Roger Marolt: I want to be a barefoot runner, I think
I found a book that didn’t exactly look interesting, but stood out at any rate from the other stuff that had accumulated on the shelf. We were staying in a little ranch house at a converted summer camp for a couple of days while driving through northern California and I had burned through the book I brought.
It was a good one. I wish I could remember the title or what it was about, because I highly recommend it. This happens frequently. It’s kind of like writing this column. I remember the first few I wrote 17 years ago more than any of the thousand or so I have written since, including last week’s.
I do, however, remember for the moment the book I found in that cabin, not necessarily because I am still reading it, which I am, but because I more or less borrowed it and need to keep track of it so that I can send it back and not some other random selection from the stack next to my bed. I don’t like dust jackets, so I throw them away, leaving me with a collection of books that all look basically the same, like sunbathers at a nude beach; some fat, some thin, but otherwise undistinguished.
The book is “Born to Run.” It’s a good read, if maybe a little exaggerated in some exploits detailed. The book is about how humans evolved into natural runners and it introduces us to a lot of world-class ultra endurance runners to support its hypotheses. There are tales of wild partying, much of it taking place the night before big runs, which made my head hurt more than my knees. Maybe the stories are true, but at any rate it feels like they were added to enhance our recognition of how tough these runners really are, as if running a hundred miles through Death Valley in the summer isn’t enough.
The story includes a couple of young runners who drink and party like you’d think it would be a problem, but it’s not. They get gassed, dance all night, only to jump out of bed before the sun is up and run faster and farther than seemingly possible, like they are fueled by hangovers. They are not wholly unlike the Tarahumara people of the Copper Canyon in Mexico, also featured in the book, who are purported to be some of the best natural runners in the world, living off a diet of beans and corn beer. There also is the cerebral world champion. The mysterious philosopher role is filled by a dude who goes by “Caballo Blanco.” He is a former citizen of the modern world who dropped out and into the canyon and lives in a hut he built from river rocks.
The author, a large, middle-aged, maybe overweight, would-be runner with a desk job struggles with a chain reaction of injuries in his pursuit of better results. He desires to run easy and free for long distances. His story is an odyssey of meeting doctors, trainers, coaches, anthropologists and legendary runners from all jogs of life, all of whom seem sort of or totally weird.
Of particular note for those who run long distances with their dogs: it is hypothesized that this is basically the way homosapiens hunted. They steadily chased animals that were sprinting and stopping until the creatures keeled over from exhaustion. Animals do not sweat and can’t cool off as efficiently as humans.
Now I feel like I can run a hundred miles through a hot, dry wilderness carrying one water bottle, if I throw away my running shoes, start eating chia seeds, and learn to run the way ancient hunters did or small children still do. While it is never explicitly stated, there are hints in the story that indicate you have reached the desired mental state of freedom when you find yourself on a long, effortless run with a strong desire to take off all your clothes out in the middle of nowhere. It sounds way better than perpetually trying to beat your last 10K time.
I’m not there yet. However, I am motivated enough to head out to the turf field and see how running a few short sprints feels with bare feet. Maybe I’ll shed my shirt. It’s not exactly taking off through a red rock canyon alone for 50 miles of blissfully floating over rocks and hurdling juniper brush, but it could be the beginning of a longer experiment. I want to see if I really was born to run.
Roger Marolt hopes the supposition in “Born to Run” that cheap running shoes with unpadded soles and little arch support are actually better than the $170 super Nikes is true. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.