“…So why didn’t you run the race this morning?”
Barb, my friend, posted this message on my Facebook wall, which I read minutes after coming home from a two-hour trail trek. Since the questioner is a close friend, dignifying the query with an answer was almost mandatory. “I had a commitment which had to be honored. Suzanne’s not here to support me. Besides that, I’m not in racing shape.”
Barb’s response came back while I was cleaning up: “You could have run the 5K.”
“No. I could not. What needed to be done, needed to be done at 9:00. Besides, I don’t race unless I feel ready to race.”
One of the things an overuse injury does, once a runner can run again, is encourage a focus on quality. Junk mileage, miles for mileage sake, miles to impress ones’ fellow runners; all that egomania gets kicked to the curb. Quality workouts come to the fore. Rest and recovery become important. Races transform into as much of a celebratory event as a test of heart.
After fifty-plus weeks of progress from no running, to twenty minutes, thirty, forty-five, and right at the edge of sixty minutes five or six times a week, I HAVE to keep running fun.
I recently downloaded a copy of Christopher McDougall’s 2009 book, “Born To Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen,” for a number of reasons. I’ve slammed barefoot running as a sort of snake oil fix, and I wanted to read straight from the source material many barefoot running enthusiasts cite as their inspiration. (My suspicion is many barefoot zealots choose to go buffet-style rather than accept the entire menu.) But before I use the broad brush to paint a Picasso-like mural of barefoot true believers, I figured I’d hear the man out. As Bob Dylan once sang: “…don’t criticize what you can’t understand.”
I read through the first hundred pages or so without difficulty. Reading “Born To Run” probably won’t fill you with the compulsion to throw out your Asics Cumulus altogether, or replace them with a pair of Fila Skele-Toes.
Or perhaps it might.
But it’s a very fun read into the mindset of a couple of cultures so different from our own, that of the Tarahumara of Mexico’s Copper Canyon, and that of the ultra-runner.
So, why do people run barefoot? Why do they run ultras? Why do my grandkids love to run and play? What caught my attention in the first hundred pages or so is McDougall’s discussion of famed distance running coach Joe Vigil’s observations of the Tarahumara during the Leadville 100 trail ultramarathon in the 1990s:
“…the real secret of the Tarahumara…(they) remembered that running was mankind's ﬁrst ﬁne art, our original act of inspired creation….perfecting the art of combining…breath and mind and muscles into ﬂuid self-propulsion over wild terrain.…You had to love running, or you wouldn't live to love anything else. And like everything else we love—everything we sentimentally call our "passions" and "desires"—it's really an encoded ancestral necessity. We were born to run; we were born because we run. We're all Running People, as the Tarahumara have always known.”
If nothing else, what I’ve learned so far from McDougall, from Vigil, from the Tarahumara - and from the guys who spend their Saturday mornings on the wooded trails, miles from the nearest 5K road race, is that running is art. Stephen Stills sang, “I don’t do business that don’t make me smile.” While I understand there are many of my friends who are driven by the pursuit of beer glasses and applause of companions, but if “breath and mind and muscles in fluid self-propulsion” doesn’t bring a smile to our face, we might as well forego the application paperwork and the cotton t-shirt and hand our $25 to the beer vendor.
If it isn’t fun, why do it?