Robert Rinaldi, DPM
Posted September 28th, 2009
If you have not read Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, please run out to your nearest bookstore and purchase it today. You will enter a world of adventure, intrigue, and learning. McDougall’s storytelling technique will captivate you from page one. I suggest this book to anyone who loves running, or desperately needs to understand the mind of the running athlete. Sharp wit and wild adventure are cleverly mixed with the science of human nature.
We are born with the tastes of sweetness and fat on our palettes. Unlike other tastes, sweetness and fat are not acquired and may be innate senses that have to do with survival. McDougall methodically approaches running with the same philosophy—running may be an important part of our survival story. Homo erectus arrived on earth an estimated two million years ago and evolved slowly to the Neanderthal and then Homo sapiens. Neanderthal men were stout, strong, and intelligent. They invented weapons and successfully learned to hunt, fish, and cook. Homo sapiens, by comparison, were smaller and weaker. Why then, did Neanderthal become extinct within ten thousand years of the presence of modern man? Christopher McDougall seems to think it is because we’re born to run and attempts to prove it with scientific evidence.
A collection of original research by anthropologists, evolutionary biologists, biomechanics, and paleo-anthropologists plays a role in the born-to-run theory. Though the Neanderthal used the bow, arrow, and spear, hunting in this fashion proved to be very difficult. The hunter who relied on this method to acquire food to meet daily nutritional needs had little guarantee of success.
Homo sapiens, on the other hand, had the ability to literally run down their prey. No other animal on earth, except the human, has the ability to breath and work at the same time. The pet dog, for instance, can only breathe once every stride; most reptiles cannot breathe and walk at the same time; and the cheetah is known as the fastest animal on earth, but has little endurance for the long run because it runs out of oxygen.
Humans also have the most sophisticated thermal regulatory systems and this allows us to control overheating. Once we learned the habits of our favorite dinner we were able to literally run it to exhaustion. We may have evolved as runners, and this made all the difference. We can even out-run the horse in the long race. Once Homo sapiens began persistence hunting, Neanderthal became extinct within ten thousand years of co-existence.
RUNNING SHOES AND RUNNING INJURIES
In 1972, Nike marketed the modern running shoe, created to make running more efficient and less stressful on the joints, muscles, ligaments, and tendons in our legs and feet. Prior to that, all running was performed in simple, flat, slipper-type footgear. The running shoe industry was born, supported by the sciences of kinesiology and biomechanics. Today the running shoe industry exceeds $39 billion annually, and there is confusing evidence that any design has ever reduced lower extremity injury. Running injuries are many and varied, and double-blind studies have repeatedly demonstrated that the most expensive running shoes actually cause the greatest amount of running injury.
McDougall parades out some of the most interesting ultra-distance runners—the colorful Barefoot Ted; Michael Hichman, aka Caballo Blanco; and members of the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico’s Copper Canyon—who all ran and competed at distances up to 100 miles wearing very rudimentary shoes and in some cases no shoes at all. The open-mindedness and free spirit of the ultra runner combined with some of the most convincing evidence of our need to run, and to run in a style that emulates the “persistence hunter,” may just have started a revolution in running and the beginning of change in the design of the running shoe.
ARE WE BORN TO RUN?
Compelling evidence from every corner of medical research has shown the running athlete to have a healthier mind and body. Every runner among us has come to look forward to the next hit of endorphins. We all express our feelings about running in terms of freedom, excitement, or soaring. Has Christopher McDougall written an entertaining novel, or is he ushering in a return to the old style of running? Not everyone was born to run, but if you’re one of those who lives to run and runs to live, read Born to Run, and read it before you take another stride!
Robert Rinaldi is a board-certified podiatrist and podiatric surgeon at the Gifford Medical Center in Randolph, VT. He is a fellow and a founding member of the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine, and a podiatric consultant to the Dartmouth College track and cross-country teams. He is a former nationally ranked long-distance runner, having competed in 25 world-class marathons. You can reach him at Gifford Sports Medicine and Surgery Clinics in Randolph, VT, or at the Sharon Health Clinic in Sharon, VT, 802-728-2490 or 802-763-8000 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.