01 December 2009

Becoming a runner

A big part of what has inspired me to run more and train for this half marathon is the idea that running taps into something very natural and basic about who we are as human beings.  Part of exploring that aspect of running for me has meant moving toward less supportive footwear, but before I go any further on the subject of running shoes, let me say this: I know ditching your padded and ultra-supportive shoes may not be for you, and that's fine.  You have to decide what's best for you.  I hope that no matter what, exploring a little bit about our human history of running will at least inspire you to get out and give running a try again.  Trust me, you used to love to do it.  All you have to do is watch my 2 year old tear around the house to realize that at one time everyone who could run as a child loved nothing more than to run and run and run.  You still have that child in you, and running can still be fun!

Anyway, back to shoes.  Most of the articles I've read about the growing trend of running in minimal footwear (or even barefoot) focus on the debate it's causing with the athletic shoe industry, and that makes sense because that's where the money is.  That's not really what I'm most interested in, though.  I'm not here to snub my nose at the multi-billion dollar shoe industry (they'll do just fine without me I'm sure).  I'm not doing it to feel superior to anyone else.  I'm not doing it to simply follow a trend. 

The simple fact is, I decided to start running in more minimal footwear because I was curious to see if it would really make a difference in my tolerance for running longer distances.  I started under the assumption that I would try it for a while, and if it didn't work, I would go back to running in my normal shoes (hopefully without seriously hurting myself before then).  Since I've found that I can run more confidently, for longer distances, and with less pain in less supportive shoes, there has been no turning back for me.  So I've ditched my standard running shoes simply because I run better without them.  I don't think I will ever want to run completely barefoot, but I'm hoping to find something even more minimal than my Converse low tops (see postscript).

As I've done that, however, I'm discovering another reason why I think I'm drawn to the "less is more" approach to running shoes.  This reason is a bit more abstract, but I feel like running this way is connecting me with a very ancient human identity that's in each of us.  This is really the part of all of this that excites and inspires me the most, and it's the part that I find the most spiritual (for lack of a better word).  This idea that running is a shared human behavior that stretches back millions of years has simply captured my imagination.  We may not live in caves anymore.  We may not hunt with spears (or at all).  We may have advanced technologically to the point that most of our lives would be unrecognizable to our earliest human ancestors, but we still have the same physical characteristics that make homo sapiens the distance running champion of all organisms on this planet.  Somehow, it was only when I stripped down my shoes and started to really feel the ground under my feet that I really connected with this.  It makes me feel that, instead of saying, "I like to run every once in a while," I want to honestly say, "I am a runner," because running is becoming more than just a pasttime or exercise routine for me.  It's becoming a much deeper part of my identity.  When I'm running now, I feel like I'm honestly doing something that God created me to do at a fundamental level.  It's a way of experiencing those rare moments where I feel connected to something much larger than myself.  It's a way for me to celebrate the miracle of our human bodies.  It's a way for me to remember that I have been created for a purpose.  I hope that as I continue to explore this aspect of my running, it will become a way for me to carry that focus and purpose into the rest of my life.

As a postscript (can blogs have postscripts?), if you're interested in learning more about some of the evolutionary science that's going on around distance running, check out this article from the New York Times website back in October.  There's also a video on that page that includes an interview with Christopher MacDougall and shows him and the Times' columnist running through Central Park barefoot.  And here is a link to what I want for Christmas, so I can run in even less footwear: Vibram Five Fingers