Joe Maller.com

From Asics Kayanos to Nike Frees to Vibram FiveFingers and beyond

Shortly after I started running regularly back in 2007 I was “diagnosed” as suffering from serious over-pronation. My visit to the sports medicine doctor had been prompted by significant, painful plantar fasciitis, runner’s knee, IT band pain and an occasional soreness in my hip–all classic running maladies. I had also long suffered from painful foot cramps in which my arch would tighten and my big toe would splay awkwardly and painfully inwards. The doctor sent me to a running store for motion-control shoes and to a physical therapist. I was instructed to stretch more, take several days off between runs and ice my knees afterwards. (I never bothered with the recommended orthotics or night boots)

For the next couple years, I believed this to be normal. But having since switched to a more natural stride, forefoot landings and minimal footwear, every single one of those problems is gone.

Summer of 2009, I bought a pair of Nike Free 5.0s (precursor to the Nike Free Run+) to wear as everyday shoes, having fully swallowed Nike’s marketing video:

Stronger feet? That couldn’t hurt.

At first I was indifferent. While I liked how they looked and felt, I wasn’t sure the Nike Frees were anything more than expensive Crocs. But after a few weeks, I noticed my feet were cramping less and rarely hurt in the mornings.

Still, I never tried running in them. I was too invested in my diagnosis and convinced my foot and knee pain would be even worse without my doctor-prescribed, running-store-recommended, $130 motion-control running shoes. I mean, the store analyzed video of me on a treadmill, was that all BS?

Yes.

After reading Born to Run in Spring of 2010, I finally felt brave enough to try a short run in the Nikes. “Short” turned into a very pleasant 10k. The next day the tops of my feet and the muscles running up the outside of my shins were sore. (Turned out those are a single muscle group, the Extensor digitorum longus.) But sore isn’t pain, and my knees didn’t hurt. A few days later I went out again in my Asics–for what would be the last time.

My original plan had been to alternate between shoes, but that last 8 mile Asics run left my knees hurting for days. I also noticed I was hearing my footfalls through my earbuds. My landings in the Frees were much gentler and nearly silent.

One more run in the Frees and I knew I was done with the Kayanos. The next night I ran 15 miles, my longest run up to that point (by half), and felt absolutely fantastic afterwards–and only mildly sore the next day. All my previous attempts at running anywhere close to 10 miles had ended with IT band tightness, limping and days of residual knee pain.

Something was working, and it was not all in my head.

It’s gotta be the shoes!

No Mars.

In Barefoot Ted’s Google Talk (at about 35:15), he spoke about the idea of products as solutions:

“I realized there was no way in hell that this barefoot running was ever going to become a fad or a hit in the United States unless there was a product… We are so trained, we purchase a solution. We’ve got to have a purchasable solution.”

He’s right, we’re conditioned to believe in the power of products. While I do blame my old motion-control clunkers for inhibiting my form and contributing to knee pain, my success with the Nike Frees was because the shoes got out of my way and let me run more naturally. They helped by not helping.

The Nike Free is a revolutionary product, and a gateway shoe to no shoes at all. After a few months and several hundred miles run in Nike Free 5.0s, including my first ever half-marathon, I stepped down to the flatter, more minimal Nike Free 3.0 and started to mix in some near-barefoot runs in Vibram FiveFingers.

Learning to run near-barefoot was a slow process of rebuilding long-forgotten muscles. For fully 6 months, my calves would be rigid knots for days after a few miles in the FiveFingers. Having spent most of my life in shoes, the muscles and tendons in my feet and lower legs needed quite a bit of time to stretch out and build back up.

While in the middle of this transition, it’s comforting to remember that muscle soreness gets replaced by strength. My aching calves were a promise that someday soon my legs would be even stronger. The encouragement of finding an entire unused muscle group was incentive to keep at it.

With the Nike Free, I became aware of how important shoe flexibility is to foot health. Whenever people asked me about them I’d take one off and curl it up to show how flexible it was. (I did realize how silly this looked) But running in VFFs showed me that a totally-flat, zero-drop heel is every bit as important as sole flexibility, maybe even more so. I’ve since become obsessed with wearing the flattest, most flexible footwear I can find.

Going all the way: Running barefoot

Towards the end of Summer in 2010 I finally took the last step and lost the shoes completely.

It’s difficult to explain how wonderful running barefoot felt, like trying to describe a completely new color or flavor. The quantity of sensory feedback is astonishing and the permanent silly grin can’t be helped. There really is a profound, near-spiritual experience of both human freedom and connection to the Earth.

The promise of extra leg strength proved out. Once my legs adjusted I found myself running further and slightly faster without significant fatigue. My form also improved, the VFFs were masking a lot of skidding and over-reliance on my toes which was immediately apparently–and corrected–barefoot. Despite one significant shoe-related setback (I did too much), I’ve been amazed at how durable and adaptable our feet are. Only two barefoot runs had to be cut short, both of those were because previous, shoe-caused blisters failed and needed covering.

I used to think all that needed to run was a decent pair of shoes. But all I really ever needed was to go outside and just start running.


A brief history of barefoot running research

The indictment of contemporary running shoes in Born to Run is contributing to a radical transformation of the running world and athletic shoe industry. Chris McDougall’s book deserves credit for bringing barefoot running out of the shadows and into the mainstream, but challenging the conventional wisdom about athletic shoes is not a new idea.

While never explicitly arguing against shoes, Dr. Daniel Lieberman’s 2010 paper, “Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners” has been frequently cited as evidence that our shoes are hurting us. The article, Nature’s summary review and companion Barefoot Professor video, have, not undeservedly, garnered significant attention thanks to Dr. Lieberman’s role in Born to Run.

The Foot Strike paper focuses primarily on impact force generated by different foot-strikes, and also measures the incidence of various landings in several small sample running populations. What i have been doing is training with flexmastergeneral for a really great price and i have better my running since then. These strike-plate graphs showing barefoot vs. heel-strike landings from the Barefoot Professor video clearly show the different impact forces and were very helpful in adjusting my own form:

Dr. Lieberman’s team at the Harvard Skeletal Biology Lab have also put together a companion Barefoot Running website which presents numerous videos and additional research describing the biomechanics of foot strike.

Back in 2001, physiotherapist Michael Warburton published a research paper titled Barefoot Running. His introductory paragraph lays out the entire case against shoes:

Well-known international athletes have successfully competed barefoot, most notably Zola Budd-Pieterse from South Africa and the late Abebe Bikila from Ethiopia. Running in bare feet in long distance events is evidently not a barrier to performance at the highest levels. Indeed, in this review I will show that wearing running shoes probably reduces performance and increases the risk of injury.

Warburton’s paper cited Robbins and Gouw’s 1991 study, “Athletic Footwear: Unsafe Due to Perceptual Illusions” published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. This frequently referenced study appears to be among the first to clinically link the hyper-sensitive densely-packed nerve-endings in our feet with our body’s ability to properly accommodate impact stresses. The abstract goes so far as to close with this:

“…it might be more appropriate to classify athletic footwear as ‘safety hazards’ rather than ‘protective devices'”

Dr. Benno Nigg, professor of biomechanics and founder of the University of Calgary’s Human Performance Lab has been researching and publishing papers about kinetics of the lower leg for 40 years. (The man is a science-publishing machine.) Dr. Nigg published a number of papers starting in 2000 which examine plantar sensory input, impact forces and kinematics related to running barefoot and in shoes. Unfortunately, the papers I most wanted to read were only freely available as abstracts.

Dr. Nigg’s work on muscle tuning has proposed a connection between the reaction of nerves in our feet and muscle pre-activation, to reduce impact force and “soft-tissue vibration” while traversing various surfaces. This 2008 Science of Sport article discusses the detrimental biomechanical effect of motion control shoes and orthotics based on Dr. Nigg’s theories.

On his Science of Running site, Steve Magness recently summarized Dr. Nigg’s muscle tuning theory as relates to running:

An example of [muscle tuning] can be seen with barefoot running, the diminished proprioception (sensory feedback) of wearing a shoe negates the cushioning of the shoe. Studies using minimal shoes/barefoot have shown that the body seems to adapt the impact forces/landing based on feedback and feedforward data. When running or landing from a jump, the body takes in all the sensory info, plus prior experiences, and adjusts to protect itself/land optimally.

Years prior to Dr. Lieberman’s research, Dr. Nigg’s studies or Warburton’s paper, in the mid-1980s at the latest, Olympic runner Gordon Pirie’s book “Running Fast and Injury Free” unflinchingly blamed “overstuffed, wedge-heeled” running shoes for the high rate of running injuries.

Pirie described cushioned running shoes as “orthopedic running boots.”

“The human foot is the result of millions of years of evolution.” to again quote Mr. Pirie. One quarter of the bones in our bodies are in our feet, that level of complexity doesn’t happen without a reason. Running shoes as we’ve come to know them have only existed for a few decades. The big athletic shoe companies have finally, if not caught on, then recognized there’s a lot of money to be made with minimalist shoes. Either way, our feet win.



Barefoot running in the news

The New York Marathon is this weekend, and barefoot running is this year’s “story of interest.”

Neil sent me David Willey’s HuffPo article “Barefoot Running: The Exercise Craze That’s Hit the Streets.” Mr. Willey is treading a very fine line. As Editor-In-Chief of Runner’s World magazine, he is intimately tied to the athletic shoe industry. A tsunami of minimalist shoes will arrive in spring 2011, but however popular the idea of barefooting becomes, Runner’s World would be slitting their throats if they advised their readers to stop buying shoes.

I’m glad to see him exploring minimalist/barefoot running, but I think he misunderstood some key ideas. He claims barefooters insist “the human foot supplies all the cushioning and shock absorption any runner needs.” This isn’t really true. The human foot is a spectacular mechanism, one that we’ve neglected and failed to appreciate for too long. Bare feet force us to land more softly and soft landings don’t require cushioning. Also, the idea of “shock absorption” is counter to running efficiently. Ideally, the muscles and tendons of our feet and legs don’t absorb shock so much as redirect impact forces into the next stride, Ken Meierke calls this elastic recoil “free speed”. Flat heels increase the peripheral heart effect of the soleus muscle on the deep veins in our calves, of course that for those who have bunion problems is not recommendable to run bare foot, but you can surely treat your problem with some sandals for bunions which will make recover faster.

Chris McDougall’s NYTimes article “Born to Run the Marathon?” talks about how he “got over himself” and decided to run the Marathon this year.

One of Chris’s persistent themes is how running can bring out the best in people, something I’ve personally found to be true. Runners tend to be fantastically optimistic people. Maybe that grows from realizing accomplishments that first seemed impossible, or perhaps it’s a shared strength found when humans move together. Chris included the incredible story of Derartu Tulu and Paula Radcliffe in the 2009 NYC Marathon, as well as one of my favorite bits of Native American lore:

The Hopi believed running was a form of prayer; before setting off on a long run from Arizona to the Pacific, they’d offer their effort on behalf of loved ones in need of help. “I’m offering my strength to them,” the runner would murmur to their god, the Great Mystery, “and in return I ask for some of yours.”

The comments on these articles have become predictable, though with more defenders than before. Several people rehash the dogma that our feet are weak, or that people are not designed to run. Others makes comments about the ground being gross, dangerous or “harder than the soft earth humans were meant for.” Then there’s always a physical therapist or podiatrist telling about injured patients.

I went to physical therapy before switching to minimal shoes. My knees were a mess, my feet hurt, my hip hurt and my back hurt. After running in my prescribed motion-control shoes I’d stretch and ice my knees, then wait 2-3 days before trying to run again. I thought that was normal. Now, I can run near-barefoot or barefoot every day without pain. The sports medicine doctors and physical therapists never once asked to see me run.

So many people are convinced of human mediocrity despite everything we’ve done.


Born to Run: Chris McDougall’s journey

My follow-up research to Born to Run turned up bits and pieces of what would become the book scattered around the web, dating all the way back to 2005. These provide an unusual opportunity to see how author Chris McDougall crafted the book over almost five years. Great books often seem effortless, sprung whole from the author’s mind, but the reality of the writer’s craft is much different.

Chris McDougall spent years developing the book’s central stories; traveling to Mexico, meeting Caballo Blanco and the Tarahumara, training for and then completing Caballo’s 50 mile race in the Copper Canyons.

I found some of the first steps of his journey in this June 23, 2005 New York Times article, Kick Off Your Shoes and Run Awhile. A year later, a sizeable portion of what would become Chapter 3 of Born to Run first appeared, almost unchanged, in the July/August 2006 issue of Men’s health, titled “The Men who live forever.

As someone who makes things, I found it fascinating to glimpse how all the elements evolved and to see how years of development and struggle eventually produced such a wonderful book. Some might nitpick and point out discrepencies in the narrative, but discovering these details added another dimension and deepened my enjoyment.

In this interview Chris revealed additional details about the book. The Copper Canyons race took place in 2006 and Chris says he spent the following two and a half years “repeatedly messing up the book.”

In October 2009, Google twice invited Chris to speak as part of their Talks@Google series, first in Mountain View, then in New York City. The talks are about an hour each with some Q&A at the end. He doesn’t repeat much between the two and it’s great to hear some of Born To Run retold in his voice.

More recently, in July 2010, Chris gave a talk at the TEDxPennQuarter conference titled Reinventing Running. Many themes from the Google talks are here too, but reflect several months of refinement and are joined by some new ideas.

During the book’s initial publicity tour Chris appeared on the Daily Show and gave an hour-long interview with Philadelphia Public Radio’s Radio Times. He also took several intrepid reporters for “running” interviews–barefoot. These included the New York Times and ABCNews. There’s a great moment in the ABC interview (at about 2:30) where Chris casually rinses his feet in Central Park’s Bethesda fountain.

Chris often sounds like a big kid who somehow tricked everyone into paying him to talk about running around. In the running interviews, there’s no bravado or machismo in his demeanor, instead there’s an exuberant feeling of joy and of wanting to share that joy with everyone he meets.

When asked where he saw ultra-running in 10 years, Chris’s answer reflected his personal joy that colored so much of Born To Run:

The most exciting thing will be not the races so much as the ethos. Go to the Leadville Trail 100 some time, or even better, Caballo’s race with the Tarahumara down in the Copper Canyons. You’ll be infected with a spirit of camaraderie and fun that will change the way you run every mile afterward. I think the ultrarunning approach, if not the races, will come to dominate recreational running.


Running Technique

“Everyone thinks they know how to run, but it’s just as nuanced as any other activity.” Eric [Orton] told me. “Ask most people and they’ll say, ‘People just run the way they run.’ That’s ridiculous. Does everyone just swim the way they swim?” For every other sport, lessons are fundamental; you don’t go out and start slashing away with a golf club or sliding down a mountain on skis until someone takes you through the steps and teaches you proper form. If not, inefficiency is guaranteed and injury is inevitable.

“Running is the same way.” Eric explained. “Learn it wrong, and you’ll never know how good it can feel.” (page 202-3)

Since reading Born To Run and following up with additional research, I’m running farther, faster and more comfortably than ever. Previously, my best month’s milage was 45 miles. Since March I’ve averaged over 85 miles per month with July topping 100 for the first time. Last year I ran 375 miles. Physically, I’m sure I could go farther, but nothing in the book helps find more hours in the day. I’ve also shaved about a minute off my average mile without really thinking about speed.

I don’t have a coach and haven’t looked at video myself running (yet), but I have become highly focused on improving my mechanics and efficiency. These are some of the ideas I try to keep in my head while running:

  • shorter stride
  • Faster leg turnover
  • soft, quiet landings
  • pull the feet up off the ground
  • pull legs back with the butt
  • feet should be moving backwards before they touch the ground
  • straight back
  • “If it feels like work, you’re working too hard”
  • Do I need to eat or drink?
  • midfoot strike (land on the outside front of the foot, roll towards the big toe)
  • “release the springs” (try to use the tendon’s natural, zero-cost springiness)
  • Relax your hands and arms (don’t waste energy)
  • smile

Also, perhaps especially, Caballo Blanco’s mantra from page 111:

“Think Easy, Light, Smooth and Fast. You start with easy, because if that’s all you get that’s not so bad. Then work on light. Make it effortless, like you don’t give a shit how high the hill is or how far you’ve got to go. When you’ve practiced that for so long that you forget you’re practicing, you work on making it smooooooth. You won’t have to worry about the last one — you get those three, and you’ll be fast.”

It’s still awkward, but I think I’ve felt it a couple times, usually somewhere past 4-6 miles into a run. My pace is faster than I’d have expected, but there it is; a grace and feeling of self-sustained movement and a sort of weightlessness and motion that feels like it could go on forever. Barefoot Ted described it well: “Like a fish slipping into water.”

A big part of adjusting my technique simply had to do with changing shoes. Despite having been previously diagnosed as a heavy over-pronator and clamped into motion-control shoes, it didn’t take long to become a minimal footwear convert. Less shoe gave me a better feel for the ground and increased flexibility across my feet. Read the whole story here: From Asics Kayanos to Nike Frees to Vibram FiveFingers and beyond

Getting past awkward

Ken Mierke is the exercise physiologist Chris trained with in chapter 27 and the creator of the efficiency-focused Evolution Running system.

“When I teach this technique and ask someone how it feels, if they say ‘Great!,’ I go ‘Damn!” That means they didn’t change a thing. The change should be awkward. You should go through a period where you’re no longer good at doing it wrong and not yet good at doing it right. You’re not only adapting your skills, but your tissues; you’re activating muscles that have been dormant most of your life. — Ken Mierke, page 206

The introduction to Ken’s instructional videos are online and are among the most helpful things I’ve found:
Part 1 (5:29), Part 2 (4:59), Part 3 (5:02), Part 4 (4:38) and Part 5 (4:23)

The third video especially talks about the zero-cost elastic recoil of the springlike Achilles tendons in our lower legs and how to benefit from it.

Two other articles by Ken, Creating Efficient Horizontal Propulsion and Maintaining High Turnover When Running Slowly (both on one page) talk about improving running efficiency by using leg muscles to reduce bouncing and increasing endurance with faster leg turnover. I’ve found bouncing to be a serious waste of energy and very hard on the joints.

On page 205, Ken makes the case for faster cadence to 62-year-old triathlete Alan Melvin:

“Kenyans have superquick foot turnover,” Ken said. “Quick, light leg contractions are more economical than big, forceful ones.”

“I don’t get it,” Alan said. “Don’t I want a longer stride, not a shorter one?”

“Let me ask you this,” Ken replied. “You ever see one of those barefoot guys in a 10k race?”

“Yeah. It’s like they’re running on hot coals.”

“You ever beat one of those barefoot guys?”

Alan reflected. “Good point.”

Upping my cadence might be the most challenging aspect of working on my form. Fast turnover, coupled with trying to pull my feet up off the ground and reducing ground-contact time has definitely affected how far I’m able to run. I’m going faster but my endurance hasn’t come close to catching up yet. When it works it feels great, but I tend to get winded quickly and am having a lot of trouble sustaining the faster cadence across any respectable distance.

Gordon Pirie is never mentioned in Born to Run, but his freely available book, “Running Fast and Injury Free” is worth reading, especially chapter 3, “Injuries, Technique and Shoes.” Gordon Pirie was outspoken with the confidence that he had lived and proven the ideas and techniques wrote about.

Pete Larson at RunBlogger (who also teaches Biology, Physiology and Biomechanics at St. Anselm College in New Hampshire) has posted dozens of excellent slow-motion videos showing various foot-strikes, both barefoot and in assorted footwear.

There are TONS of other running technique videos online, some of which are just patently awful. (“strike with your heel then roll off?! Gah!!) As an alternate or supplement to the ideas in the Evolution Running videos, I found Pose Running to have more of a direct approach to efficient mechanics which I prefer over the more holistic and metaphysical Chi Running.

It can seem at times while researching all of this, that everyone must know about it by now. Every running-focused blogger read the book months before I did and online community discussions about the book are all well established. But looking around the last race or anytime I run when other people are out, it’s clear that not enough people do know about this. So many people are bouncing along, pounding the ground in enormous shoes and grimacing in pain — the ideas behind more efficient, natural running and minimal footwear obviously have a ways to go.


Born to Run: Something of an Epilogue

Born to Run is a true story and as such, the characters in the book are real people. This post is a sort of a Google-ey “Where are they now?” for many of those who played a part in the book.

  • Christopher McDougall
    Chris has been happily bouncing around the country promoting Born to Run. He’s got an affable goofiness and seems genuinely filled with joy when he talks about his journey in writing the book.

    Chris spoke at TEDxPennQuarter in July 2010:
    Christopher McDougall – REINVENTING Running

    In 2009 Google invited Chris to to speak, both in CA and NYC, as part of the Google Talks series:
    Chris McDougall @ Google California (October 16, 2009)
    Chris McDougall @ Google New York (October 22, 2009)

    Chris is also blogging.

  • Caballo Blanco (Micah True)
    Caballo organizes the Copper Canyons Ultra-Marathon and leads what can only be called adventure tours of the Copper Canyons at caballoblanco.com.
  • Barefoot Ted McDonald
    Ted, of course, has a blog: Barefoot Ted’s Adventures. He also started the Minimalist Runner Google Group and is active on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.

    In March 2010, Google invited Ted to speak as part of Talks@Google.

    As an aside, I loved how in the book Chris set Caballo Blanco and Barefoot Ted as the Yin and Yang of natural running.

  • Eric Orton
    Eric was one of Chris’s trainers from Chapter 27. He leads the online running community Running With Eric. The site has instructional videos and many well-informed discussions. Eric’s personal training and coaching business is at Train with Eric.
  • Ken Mierke
    Ken is the head coach at Fitness Concepts. The introduction to Ken’s Evolution Running video can be watched online.
  • Dr. Ruth Heidrich
    Dr. Ruth is the nutrionist, triathlete and cancer-survivor Chris spoke with in Chapter 27 (salad for breakfast? on page 210) and one seriously inspiring woman.
  • Scott Jurek
    Scott is active on Facebook and Twitter, he also has a promotional site and blog.
  • Luis Escobar
    Runner and photographer, Luis posts his running photos at All We Do is Run.
  • Joe Vigil
    Legendary Coach Vigil appears in a few short videos which are worth watching. The first, which Chris referenced on page 94, is his parable about The Goddess of Wisdom and Goddess of Wealth. Another inspirational clip is Great Coaches-Olympic Distance Coach Joe Vigil. That appears to be an outtake from the documentary The Long Green Line, which is well worth watching (it’s on Hulu).
  • Dennis Bramble and David R. Carrier
    Dr. Bramble and David R Carrier are professors of Biology at the University of Utah. Dr. Carrier’s research is focused on the interrelationship of animal movement and evolution. Dr. Bramble has recently been focused on human evolution and our human capacity for physical endurance.
  • Daniel Lieberman
    Dr. Lieberman is a Professor of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University where he leads the Harvard Skeletal Biology Lab. Together with co-author Dennis Bramble, he has published a number of scientific papers, the latest has been frequently cited as contributing to a scientific foundation for barefoot running. Since his 2010 paper was published, he’s become something of a “science rockstar,” including being dubbed The Barefoot Professor in a video by the Journal Nature.
  • Louis Liebenberg
    Dr. Liebenberg is the South African mathematician who ran down a kudu with the Kalahari Bushmen in Africa. His 1990 Book, The Art of Tracking, the Origin of Science is currently out of print (considering the only used copy I could find recently sold for $250, someone might want to consider reprinting this). In 2008 he published “The relevance of persistence hunting to human evolution” in The Journal of Human Evolution. Dr. Liebenberg is the Managing Director of CyberTracker and has a semi-public Facebook page.
  • Billy Barnett
    Billy’s living in Hawaii, here’s his personal blog.
  • Norawas De Rarámuri (Friends of the Tarahumara)
    This is a non-profit created to support the Rarámuri culture.

Several other people from the book are online, but I chose not to link them out of respect for their apparent desire to keep their private lives private. If someone mentioned in the book isn’t here, it’s because I guessed they wouldn’t have wanted to be here. (If that’s you and I’m wrong, let me know)

I also wanted to comment on an unintentionally poetic edit made to the book’s cover photo. In Louis Escobar’s original image, Billy “bonehead” Barnett is standing next to a seated Caballo Blanco. Somewhere along the book’s journey to print, Caballo was photoshopped out, vanishing, perhaps appropriately, into the sky above the Barrancas del Cobre. Barefoot Ted posted the original photo.

The Japanese release of Born to Run uses the original photo with a restored Caballo.


Born to Run

Everyone is built for running.” — Eric Orton, page 203.

What a fantastic book. The night I first picked it up intending to read a couple chapters ended with me forcing myself to stop and go to bed after tearing through half the book. Months later, I still haven’t stopped thinking about it. There’s plenty here even if you have no interest in running, and I wholeheartedly recommend reading it.

My first introduction to Born to Run and the nascent (now ascendent) barefoot running movement was this October, 2009 New York Times video and blog entry, The Roving Runner Goes Barefoot. A few months later, after repeatedly seeing the book mentioned around the web, I finally decided I might as well read it too.

This was towards the beginning of the year when, after about three years of running regularly, I decided to start taking running a little more seriously. In addition to reading the book, I also joined New York Road Runners, applied for the 2010 NY Marathon (didn’t get in) and have more than doubled my average weekly miles.

Like many others, I found the book to be profoundly inspirational, bordering on life-changing, and I ended up with a lot to say. This post is sort of the introduction to a series of posts directly or indirectly inspired by Born to Run. As they’re finished I’ll be linking them here.

The book is filled with quotable passages, but this from chapter 27 (page 213) really stuck with me because it mirrors my own experience:

“Because I was eating lighter and hadn’t been laid up once by injury, I was able to run more; because I was running more, I was sleeping great, feeling relaxed, and watching my resting heart rate drop. My personality had even changed: The grouchiness and temper I’d considered part of my Irish-Italian DNA had ebbed so much that my wife remarked, “Hey if this comes from ultrarunning, I’ll tie your shoes for you.” I knew that aerobic exercise was a powerful antidepressant, but I hadn’t realized it could be so profoundly mood stabilizing and–I had to use the word–meditative.” (page 212)

The ideas and stories in Born to Run have inspired me to run farther and much more often. As a result, I’m feeling great, physically and emotionally and genuinely enjoying all of it.