The Older Brother Takes Off Running

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


If you enjoy my posts, please consider a small donation to the Fat Head Kids GoFundMe campaign.
Share

24 thoughts on “The Older Brother Takes Off Running

  1. Ulfric Douglas

    Aha!
    It does make sense.
    My Dad’s a champion long runner, my brother runs … I’ve always considered it fairly pointless but now, maybe you’ve cursed me to interminable pursuit of various farm animals?
    I do get to eat the liver fresh, right??

    1. The Older Brother

      Well, I think I’d leave the farm animals alone. Nothing wrong with fresh liver (or other organ meats!), but I think it would be hard to explain to your neighbors in the surrounding miles why you’re chasing Bessie over their land.

      Cheers!

  2. Ulfric Douglas

    Aha!
    It does make sense.
    My Dad’s a champion long runner, my brother runs … I’ve always considered it fairly pointless but now, maybe you’ve cursed me to interminable pursuit of various farm animals?
    I do get to eat the liver fresh, right??

    1. The Older Brother Post author

      Well, I think I’d leave the farm animals alone. Nothing wrong with fresh liver (or other organ meats!), but I think it would be hard to explain to your neighbors in the surrounding miles why you’re chasing Bessie over their land.

      Cheers!

  3. ngyoung

    Just be careful running with minimalist shoes on pavement. As natural as it is for us to run it our concrete and blacktop ground isn’t so natural. I really like my Merrel TrailGlove2 and RoadGlove. The RG has a little more cushion than the TG and feel pretty comfortable on pavement. The TG has better tactile feel and good lugs for gripping but I have caught a rock a few times on my heel and it hurts. No. I don’t heel strike when I run, it typically happened when playing around where I am doing a lot of changing directions vs running in a straight line.

    1. The Older Brother

      I’m trying to be cognizant, but I don’t own a pair of shoes that aren’t minimlist now, including my work and dress shoes.

      I bought a pair of New Balance Minimus shoes a few years ago because I wanted to see what the whole “barefoot” thing was about and didn’t have the guts to buy five-fingers(!). I could walk all over the stone streets and walks of Florance, Italy in them all day and my feet felt great. I wore some very comfortable Rockports a couple of times and my feet ached.

      The idea that we didn’t evolve on pavement seems to be a recurring theme in the debate, but on the other hand much of the terrain we did encounter was rough and rock strewn.

      I’ve done the first two run/walk sessions from the “Couch to 10k” on the beach wearing some GladSole huraches, and it feels pretty good. I think pavement will be less taxing than running on sloped sand.

      I’m hoping that the fact that I’ve been wearing minimal footwear for over half a year prior to starting this little endeavor has helped condition my feet.

      Cheers!

  4. ngyoung

    Just be careful running with minimalist shoes on pavement. As natural as it is for us to run it our concrete and blacktop ground isn’t so natural. I really like my Merrel TrailGlove2 and RoadGlove. The RG has a little more cushion than the TG and feel pretty comfortable on pavement. The TG has better tactile feel and good lugs for gripping but I have caught a rock a few times on my heel and it hurts. No. I don’t heel strike when I run, it typically happened when playing around where I am doing a lot of changing directions vs running in a straight line.

    1. The Older Brother Post author

      I’m trying to be cognizant, but I don’t own a pair of shoes that aren’t minimlist now, including my work and dress shoes.

      I bought a pair of New Balance Minimus shoes a few years ago because I wanted to see what the whole “barefoot” thing was about and didn’t have the guts to buy five-fingers(!). I could walk all over the stone streets and walks of Florance, Italy in them all day and my feet felt great. I wore some very comfortable Rockports a couple of times and my feet ached.

      The idea that we didn’t evolve on pavement seems to be a recurring theme in the debate, but on the other hand much of the terrain we did encounter was rough and rock strewn.

      I’ve done the first two run/walk sessions from the “Couch to 10k” on the beach wearing some GladSole huraches, and it feels pretty good. I think pavement will be less taxing than running on sloped sand.

      I’m hoping that the fact that I’ve been wearing minimal footwear for over half a year prior to starting this little endeavor has helped condition my feet.

      Cheers!

  5. Erica

    I started barefooting when I was in Ireland in the spring of 2011. Then when I got back to Texas and then Memphis, I was barefoot 24/7 for a year. I put on some flip flops in the snow, though. Then I got a job, and had to wear shoes again. I wore my Taos moccasins for a year (not completely zero drop, but close). Then I found Softstar Shoes. They are made by elves in Oregon. Now I own 3 pair of their zero drop, non-lasted shoes, and wouldn’t wear anything else. They even came out with a ballerina style flat, so I’m stylish when I wear a dress. I don’t barefoot much any more, but I’m in the next best thing.

    The benefits to me of going barefoot/zero drop is that I became more stable (I’ve got a lot of belly fat) and my posture is better. I don’t ever want to go back to ‘real’ shoes. Ever.

    1. The Older Brother

      Most of my shoes other than the NB Minimus and GladSole huraches are from LEMS (lemsshoes.com). What I like about them is that in addition to being minimal is that they’re good-looking. My first pair were their coffee & cream Nine2five’s. You wouldn’t know they’re not just regular dress/casual shoes.

      I’m up to 5 differrent pairs of LEMS now, and plan on rounding out my collection with their boot before next hunting season.

      I’m feeling like some kind of barefoot Imelda Marcos.

      Cheers!

  6. Erica

    I started barefooting when I was in Ireland in the spring of 2011. Then when I got back to Texas and then Memphis, I was barefoot 24/7 for a year. I put on some flip flops in the snow, though. Then I got a job, and had to wear shoes again. I wore my Taos moccasins for a year (not completely zero drop, but close). Then I found Softstar Shoes. They are made by elves in Oregon. Now I own 3 pair of their zero drop, non-lasted shoes, and wouldn’t wear anything else. They even came out with a ballerina style flat, so I’m stylish when I wear a dress. I don’t barefoot much any more, but I’m in the next best thing.

    The benefits to me of going barefoot/zero drop is that I became more stable (I’ve got a lot of belly fat) and my posture is better. I don’t ever want to go back to ‘real’ shoes. Ever.

    1. The Older Brother Post author

      Most of my shoes other than the NB Minimus and GladSole huraches are from LEMS (lemsshoes.com). What I like about them is that in addition to being minimal is that they’re good-looking. My first pair were their coffee & cream Nine2five’s. You wouldn’t know they’re not just regular dress/casual shoes.

      I’m up to 5 differrent pairs of LEMS now, and plan on rounding out my collection with their boot before next hunting season.

      I’m feeling like some kind of barefoot Imelda Marcos.

      Cheers!

  7. emi11n

    Hey,if you haven’t seen it yet, check out “sh*t barefoot runners say” on YouTube. Hilarious!

    1. The Older Brother

      Thanks for the heads up – that was hilarious. So was the “Sh*t runners say to barefoot runners” by the same guy.

      Cheers

  8. emi11n

    Hey,if you haven’t seen it yet, check out “sh*t barefoot runners say” on YouTube. Hilarious!

    1. The Older Brother Post author

      Thanks for the heads up – that was hilarious. So was the “Sh*t runners say to barefoot runners” by the same guy.

      Cheers

  9. Ulfric Douglas

    I feel left out … I have to special flat shoe things,
    although I make shoes as part of my job so hey-ho … easy!

  10. Ulfric Douglas

    I feel left out … I have to special flat shoe things,
    although I make shoes as part of my job so hey-ho … easy!

  11. Bryan Harris

    Hey I read that book and I have those same Luna sandals like you have! I was doing the bf running before but it reignited my interest.

    I liked the part about persistence hunting. Pretty cool stuff.

    I also think it’s disingenuous that he bashes Nike but his friend Barefoot Ted sells the Luna sandals. I don’t know how I feel about that. “Oh don’t ever buy anything from Nike, they are evil. But be sure to buy our $100 sandals instead.” Having said that I do own 2 pair of their sandals and I indeed love them and wear them every day!

    Have you seen the documentary Goshen? It is about the Tarahumara. It’s on vimeo for about $10 bucks I think. Please go watch and do a write-up! Please please please. I had a lot of mixed feelings about what they said in it regarding vegetarianism.

  12. Bryan Harris

    Hey I read that book and I have those same Luna sandals like you have! I was doing the bf running before but it reignited my interest.

    I liked the part about persistence hunting. Pretty cool stuff.

    I also think it’s disingenuous that he bashes Nike but his friend Barefoot Ted sells the Luna sandals. I don’t know how I feel about that. “Oh don’t ever buy anything from Nike, they are evil. But be sure to buy our $100 sandals instead.” Having said that I do own 2 pair of their sandals and I indeed love them and wear them every day!

    Have you seen the documentary Goshen? It is about the Tarahumara. It’s on vimeo for about $10 bucks I think. Please go watch and do a write-up! Please please please. I had a lot of mixed feelings about what they said in it regarding vegetarianism.

Comments are closed.