The book “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall should be on every runner’s bookshelf. If you ever heard someone talk about running an ultra marathon and thought, “Damn, that’s crazy! People aren’t meant to do that!”, then you might be wrong.
I just finished this book, and I may very well start it again. It was inspiring to say the least. While chronicling the story of a secretive, ancient culture of ultra runners in the Mexican highlands, McDougall also recounts his own journey into running, adding to the story various interviews and research about the origins and history of humans as runners. It was compelling enough to completely change the way I look at running.
I was always one of those people who would tell people training for marathons, “You know, the first guy who did this died, right?” He did, but that’s not the point. I saw running as necessary to stay fit and as an athletic training, but more than 20 miles was destructive. Why would anyone do that to themselves?
Today, running for me is less about the competition with other people than it is about the convergence of my body with my mind. Yeah, I know it sounds hokey, and there is still a level of competitiveness that I will never shake. I will always want to run farther, longer, faster, and in different places. That challenge is important, but it’s the means, not the end. There is something much deeper at play when you find the balance of nutrition, fitness, and mental awareness.
I spent way too much time last week working on a little web app to scrape web site schedules for event data so I could create a webcal feed where there otherwise wasn’t one. I put other things on hold to try and do this before the Gold Cup started. I was also trying to give my legs a little extra time to recover from some previous runs, so I didn’t feel too guilty about putting up such low milage numbers during the week. By Friday, though, I was itching to lace up my shoes. I decided to pick a trail and just go. I’d turn around when I felt like it.
It was Friday afternoon, just after 6pm. I figured I had about 2.5 hours until I lost light. How far could I get in an hour and fifteen minutes? The answer: eight and a half miles. I set an alert on my watch to yell at me if my pace went faster than 8:45/mile to force myself into a consistent, distance pace. It worked. I cleared my head and ran. Sometimes I focussed on my form, sometimes thoughts crept in, and towards the end I was starting to feel the burn. Nonetheless, seventeen miles in the books and I felt great. Recovery wasn’t even very difficult.
That book has made me rethink everything from mindset to footwear. Even running in the heat, which is difficult right now. 90+ degrees with the sun beating on you is dangerous. Unless I can get my ass out of bed earlier in the morning, these runs are going to be shorter and slower, but hey…at least I’m still running.