Posts Tagged Christopher McDougall

Part 3—Running Barefoot And The Possible Fraudulence Of The Athletic Shoe Industry

Below is an article by Richard A. Lovett that appeared in National Geographic News on January 27, 2010. It talks about the benefits of running barefoot, especially fewer injuries and smoother motions. Both as a result of less stress on the feet and a different balance for the whole body.

In Christopher McDougall’s book, Born To Run, there is a whole section about barefoot running and also about the companies who sell running shoes. Out to make money, these companies sell shoes that are actually BAD for your feet! As the shoes support the foot’s bones and muscles and ligaments, the same foot does not develop as well and actually becomes flabby, which results in more injuries than those of barefoot runners! It’s a huge fraud on the public. “In fact,” McDougall writes, “there’s no evidence that running shoes are any help at all in injury prevention…a 20 billion dollar industry seems to be based on nothing but empty promises and wishful thinking…”

Naturally I can’t comment on the legitimacy of this view. But I love the idea that it’s so radical. Of course I have thought for years that it is important to have proper support or your feet, protect them from the pavement, rocks, glass, twists and sprains. Here is a knowledgeable and experienced runner and author challenging everything I have taken for granted my whole life. And that is the main point of this post…that we get into thought patterns that are often inaccurate or even harmful.

Now here is Lovett’s article:

Going barefoot isn’t just for strolling on the beach: Running barefoot reduces stresses on your feet and may prevent injuries known to afflict traditionally shod runners, a new study says.

In his bestselling book Born to Run, Christopher McDougall revealed that the best long-distance runners on the planet may be Mexico’s Tarahumara Indians, who race barefoot or in thin sandals through the remote Copper Canyons of Chihuahua state.

The new study used high-speed video and a bathroom scale-like device called a force plate to digitally dissect the moment-by-moment stresses on the feet of 63 runners as they ran barefoot.

The research revealed that running barefoot changes the way a person’s feet hit the ground.

Runners in shoes tend to land on their heels, so sports shoe makers have spent years designing footwear with gels, foams, or air pockets in the heels to reduce the shock of impact.

But barefoot runners more often land on the forefoot, near the base of the toes. This causes a smaller part of the foot to come to a sudden stop when the foot first lands, allowing the natural spring-like motion of the foot and leg to absorb any further shock.

“This form of landing causes almost no collision force,” lead author Daniel Lieberman, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University, said in an email.

Not that the benefits of barefoot running should be a surprise, he added: “Humans were able to run for millions of years without shoes or in just sandals. Read the rest of this entry »

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Humans Are Born To Run, Even If Many Don’t Anymore

Tarahumara runner Arnulfo Quimare and ultra-runner Scott Jurek run in Mexico's Copper Canyons

I recently finished reading Born To Run, a book by Christopher McDougall about ultra-marathoners who race off road for 50, 100, 200-plus miles at a time. There are even references to runners like Mensen Ernst who ran from Paris to Moscow on a bet, averaging 130 miles a day for 14 days. And Constantinople to Calcutta, “trotting 90 miles a day for two straight months.”

McDougall focuses on the Tarahumara tribe of Mexican indians who live in remote canyons and through diet and life style have become super human athletes. The author documents his search to contact the tribe, round up some long distance runners in the U.S. and then have them race the top tribe runners up mountains and on trails of dirt and rocks.

(Here is McDougall talking (6 minutes) with Jon Stewart on the Daily show. A limited intro to his story.)

Scattered throughout the book are pages on diets that are more likely to prevent cancer and give you astonishing energy and endurance. There is a whole discussion on the worthlessness of modern running shoes and a case for running barefoot…after building up all those foot muscles and ligaments that get flabby, when your shoes do the supporting. Another section attempts to prove that man has survived so well precisely because we are—actually were—able to run for long periods and great distances. Even outrun animals (like deer, racehorses and cheetahs) that are faster than humans for short bursts, but not for long chases.

There is also a major investigation about athlete injuries, and the conclusion that they are neither inevitable nor acceptable. Examples are given of people running quite comfortably in later years, sometimes after professional athletic careers. Wilt Chamberlain ran 50-mile ultras when he was 60 after decades of basketball.

Here is McDougall talking (15 minutes) at a TED Conference about running, the 2011 NY Marathon and the Tarahumara Indians—a much more complete description.

Very few outsiders had ever seen the Tarahumara in action, but amazing stories of their superhuman toughness and tranquillity have drifted out of the canyons for centuries. One explorer spent 10 hours crossing a mountain by mule; a Tarahumara runner made the same trip in 90 minutes.

“How come they’re not crippled?” you might be wondering. The Tarahumara drink like frat boys, subsist on corn mush and barbecued mice, live in perpetual peace and tranquillity, and run multiple marathons into their 60s. Read the rest of this entry »

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