Run like the Tarahumara

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What began as an egotistical sweat prompted by superficial pressure, has since transformed into an anthropological indulgence of self-discovery.

 What compels us to run?

My run began in high school, undoubtedly in pursuit of thunder thighs and a banging booty.  It sounded like a good idea at the time.  No membership required, no assistance necessary, no structure, no equipment, just me, my shoes, and the open road.  Like any other rebellious teen, I adamantly rejected Nike’s mass marketing ploys.  I was going to be different.  Resisting the urge to Just Do It simply landed me in bed with the lesser of two evils, Asics.

All geared up in my cushioned neon digs, I hit the road running.  I braved Michigan winters and Costa Rican summers.  I ran along Orange County boardwalks, through the foothills of the Colorado Rockies, and up rugged Spanish terrain.  I felt empowered and liberated.  I was unstoppable!

In the midst of my glory, I put my skills to the test and signed up for a half marathon.  Training consisted of a half-assed attempt at stretching, structured breathing and an upgraded running shoe.

Before hitting the 13 mile mark I was struck with inexplicable pain in my hip.  It felt like bone on bone action.  Disheartened, I was forced to slow my roll.  For years, I would attempt to increase my mileage at a slow and steady rate, yet the outcome was always the same, painful.

In 2011, I signed up for the Honolulu marathon.  It was time to reconstruct my relationship with the open road.  I was convinced if I invested in high-tech gear, and trained accurately I was guaranteed to avoid injury.  So I stretched like a swami, invested in proper running shoes (those promising controlled pronation and arch support), and followed a six month graduated formula calculated by a team of high performance marathoners.

Fail proof right?

The gun went off and all was still.  22,000 people, packed like sardines took a solid 5 minutes to break.  The first 13 miles were exhilarating!  Running at a slow and sustainable rate, I was determined to cross the finish line running!

By mile 19 I began breaking down, and by 23 I was hitting a wall.  My shins were in a tremendous amount of pain.  I watched in awe, as a barefoot couple whimsically skipped past me.  Next came a duo attached by a leash.  Sadism?  No, one of them was actually blind!  And finally, the hunchback of Notre Dame.  Even the overweight, 80 something, grey haired man was killing my pitiful stride.  In utter disbelief, I picked up the pace, concluding, everyone’s got to be suffering, at this point it’s all about power of the mind.

The following morning I collapsed out of bed, nauseating pain sent shock waves up my legs.  I had induced stress fractures in both shins.  The doctor’s remedy, “stop running.”  So I did, for quite some time.  I babied my shins, rolling them, stretching them, icing and warming them.  I began frequenting an acupuncturist.  Moxibustion paired with needle treatment offered substantial relief and renewed hope.  However, every time I went for a run, whether 3 miles or 7, my shins were agitated the following day.  Acupuncturist’s remedy, “stop running.”

Frustrated, I was unwilling to stop running.  How was it possible that nature blessed some with the ability to run 100 miles while others suffered at the 3 mile mark?  I’m endurance driven, I have a strong body and determined mind.  What was I doing wrong? 

I wasn’t running efficiently!

I had finished the marathon on ego.  My form was barbaric and my body, unengaged.

I turned to close friend, and physical powerhouse, Blake Sims.  With relative ease, and minimal training Blake had efficiently finished two marathons.  He’s the guy in the pictures grinning ear to ear, veins bulging, muscles ripping out of his skin.  Bastard!  Show me how you do it.  Teach me your ways!

First things first, “trash your shoes.”  His suggestion: the ascetically grotesque, minimalist Vibram.

20140409-161323.jpgYou were right Blake!  Thank you!  Vibram’s have transformed my run!

Come to find out, the foot is a perfect design.  The minimalist approach allows the feet to reconnect with the earth, as they were designed to do.  Highly cushioned shoes only distract the body and promote laziness (enabling a destructive heel-to-toe stride).  In the comfort of padding, we become aloof to organic red flags and induce injury.  Vibrams force the feet into natural alignment, promoting the pad of the foot to take the impact.  Blake enforced treading lightly.  Running like a ninja.  Gentle impact saves joints and reduces potential injury.

What about posture?  Absorbed in the digital era, we forget we’re bipedal creatures.  Remember, homo erectus, erect?  Yea yea yea.  Shoulders down, back straight, arms reaching forward, breathing from the belly.  This feels awkward and overwhelming at first, though it is our natural design.  Unfortunately, we have regressed into a morbid state of biological disconnect.  Fortunately, our body is self correcting and highly adaptable!

With instinctual training, we are capable of progressing back into our primal nature.

Don’t take my word for it, or Blake’s for that matter.  There is a whole posse of barefoot runners making quiet strides and causing BIG waves.  Super-athletes, Christopher McDougall, Barefoot Ted, Ann Trason, Scott Jurek, amongst others, are running like the Tarahumara.  If you’re asking Tara…who?  Get ready to blow your mind!  I was recently introduced to the ‘Running People’ in Christopher McDougall’s riveting book, Born to Run.  His fascinating account depicts a modern day tribe of enchanted ultramarathoners.  Residing in the depths of Mexico’s deadly Copper Canyons, the Tarahumara Indians have mastered the ability to run hundreds of miles in withered sandals, absent of rest or injury.

Our compulsion to run is actually an ancestral right.

“That was the real secret of the Tarahumara:  they’d never forgotten what it felt like to love running.  They remembered that running was mankind’s first fine art, our original act of inspired creation.  Way before we were scratching pictures on caves or beating rhythms on hollow trees we were perfecting the art of combining our breath and mind and muscles into fluid self-propulsion over wild terrain.  And when our ancestors finally did make their cave paintings, what were their first designs?  A downward slash, lightning bolts through the bottom and middle–behold, the Running Man.  Distance running was revered because it was indispensable; it was the way we survived and thrived and spread across the planet.  You ran to eat and avoid being eaten; you ran to find a mate and impress her, and with her you ran to start a new life together.  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 the Running People, as the Tarahumara have always known.”
-Christopher McDougall 

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