Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Born to Run?

For the last six months, I've been doing a program called C25K, which stands for "Couch to 5K". It's a training schedule that helps non-runners complete a 5K (3.1 miles) in nine weeks. Beginning a few weeks before Christmas, I've been waking up at 5:15 AM, three times a week, to run on my treadmill. However, I've been stuck in the third week of the program for a very long time, unable to run more than three minutes. And my weight hasn't budged downward as I expected. Overall it's been a very dull and sometimes frustrating experience.

The change all started when I walked past a copy of Born to Run at the library. I'm one of those people who can't just walk briskly to my destination when I'm in a library or bookstore (or anywhere that has shelves full of books). I walk slowly and my eyes linger over the titles and  inevitably I find myself snagged by an interesting book. Born to Run is a book that I've heard lots of praise for from friends, even friends who don't care at all about running. I had heard that it's a great story and a real page turner. So I dropped it in my bag and moved on.

Born to Run was written by a journalist who wanted to answer a simple question: Why does my foot hurt when I run? Eighty percent of runners will incur some foot and/or leg injury every year. In short, what he found out was that people weren't meant to run in running shoes. He found a tribe of Native Americans living deep in Copper Canyons of Mexico called the Tarahumara- you've heard of these people: they're the ones that live high up in caves in the side of tall cliffs, accessible only by hanging ladders, and we Westerners can't imagine how they train their kids to stay away from the edge of the cliff. The Tarahumara can run amazing distances (100+ miles) without getting tired. Even their elderly still run distances most people in America wouldn't think of walking on a good day. And the kicker is, they have zero incidents of running-related foot or leg injuries. 

The author discovered that we were designed (he says by evolution, I say by God) to run in our bare feet. When we do, our body receives information from the amazing array of nerves in our feet and knows exactly how to align itself so we don't get injured. Put a cushy running shoe over our feet, and all those nerves are covered up and our body moves in such a way that it ends up injuring itself. We come down hard on our heel, which does long term damage to our legs and feet. Bottom line: Nikes, bad; bare feet, good.

I thought this was all very interesting when I first started the book. My only connection to running was my three-times a week early morning session on the treadmill, where I wheezed my way through a series of ninety second and three-minute runs. Though Born to Run was an engaging story, I didn't see much of a connection to my life.

It wasn't until I finally closed the book that I was inspired to make some changes in my exercise. I decided to ditch my pre-dawn treadmill date and instead go running through our beautiful neighborhood vineyard in the afternoon. I also got myself a pair of Vibram FiveFinger shoes, which would allow me to try out barefoot running.

I have to admit that I tried really hard not to get these because, well, they look plain weird. I looked into other minimalist running shoes (those that have a very thin sole), but the more I read, the more I learned that even those aren't flat enough to get the benefits of being barefoot. And so I decided to throw fashion discernment to the wind and get my feet into these. We took a family trip to our local REI and got outfitted.

The first time I ran in these shoes was an amazing experience. Instead of wheezing my way through three minutes of running, I breezed through four minutes, walked for a few seconds to catch my breath, then breezed through another four minutes. A few days later, I'm breezing through five-minute runs. I've only ran in the shoes four times so far, but each time I do, it amazes me that I barely get winded. 

I'm happy to say that I really enjoy running now. I actually look forward to my runs, instead of dreading them. It may seem unbelievable that one pair of shoes that mimic the barefoot experience can change so much. Check out the book, and you won't regret it.

Here is an article that has most of the books best information in one place:


  1. I heard about the book, and it's always good to hear first-hand experience. Maybe I'll check it out too even though I truly hate running.

  2. Upon reading your blog post, I ran out and bought the book (our library didn't have it). I am very much enjoying it. Thank you for sharing!