Born to Run

This is the first book I've read on running. It was great. McDougall told a great story. I highly recommend this book if you're into running.

5 min read

Chapter 25

PAINFUL TRUTH No. 1: The Best Shoes Are the Worst

The book presents arguments against expensive running shoes. The fancier, the worse. It seems that expensive shoes (more support, etc) actually make us more prone to injury.

PAINFUL TRUTH No. 2: Feet Like a Good Beating

The puzzling conclusion: the more cushioned the shoe, the less protection it provides.

Jesse Owens, Roger Bannister, Frank Shorter, and even Emil Zatopek all ran with backs straight, knees bent, feet scratching back under their hips. They had no choice: the only shock absorption came from the compression of their legs and their thick pad of midfoot fat

Good running form?

Land on the ball of your foot. Don't use your heels.

Chapter 27

Everyone thinks they know how to run, but it’s really as nuanced as any other activity,” Eric told me. “Ask most people and they’ll say, ‘People just run the way they run.’ That’s ridiculous. Does everyone just swim the way they swim?” For every other sport, lessons are fundamental; you don’t go out and start slashing away with a golf club or sliding down a mountain on skis until someone takes you through the steps and teaches you proper form. If not, inefficiency is guaranteed and injury is inevitable. “Running is the same way,” Eric explained. “Learn it wrong, and you’ll never know how good it can feel.”

Also, in regards to the technique description from earlier: it's really about self-propulsion.

A few weeks later, a man with a right leg twisted below the knee limped toward me carrying a rope. He looped the rope around my waist and pulled it taut. “Go!” he shouted. I bent against the rope, churning my legs as I dragged him forward. He released the rope, and I shot off. “Good,” the man said. “Whenever you run, remember that feeling of straining against the rope. It’ll keep your feet under your body, your hips driving straight ahead, and your heels out of the picture.”

Cue for good running form.

Ken’s first test subject was Alan Melvin, a world-class Masters triathlete in his sixties. First, Ken set a baseline by having Melvin run four hundred meters full out. Then he clipped a small electric metronome to his T-shirt. “What’s this for?” “Set it for one hundred eighty beats a minute, then run to the beat.” “Why?” “Kenyans have superquick foot turnover,” Ken said. “Quick, light leg contractions are more economical than big, forceful ones.” “I don’t get it,” Alan said. “Don’t I want a longer stride, not a shorter one?” “Let me ask you this,” Ken replied. “You ever see one of those barefoot guys in a 10K race?” “Yeah. It’s like they’re running on hot coals.” “You ever beat one of those barefoot guys?” Alan reflected. “Good point.”

Smalls, fast steps when running. More economical than the huge ones.

“Imagine your kid is running into the street and you have to sprint after her in bare feet,” Eric told me when I picked up my training with him after my time with Ken. “You’ll automatically lock into perfect form—*you’ll be up on your forefeet, with your back erect, head steady, arms high, elbows driving, and feet touching down quickly on the forefoot and kicking back toward your butt**.” Then, to embed that light, whispery foot strike into my muscle memory, Eric began programming workouts for me with lots of hill repeats. “You can’t run uphill powerfully with poor biomechanics,” Eric explained. “Just doesn’t work. If you try landing on your heel with a straight leg, you’ll tip over backward.”

Good running form cues

“The Tarahumara aren’t great runners,” Eric messaged me as we began my second month of those workouts. “They’re great athletes, and those two things are very different.” Runners are assembly-line workers; they become good at one thing—moving straight ahead at a steady speed—and repeat that motion until overuse fritzes out the machinery. Athletes are Tarzans. Tarzan swims and wrestles and jumps and swings on vines. He’s strong and explosive. You never know what Tarzan will do next, which is why he never gets hurt. “Your body needs to be shocked to become resilient,” Eric explained. Follow the same daily routine, and your musculoskeletal system quickly figures out how to adapt and go on autopilot. But surprise it with new challenges—leap over a creek, commando-crawl under a log, sprint till your lungs are bursting—and scores of nerves and ancillary muscles are suddenly electrified into action.

Good quote

Ken got a stack of videos of Kenyan runners and ran through them frame by frame. After hours of viewing, he was struck by a revelation: the greatest marathoners in the world run like kindergartners. “Watch kids at a playground running around. Their feet land right under them, and they push back,” Ken said. “Kenyans do the same thing. The way they ran barefoot growing up is astonishingly similar to how they run now—and astonishingly different from how Americans run.” Grabbing a pad and pen, Ken went back through the tapes and jotted down all the components of a Kenyan stride.

More good running form info.

This also reminds me: running while being completely right is kind of like acting as if you're a brick wall. You might as well be - you are just a massive, flat surface for air. Of course, that makes it harder to run.

All of these techniques and tips in the book are all about "LESS IS MORE". You don't need fancier running shoes - they hurt more than you'll gain.

It's like Via Negativa - addition by subtraction. You don't want longer, more powerful strides, go for small, fast ones.

Most of us are just as clueless about speed as we are about form. “Nearly all runners do their slow runs too fast, and their fast runs too slow,” Ken Mierke says. “So they’re just training their bodies to burn sugar, which is the last thing a distance runner wants. You’ve got enough fat stored to run to California, so the more you train your body to burn fat instead of sugar, the longer your limited sugar tank is going to last.”

So you should run slowly. Slowly such that you don't breathe hard. That's your aerobic threshold.

By week two, Eric was sending me off for two hours at a stretch, his only advice being to focus on form and keep the pace relaxed enough to occasionally breathe with my mouth shut. (Fifty years earlier, Arthur Lydiard offered an equal but opposite tip for managing heart rate and pace: “Only go as fast as you can while holding a conversation.”)

On breathing while running

Before the Tarahumara run long, they get strong. And if I wanted to stay healthy, Eric warned me, I’d better do likewise. So instead of stretching before a run, I got right to work. Lunges, pushups, jump squats, crunches; Eric had me powering through a half hour of raw strength drills every other day, with nearly all of them on a fitness ball to sharpen my balance and fire those supportive ancillary muscles. As soon as I finished, it was off to the hills.

Get strong to run better

Long climbs were an exercise in shock and awe, forcing me to focus on form and shift gears like a Tour de France cyclist. “Hills are speedwork in disguise,” Frank Shorter used to say.

Use hills to train

Chapter 28

So he tried a trick Dr. Bramble had taught him: when you can’t answer the question, flip it over. Forget what makes something go fast— what makes it slow down?

On Better Thinking: If you can't answer the question, flip it over. "Forget what makes something go fast - what makes it slow down?"

the most common mistake in science: the Handy Hammer Syndrome, in which the hammer in your hand makes everything look like a nail.

Mental Models: Handy Hammer Syndrome - the hammer in your hand makes everything look like a nail.

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