Are We Born to Run?

By Jon Saints - 07 Mar 2010

After a year and a half of fairly serious training, I finally became the dreaded statistic. Something like 8 out of 10 runners experience an injury every year. I am now one of those runners. One month on, a nagging IT Band pull that I thought would heal in one weekend, is still an issue. I am resting, slowly jogging and walking to build strength back up.

The widely held view is that running, over-time, is damaging to your body. It is simply too much impact. In my injury free years I never believed this… I never wanted to. But, this injury had me down and thinking like everyone else. I love how running makes me feel… the reflective clarity of long runs… the invigorating endurance that builds and runs through your body the next day. But every where I turn, those that love running as much as I do are finding it harder and harder because of the constant string injuries they have to battle.

A friend of mine had recently experienced the same melancholy of injury. He gave me the book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall and told me it would change my running life. The author starts by asking the question of why running is “bad for us”. Through the story of the Tarahumara (a tribe known for its incredible distance runners), sports page commentary of elite ultra marathon racers, and interesting overview of cutting edge evolutionary biology on running, McDougall finds compelling evidence that its not running that is bad for us… its how we run that is.

In fact, we as a species evolved and were born to run long distances more than any other. This news was inspiring to me. We have neck muscles that only running species have, we can breath out of stride unlike any other mammal, and our feet (according to Da Vinci) are master pieces of engineering and efficiency.

How do we go about running incorrectly as cause injury? First, and most importantly somewhere along the way we stopped running for the joy of running. When we run for other reasons: $, or to loose weight, we increase in the number of injuries we expirence. There is compelling anecdotal evidence of this, but its hard to prove scientifically.

In my case this is exactly what happened. About one year into my return to running, it was not longer about peaceful reflection and just the joy of feeling healthy. I was gunning for time. I do believe this gunning type of training was not as effective. My times were not improving as fast as when I was running for joy. It took more work… more pain to get where I wanted to be. I also started to find more strange and nagging injuries popping up. This latest IT Band injury being the worst.

A second way we injury ourselves running is by using fancy equipment that weakens the natural ability of our foot to adsorb shock. About six months ago I went on a run with a group of friends who were wearing Vibram FiveFinger barefoot running shoes. I remember being amazed at the time by the way running barefoot immediately improved the form of my friends who were not regular runners. Without trying, they where running with backs straight, upright, with quick strides. They looked like elegant pros. They looked like I have been trying to teach my self to run for well over a year. By not being able to slam their heals into the ground, even the causal runners who never have been taught what good form is, naturally and instinctively fell into the efficient running form.

Seems like we are Born to Run. I thank my friend for passing along the book. McDougall tone and style is not one that I enjoy, but he has written a valuable and inspiring book. When I do return to the trails it will be for one purpose… the joy of running and none other. I also plan on slowing building up to barefoot runs. I can’t wait to see just how far my perfectly evolved feet can go pain free.



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