes and went to the best running doctors, did it still hurt to run? His quest brought him from professors and doctors all the way to the wilds of Mexico and into a tribe who barely wear shoes (much less than the $350 Nike’s) and floated upon the canyon floor. From waaay back in time (talking about Apache “vacations” when they would run from Arizona to the California Coast. Yes, you read that right.) to right this minute marathons (Western States, Death Valley’s Badwater, and the Copper Canyon Run). Every time I finished a chapter, I wanted to see how far I could run, just for the fun of it. That is why these people run. Not to win cash or be on the cover of magazines, but because running 100 miles in one day gives them a sense that life is theirs, always fresh and open to anything.
Since the 2010 Copper Canyon ultramarathon, which began with that book, is slated to be this coming Sunday (March 7th), I thought I would write about the 5 Things I have Learned about Running through this book.
1. Easy, Light, Smoooooth. This is the mantra of Caballo Blanco, an American that has decided to call the Copper Canyon area his home. He taught the author (and the reader) that if you are checking yourself while running, and have at least two of these in use, the third will come naturally. Running is a forward motion, not a bobbing, up and down one. It is not about lengthening your stride, but being light and grazing in your footwork.
2. Competition is not the name of the game. Here is a video of snapshots from the second year’s run in Copper Canyon. It seems like you form a definite bond, enduring that kind of grueling and exhilarating thing with people over and over. Sure, there is always a definite winner, but I think the point is that if you can survive the whole race, you are as good as 1st place.
3. Live to be 100 and able to run 100 miles. Eating a salad for breakfast, dehydrated corn is an amazingly revitalizing snack, and run run running for fun, not to lose weight are just some of the amazing things I learned about nutrition from this book. The Tarahumara people have been subsisting off what they could catch by running, or what the ground and limited water could give them, for thousands of years. Their life expectancy averages much higher than the U.S., all the while the elders still running well into their 80s. p.s. when looking up ‘pinole’ on Amazon, I was tickled by the fact you can buy pinole, chia seeds and the Born to Run book as a package deal!
4. Running injuries should not be a part of running. I also learned some fascinating things about the evolution of the running shoe and the subsequent skyrocketing of running injuries. The more padding and ankle protection, the more shock absorption and spring technology your shoe contains, the higher your risk for severe running injuries. There are even groups of people committed to running barefoot. Or almost barefoot. Crazy as it seems, they are on the right track. Shoes should be protecting you from nails, burrs and that’s about it. Your toes need room to splay to distribute your weight correctly, and your ankles needs to be free to toughen up.
5. I can’t stress the “fun run” aspect enough. Spurred by the book, I looked up as many pictures as I could of ultramarathon runners. In 80% of the pictures I have found, everyone is either smiling and cheering, or they look like they are inwardly reflecting. There are no intense grimaces of pain or competition, no mean-spirited psych-outs. Only ultra-love and ultra-fun. Not that it isn’t a hard thing to do, but people don’t do it for million dollar prizes. Hell, some of the prizes are even bags of corn or a belt buckle. Running because it is what you love to do. I think that is the best promotion you could give a sport.