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Book Review: Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

Ok, I admit it. I’m late to the show on this one. I’m sure nearly every runner out there has already read this book. If you have, awesome. If you haven’t, go snag a copy and read it. If you love to run, you’ll love this book.

Born to Run (2009) by Christopher McDougall, who used to be an editor for Men’s Health magazine, started the journey that began with this book by asking a question about his own running, “Why do I keep getting hurt?”

It’s a great question. With all of our modern gear and technology, why are runner’s rates of injury so high? I won’t put any spoilers in this post, just in case you haven’t read it yet.

I initially found the book hard to follow. McDougall, like so many authors these days, writes in a “stream-of-consciousness” style; which basically means he writes exactly like thoughts flow through his mind, meandering around and jumping from topic to topic with little or no warning. I got used to his style soon into the book, and found the story so captivating that I didn’t care. I tore this book up, and finished it in just a few weeks. That’s really fast for me. I read books very slowly, soaking in every little detail.

There are a few major parts of the book I found delightful. Without spoiling the content, here were the major themes he covered:

  • Modern running gear does not prevent running injury. In most cases it makes them worse
  • The native Tarahumara tribes in the Copper Canyons of Mexico are reclusive, but are some of the greatest distance runners on Earth. And they run in thin sandals only.
  • Ultra-marathoners are crazy
  • Humans (Homo Sapiens) evolved as runners. We are literally born to be distance running machines

McDougall covers these topics in great detail, and paints colorful pictures of his cast of characters. The best part is that they are all real. I found myself especially captivated by how he wrote about the different races throughout the book. Being a distance runner myself, I could sympathize.

If you are an amateur runner like me, and you’re struggling with getting to that next distance milestone, or even asking yourself if it is all worth it, read this book. I found it so affirming. I guess lots of other people did, too, which is why it was on the best seller list for so long.

Pain in the Ass

Sometimes, running can be a real pain in the ass. Literally.

At some point while training for my last run, the Shiver by the River 10K, I learned a few new things about my body. I think when I mentioned in my opening blog post that my knees felt great, that I jinxed myself, because not long after that a few things got dicey. What did I learn?

First, I am flat-footed and was wearing the wrong running shoes. I was in a pair of Nike Lunarglide Plus‘s. But because of my flat-footed gait, I tend to pronate a bit more than I should with my left foot when in a normal stride. This was causing me to have some mild runner’s knee in my left knee, which I was complaining about a bit in my last post. I discovered this because of another rather unpleasant thing I learned about my body.

The second thing I learned is that I got myself a nice little case of piriformis syndrome. Thus the title of this post; I had a moderately annoying tight pain in the left side of my butt. At first I thought it was just muscular pain from some uphills I did either in a training run or on race day. But when it didn’t go away after a few days, I got a little concerned and sought some medical advice. It turns out that because of my uneven gait when I was running (because of the over-pronation) I caused the piriformis muscle to get irritated, and it inflamed, pinching a portion of my sciatic nerve. Ouch! Thankfully, once I knew what it was, it wasn’t that hard to alleviate. First ice. I sat on some ice packs for about 20 minutes at a time, 3 – 4 times a day. Then heat. The next day I got out the electric blanket, sat on it, and turned it on high to try and help the muscle to relax. There are also a few stretches I found online that are extremely helpful.
Piriformis Stretch 1
Piriformis Stretch 2

It took me the better part of 2 weeks to get it to finally let go and start feeling better. The next thing to do then after resting up was to get a better pair of shoes and try a few easy runs. I took a friend’s advice and took a little drive up to Emmaus (near Allentown, PA) to visit the Finish Line Running Store. Great recommendation! They have a super-knowledgeable staff and were able to see right away what was getting me in trouble. They sent me home with a pair of Asics Gel T-2000‘s. I could feel the difference right away.

I also invested in a pair of knee straps, to give my kneecaps some additional support while I re-train in my new shoes. I went with a Runner’s World Magazine recommendation and got the Cho-Pat Dual Action Knee Strap. The straps feel great, and take the pressure off of my kneecaps extremely well.

So very cautiously, I have returned to some slow, easy training runs. I can certainly feel the difference now with better shoes and being more conscious of staying properly aligned and running with good posture. My right leg is definitely more sore after my runs because it is finally having to share the burden more evenly, which is a very good thing. There are no signs of any returning Piriformis Syndrome, which is also a very good thing. My runner’s knee is still present, but getting better. I have a few races coming up, which I am inclined to do rather than forfeit. If I race one and don’t feel good, I’m going to take a break for a while longer much to my chagrin. But I ran the last two mornings and feel really good, so I’m hoping the trend will continue for my next race this Saturday, the Quakertown Rotary 10-miler. It will be my longest distance to date. I’m being cautiously optimistic, but as of today, it’s still a go in my mind.