I’m not a fan of solo podcasts. Except for Brenn’s too-infrequent essays, I prefer podcasts in which there are exchanges of ideas. While I have problems with some Runners Round Tables, I enjoy them because of the interchanges.

But I gave a listen to BrandonsMarathon because he was interviewing Christopher McDougall. McDougall wrote “Born to Run” and I had issues with that book. Briefly, save for two stand-alone chapters (about shoes and evolution), I found the characters uninteresting and the premise — their inherent superiority — insulting.

But McDougall was engaging, a serious guy taking this stuff seriously. He made some interesting points.

First, about shoes. Or not. You see, he does not wear them when he runs. He had a long history of problems — he begins the book by recounting them — but overcame those problems when he started running minimalist and eventually barefoot. This relates to his chapter on how Nike-killed-running. He acknowledges that running shoes are not per se evil. Just that they are overengineered. Thus running icons of my youth — Shorter, Rodgers, Benoit — began running as I did in largely minimalist shoes. I wore blue Onitsuka Tigers (the ancestor of the Asics brand) that were basically rubber and a light upper. We all wore them. When I was in college, the waffle-sole appeared and from there shoes got more and more complicated and did more and more of the things that the foot is designed to do. So our feet end up like the humans in WALL-E.

As I recently noted, I’m happy with my current shoe. It works for me. It doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles and thus it is relatively cheap as running shoes go, and not the $175 one can pay for a shoe that mimics running naturally. Of course, as I also recently noted, Robert tried Nike Frees ended his experiment after he suffered an injury.

Second, the whole Tarahumara topic was discussed. They smile when they run and haven’t lost the joy of running. That, of course, is fine until it crosses the superiority-line about which I’m so sensitive. I sure don’t smile when I run but, you know, I do enjoy it. To feel the body (as it felt during a run this morning) working on all cylinders is gratifying. I don’t run for that reason. It’s a perk.

I do run with a goal in mind. And here’s where McDougall surprised. The assumption was that all of this just-running is the ticket. So when it was suggested that that was enough if one were training for a race, McDougall said, “Oh, for that you need a plan.” It may involve principles gathered from the Tarahumaras or the Kenyans or the Japanese. It also involves specific speedwork.

We are intelligent beings in a physical world. That’s why I enjoy listening to Skepticism podcasts. Most of the running bloggers I read have taken a step back and come to terms with the science behind the sport. I’m training for a marathon, what types of speedwork should I be doing? How fast should my long runs be? How far? We debate wearing watches or HRMs or Garmins on easy runs.

There’s a lively debate on issues like VO2max and the like on LetsRun. Julie had a recent post on weight and running and girls and self-image. If you look at the comments, you’ll see one from Kevin Beck (Julie’s coach) and another from Scott Douglas. This I mention because Beck edited a book called “Run Strong” which gets into the mechanics of running and Douglas is a co-author with Pete Pfitzinger of a very popular couple of training books, including “Advanced Marathoning.” These are two great sources — “Daniels’ Running Formula” is a third and there are others — that get into the science of running. It seems to me that if you’re going to discuss training, you need at least (I profess no more) rudimentary understanding of how the body works. How the core creates stablity and the heart distributes oxygen. How the muscles convert oxygen into energy and form prevents injury. One should know the purpose for each workout, even if it’s a recovery run of unspecified distance and unspecified duration. As noted in McDougall’s book (and elsewhere), humans evolved to be superb distance runners. Beyond survival, we’ve taken it to the level of hobby, something to enjoy. And, to some, something to master, or at least try to.

  • How.
  • Fast.
  • Can.
  • I.
  • Be.

Perhaps for a 100m. Perhaps for a 100K. For many, for 26 miles and 385 yards.

It’s not a mental thing either. As I’ve noted before, NYC Marathon winner Juma Ikanga has said, “the will to win means nothing without the will to train.” And the will to train means nothing without the knowledge to train intelligently.

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