Born to Run

Just finished reading (on my Kindle) a really inspiring book. "Born to Run" by Christopher McDougall is a great story about ultra-marathon running, the Tarahumara people of Mexico who are known for their distance running and about the humans and running in general.

It's a great read and hugely entertaining to read, but most of all what I found really fascinating was the stuff about humans and running. I'd always thought that the only thing that makes humans stand out from other animals was our amazing brains and never thought that we would excel in a physical domain - but we do.

Humans are the best at distance running. We can outrun pretty much anything on the planet and that's what contributed to homo sapien's success as a species. We are so good at distance running that even our age affects little how well we do.

From a survey of marathon runners' times in the New York marathon of 2004 it was shown that the best times were acheived at the age of 27. So a runner's performance increases with age until 27 and slopes off again. So how old do you think you would be to have the same performance as you were when you were 19, say? Well it turns out that your performance stays better than a 19 year old until you reach the age of 64! And there's me at the age of 37 thinking I was past it!

This is inspiring stuff. It's nice to be the best at something and speaking as a human I've tried to do my best with my best asset - my brain. But now I realise that there are other assets I have that set me apart from the rest, I want to explore them.

Another hugely interesting section of the book asks why, if we are built to run, do runners these days suffer so many injuries. It seems that the problem is caused by how we run - landing on our heels we are causing massive impulses that lead to strains and injuries.

One of the causes of poor running style seems to come from the shoes that we wear. Running shoes of the last 40 years have tended towards bigger and more cushioned soles that allow us to run in a style that at first seems comfortable and relaxed. However, the more cushioning that we wear on our feet, the more we rely on it, and the more we put strain on the rest of our body through poor technique.

Some runners advocate getting rid of the cushioned running shoes so that we may run properly again. To rely on the leg's own natural suspension does, I must admit, sound very sensible rather than relying on an inch of shock absorbtion in a running shoe.

Running shoes have only been around since the 1970s but the human leg has been around for 2 million years! Surely we should be using the latter technology?