Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t like sports.
Despite having been raised by an athletic father who played softball in the summer and hockey all winter, despite having been a basketball and football cheerleader in high school, and despite the fact that I live right smack in the middle of Red Sox Nation, I have absolutely no interest in sports. It’s a lot like living in Nashville and not liking Country Music. While most of my coworkers are looking for tickets to the Yankees/Red Sox game during our next business trip to New York City, I’m mentally planning a quiet night at Shake Shack with the few who don’t give a hoot about which team wins.
No, I don’t like sports at all. But I am a runner. So what gives?
Last weekend I attended the Boston leg of Chris McDougall’s “Naked Run” tour. It was Marathon weekend, so there were tents, noise, streets blocked off and police everywhere. And the glorious finish line was all set up right next to the Boston Public Library, where about 60 barefoot and minimally-shod runners met up to run a 5-mile loop together. Regular Joes and Nancies all pounding the pavement with the likes of Scott Jurek, Dr. Daniel Leiberman, Lee Saxby, John Durant, and of course the man himself, Christopher McDougall. It was probably the coolest run I’ve ever done to date…yes, even cooler than that warm morning jog on Coronado Island last December. Kathy and I smiled until our faces hurt and she snapped a photo every 3 minutes. We ran behind McDougall most of the way, and at one point I was able to catch up to him for a quick chat. It was relaxed, laid-back and beautiful, exactly the things you want out of a run. With a half mile left we stripped off our shoes and ran “naked” across the Boston Marathon finish line and back to the library steps, still smiling like a couple of fools.
What strikes me the most about that run, and about all of my running experiences since reading Born to Run, is that running represents nothing but joy to me. Unlike those who grunt out two miserable miles on the treadmill twice a week to fulfill their New Years resolutions, I’d rather be running than doing pretty much anything else. Could it be because I took my shoes off? Revamped my slacker running form? Could be. But I think the real difference is that now I see running less as a sport and more as a practiced art.
The subject of barefoot running is filled with a ton of historical hypothesis, instructional information and biomechanical science. There are books, blogs, videos, forums, events and lectures all over the place about it. Anything you want to know about why you should run barefoot or with minimal footwear, it’s easy to find. There will be at least a few minimalist runners at every 5k and half marathon you’ll enter this year, and every running store worth its salt is carrying at least a few pairs of minimalist running shoes.
I don’t believe that running should be thought of like a sport, or used as a workout that you do to get back into your high school jeans. Those jeans are out of style, anyway. I believe running should be approached as an art form, like dancing, singing, painting or writing. Things that we all do at some level all our lives, as a form of pleasure or social activity. For example anyone can sing, and it’s enjoyable even if you suck at it (think of all the times you’ve belted out “Happy Birthday” to your embarrassed friends and family at TGIFridays). And then there are people like Aretha Franklin, who sing too, just much, much better.
What I’m saying here is that some activities are part of who we are, part of our cultures, our societies. Why have we made running out to be anything different? Running is a default movement of our species. More specifically, it’s a default art form of our species. It’s inherent in all of us to run, just like bopping our heads to a great song on the radio, or drawing a stick figure of ourselves on our notepads during snooze-fest board meetings. We all have the tools to run; our bodies were built with parts meant to make us able to run, stuff that not all creatures have. We run constantly as children, and we do it without the aid of motion-control shoes or GPS watches. Certainly 99.999% of us will never win the Boston Marathon, we just don’t possess the talent. Still thousands show up every year to run it, just the same. It’s because these people know that running is a good thing, and that yes, it’s good for you. These people haven’t forgotten how to enjoy movement. Haven’t allowed themselves to become too distracted by their televisions, their careers or their iPads. They’re not members of the huge majority of Americans who have inexplicably convinced themselves that they can’t run. So let me take a moment here to remind everyone again, in the words of Chris McDougall:
- You weren’t born broken.
- Running isn’t a perilous punishment-for-pizza.
- Everything you need [to run], you had the day you were born.
April 21, 2011 at 10:40 AM
Running is my sport I suppose, but that’s also because I grew up running in track and cross country. For the most part though, I treat it exactly like you described. I like the comparison to art better actually. It helps to explain why it’s always meant so much more to me than a sport. Thanks for putting that feeling into words so well.
Glad you had fun geeking out with Mr. Born to Run. When I ran with him last year, I couldn’t get up the courage to say anything. This was after blabbing for 10 minutes at some dude from the local paper. Guess I’m fine being a media whore…
April 21, 2011 at 1:45 PM
Okay, Christian. You can be the media whore and I’ll be the star-effer. LOL
And thanks for reading. 🙂
April 21, 2011 at 5:58 PM
I think they call those folks “groupies”. Are you a McDougall groupie? I suppose since I’m to scared to talk to him, but I follow him around at events, I’m more of a stalker. But in a non-threatening way.
April 21, 2011 at 2:25 PM
I’ll be the secluded nerd who never goes to any events because I’m a minor and am moving back to Europe first chance I get.
April 21, 2011 at 2:30 PM
Hey, awesome write up. What wrong with my high school jeans anyway?
April 21, 2011 at 5:09 PM
Thanks for the inspiration – just what I am looking for. Running has always been about the process for me. I found barefoot running while searching for ways to reduce joint pain. I just started running in Luna sandles and love it. Prior to this I have been using Vibrams since last June.
I can run barefoot on smooth bike paths, but I don’t like the distraction of all the stuff you step on. It slows me down and and I’m constantly scanning the road surface. How do you deal with that?
April 21, 2011 at 6:35 PM
I run a lot of trails where I live, and I find I can’t be barefoot for too long on them. My feet haven’t quite toughened up enough. So I don’t usually take of my Vibrams unless I’m on some smooth pavement. I will admit that I spend 90% of my running time in Vibrams, not barefoot. To me the whole idea is to have good form, it’s not so much what is or isn’t on your feet. I will say that a few miles bare is good for resetting my form, though, and I like to have that option.
April 22, 2011 at 2:20 AM
Me personally, I eat pizza to fuel my love for running
April 23, 2011 at 3:12 AM
I’m just impressed you knew the phrase “Red Sox Nation”. 🙂
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