Hiya, Fatheads. Long time since I’ve got to take over the Big Chair!
I guess Tom’s somewhere out on the Gulf enjoying himself right now. Meaning his presentation was scheduled early in the Low Carb Cruise, so he’s done by now and doesn’t have to practice another 20 or 30 times, like I’m sure he did last week. I’m sure he’s staying busy, though, getting to meet with new Fat Heads and reconnect with old friends.
I’m actually enjoying myself on the Gulf, too. I am, however, decidedly un-busy. We’re back on Dauphin Island, Alabama. We’ve been here a number of times, and the point of coming here is to be un-busy. We’re with about half of The Wife’s clan — her sister and brother-in-law and our niece and 2 nephews, the niece’s husband; our three sons, daughter, son-in-law, and the two grandkids.
The grandkids are the reason we’re here. I’d been adamant for the last several years that I wasn’t coming back. Don’t get me wrong, I love it here. House facing the Gulf (we actually have two houses this time to accommodate all 15 people), The Wife and I doing most of the cooking, everyone else doing most of the cleaning, hanging out on the beach, watching the shrimp boats go out with the dolphins trolling behind them for the freebies that fall out of the nets.
It’s just that we’ve done it several times and I was done. I kept arguing that I didn’t want to have a one destination bucket list. This year, The Wife pointed out that this would be the first time The Grandkids would be able to come, too, and wouldn’t it be great to see them at the ocean for the first time.
n.b., folks — there’s no actual defense against that one.
And it’s been awesome.
Anyway, on to the topic at hand. Have you ever read a book, then decided that something you normally would’ve considered insane somehow seemed like a perfectly fine idea? I mean a nonfiction book, but with a compelling story, fascinating (real) characters, great drama, and then also with a kicker that gives you one of those “aha!” moments that makes it feel personal to the point you want to at least get a taste of what the characters are doing.
Well, I read this book a little while ago:
Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall
(And no — if you’re familiar with the book I’m not saying I’m out to take on an ultra-marathon!)
Here’s how the author summarizes the broad trajectory of the tale at the beginning of chapter 2:
“It all began with a simple question that no one could answer.
It was a five-word puzzle that led me to a photo of a very fast man in a very short skirt, and from there it only got stranger. Soon, I was dealing with a murder, drug guerrillas, and a one-armed man with a cream-cheese cup strapped to his head. I met a beautiful blond forest ranger who slipped out of her clothes and found salvation by running naked in the Idaho forests, and a young surfer babe in pigtails who ran straight toward her death in the desert. A talented young runner would die. Two others would barely escape with their lives.
I kept looking, and stumbled across the Barefoot Batman … Naked Guy … Kalahari Bushmen … the Toenail Amputee .. a cult devoted to distance running and sex parties .. the Wild Man of the Blue Ridge Mountains … and, ultimately, the ancient tribe of the Tarahumara and their shadowy disciple, Caballo Blanco.
In the end, I got my answer, but only after I found myself in the middle of the greatest race the world would never see…
… And all because in January 2001 I asked my doctor this:
‘How come my foot hurts?’ “
Not a bad tease of an opener, eh? Besides being an all-around great read, it’s also a primer on the fairly unknown sport of ultra-marathons, and the people crazy enough to run in them. The Tarahumara tribe that much of the book focuses on is about as purely paleo/ancestral as any culture in the world today. All of that made the book easy to recommend, especially to the Fat Head, LCHF, Paleo crowd.
What really grabbed me were a couple of chapters towards the very end, where McDougall talks to researchers with some very persuasive arguments as to not only why humans can have the capacity to run incredible distances, but that in fact this is what makes us who we are – that we are, literally, born to run.
To give it a short treatment that doesn’t do credit to the book, humans running is something of an evolutionary riddle. I mean, what’s the point? The fastest human on earth can’t beat a rabbit or almost anything in a race to run down dinner, and forget about us trying to outrun anything that might want to make us dinner.
And to get the fat to feed the big brains we staked our evolutionary gamble on, we had to catch dinner for millennia before hunting tools showed up. How could we make that bet, much less win? What was our evolutionary advantage over the Neanderthals, who were significantly stronger, faster, had stronger bones, used tools when we did, and possibly were more intelligent than us? Why are we here instead of them?
We have big butts, Achilles heels, and a skull design which are only useful for running. But how did those traits for running become selected, if we’re so damned bad at it?
These people propose the idea that human running is critical, but it’s not about fast. It’s about distance and endurance. Because we, unlike almost every other creature out there — and certainly our prey — are 1) hairless, and 2) we sweat. We can keep running. Any other animal at a run also has a time clock running. They can only cool off through respiration, and they can’t cool off while they’re running. For a hare, it’s maybe half a mile at 45 mph, then it’s stop or die. For the cougar chasing the rabbit, it can only hit 40, but keep it up longer. So the rabbit has 45 seconds to escape or die. The cougar has to keep the rabbit from going down a hole for 46 seconds or starve. But the cougar will also burn up relatively quickly.
We humans, on the other hand, can keep going almost indefinitely. We can’t outrun a deer, but if, running as a group, we can separate a deer from the herd and keep it running by staying within sight of it, it’s now a 10k race to dinnertime.
Again, this is a two paragraph recap of a couple of chapters, but it was the “aha!” that grabbed me. We should all be able to run. It’s what we were built for.
Along with the ancestral/paleo view of running comes the idea that if we want to run like our ancestors, we need to also respect how that developed. That didn’t include cushioned shoes that prevent feedback through our feet, some of the most complex “tools” nature has ever designed. In fact, Nike pretty much comes off as the Big Pharma/statin pushers of the running world. Everything that’s made them a marketing Goliath has led to worse outcomes and more injuries for runners.
Over the last six months or so, I’ve switched over so that all of my shoes, including dress work shoes, are zero-drop, essentially “barefoot” type footwear. I didn’t have any foot problems yet, but my feet have never felt better.
McDougall, as referenced in the opening quote, was pretty broken down as a runner. After hearing of the Talahumara, he found an adventure sports trainer named Eric Orton who helped rebuild him into a runner. That process, and Eric’s training and philosophy, gets substantial coverage in the book. Orton released a book — The Cool Impossible — on his training methods and system after that.
I bought that one a few months ago and read it, too. I have to say, it’s a great resource and very educational, but if I hadn’t read Born to Run first it would’ve been tough to finish. The info is outstanding, but Orton’s writing style in the book is to address the reader directly the whole time as if the reader has just showed up at his training facility. Reminded too much of the “let’s all do some role playing exercises!” stuff when you have to go to corporate training. Just personally not my cup of tea, but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it if you want to start/convert to running.
Anyway, as I alluded to at the beginning of this little missive, as a now 58 year old, fat, out of shape grandpa, I hadn’t thought “hey, wouldn’t it be a great idea to put on some shorts and tennis shoes and just go out and run for hours” for nearly four decades. And, I was perfectly all right with that. Then I read McDougall and Orton’s books. At the same time, two of the women I work with signed up for Abe’s Amble.
That’s a program in Springfield where you can sign up and get put into a group of about 12-15 people with similar (non)ability. There are probably around 150 signed up for this year’s session, including a couple of groups of walkers and an Olympic Walking group. All of these folks are referred to collectively as “Abe’s Army.” You train with your group one day a week, and on your own a couple of more days a week for 13 weeks. The culmination of the program is running in the Abe’s Amble 10k the first Sunday of the Illinois State Fair. In August! Oh yeah, plus you get a cool shirt! So I took the plunge and signed up.
Here we are after the first orientation session and a 1.2 mile run/walk to assign us to our groups:
I’m the fat guy.
I ended up in the 2nd of 4 or 5 blue groups. My young coworkers ended up in one of the two green and red groups, which were somewhere way ahead of me by the time I dragged through the finishing gate.
And here I am yesterday morning after my first individual run (I’m using a program called “Couch to 10k” that runs on my iPhone, and another that connects with a heart rate monitor. Just ’cause we’re paleo doesn’t mean we can’t have toys!). The Oldest Son patiently jogged/walked along with me through a Dauphin Island downpour, then after I finished my program, went off to do some real running.
Cheers from Dauphin Island!
The Older Brother
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