Sunday, October 28, 2012


The weather is changing.  Leaves to be raked, plants to be brought in.  Drastic differences in daytime highs and nighttime lows.  Our northeastern states are bracing themselves for Hurricane Sandy, which the media has dubbed “Frankenstorm.”  The storm is due to hit Delaware on Monday evening.  It will move north from there, dropping rain and snow, knocking out electricity and causing a ruckus just in time for Halloween.  I know my northeastern friends, who are like family, have prepared themselves.  One cannot live in Maryland, New York, or Connecticut and not take a storm like this seriously.

Just finished reading Jean Craighead George’s My Side of the Mountain.  I’m fairly certain that I had read this book before, but it would have been a long time ago.  Its publication date is 1959.  The same year that William S. Burroughs published The Naked Lunch, Hunter S. Thompson published The Rum Diary, and Ian Fleming published both Goldfinger and For Your Eyes Only.  My Side of the Mountain is the story of a young boy who runs away from New York City to live off the land in the Catskills.  I enjoyed the resourcefulness of young Sam Gribley, and could relate to his preparations for winter, but was frightened by the absence of a concerned parent (probably due to the horrific news stories recently about children gone missing and unhappy endings).  Sam’s story ends on an unbelievably upbeat note…

I’ve also been reading quite a bit by a New York blogger, 66 Square Feet.  Marie blogs eloquently (and so darned poetically) about gardening on her tiny terrace, cooking and eating the foods she grows there, and navigating, often on foot, her amazing city.  Her blog is a delightful love-letter about New York, her feline friend Estorbo, her spouse the Frenchman, and sometimes about her roots in South Africa.  Marie, Estorbo and the Frenchman are preparing for Sandy’s visit to the coast…carefully tended plants have been moved to safety, ingredients for simple yet elegant meals have been procured, beer and wine are to be purchased to soothe the soul.  I can relate.  If this storm were hitting Alabama, Eric and I would be doing approximately the same thing.

We are having NY strips, roasted rosemary potatoes and field greens for dinner.  Eric is under the weather, so this calls for blood...

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Running & Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

Never make promises while sitting in an emergency room because it is a guarantee that those promises will be made under the influence of some kind of duress AND may be difficult to keep.

Eric was propped on a gurney in the hallway of the ER on a Friday night in August (the 17th, to be exact).  We were there with what I can only describe as the most ill-behaved slice of humanity, for an accident that shouldn’t have happened.  Two hours earlier, Eric had wrecked his bike while training for cyclocross when he hit a foliage-concealed crater left in the park by Alagasco project workers.  His bike was toast (this after having rebuilt it from his earlier crash on May 24).  His body had not faired much better than the bike, what with his ripening black eye, broken nose, multiple facial scrapes, bruised back and wonky collar bone (the same collar bone that had just healed from being broken and surgically repaired in the May crash).  He was mad.  And he was done with cycling.  For good this time.  He thought out loud that perhaps he would focus again on running...

Maybe I wasn't thinking straight because of the stress, but I found myself telling Eric that if he did in fact decide to give up cycling and pick running back up, I would start running with him.

So, after about a month of healing, Eric and I went for a run together.  We ran a little over two miles.  I'm sorry, let me clarify that I did not run the ENTIRE two miles.  I ran one minute, walked one minute, ran one minute, walked one minute.  This seemed to work for me because although my legs kept telling me to go, go, go, my lungs kept telling me to just lay down on the pavement for a minute or two until someone I knew drove by and offered me a ride home.  It has gotten a bit easier since that first run, but I still have to bargain with myself to "just make it to the next fire hydrant."

How does Born to Run by Christopher McDougall play into all of this?  Well, Eric read McDougall's book recently while at the beach, and liked it well enough to share parts of it with me as he read.  I was intrigued, so once he was finished, I decided to read it too.

Born to Run, with its history of the birth of the grueling Leadville 100, its details of the deadly allure of the Copper Canyons of Mexico, and its fascinating scientific data which appear to shore up the idea that humans were indeed born to run, is a page-turner (and also a bestseller).  McDougall introduces us to the legendary Tarahumara, a tribe indigenous to the Copper Canyons region...a tribe known for their superhuman running abilities. He also introduces us to a motley and award-winning crew of American ultramarathoners:  the empathetic and kindhearted Scott Jurek, the intense Kerouac-spouting youngsters Jenn Shelton and Billy Barnett (aptly referred to as the Party Kids), runner/photographer Luis Escobar, the talkative Barefoot Ted (who, as you might guess, runs barefoot for the most part and yes, he talks a lot), and the admirable and unforgettable Caballo Blanco (Shaggy, Micah True, Michael Randall Hickman) whose dream to host an ultramarathon in the unforgiving Copper Canyons between the best Tarahumara runners and the best American ultrarunners becomes his magnum opus.  Even as a non-runner, I found this book engaging, what with its anthropological theories and its sometimes hilarious observations of the colorful real-life characters.

A sobering testament to the beguiling abilities of athletic shoe advertising may be seen when McDougall discusses the "Painful Truth" about feet and running shoes (pgs. 171-177 of the softcover Vintage Book edition):

"So if running shoes don't make you go faster and don't stop you from getting hurt, then what, exactly, are you paying for?  What are the benefits of all those microchips, 'thrust enhancers,' air cushions, torsion devices, and roll bars?  Well, if you have a pair of Kinseis in your closet, brace yourself for some bad news.  And like all bad news, it comes in threes:
Painful Truth No. 1:  The Best Shoes Are the Worst
Painful Truth No. 2:  Feet Like a Good Beating
Final Painful Truth:  Even Alan Webb Says 'Human Beings Are Designed to Run Without Shoes'"

Of course, McDougall inserts compelling information to back up each "Painful Truth," but I'm going to leave that to you to find out what that compelling information is.  It did make me think back to the fourteen years of ballet I devoted myself to, many of the hours in those fourteen years spent practicing at the barre either barefoot or in soft ballet shoes with no support whatsoever.  If McDougall is correct, then my strong feet and ankles should thank me for all those years of unsupported pounding that I subjected them to.  I also think back on my favorite hiking boots that I wore in my early twenties while working as a contract archaeologist, suede hightop Payless work boots with soles so flexible and rubbery, I could actually feel my feet and toes gripping the rocks underneath them when I hiked rough terrain.  God, I loved those boots and still hold out hope of finding similar ones one day...

Another intriguing part of Born to Run was the research on persistence hunting (the running to death of an animal over a period of time) as one of the theoretical reasons for the evolution of the human body into such a perfect running mechanism.  Persistence hunting would be virtually untraceable through the archaeological record if it wasn't for certain bony characteristics in the human body that developed evolutionarily to position a persistence hunter in a place to be more successful.  It is a plausible theory, one that  McDougall fleshes out with Louis Liebenberg's study of one of the few living examples of persistence hunting left in the world, the Kalahari Bushmen of southern Africa (and not all of the Kalahari practice persistence hunting, only a "renegade band" of a few tribesmen).  Liebenberg lived and hunted with these Kalahari renegades long enough to completely change the way he ate and ran, becoming a better runner and a better hunter. And when Liebenberg left Africa, he wrote The Art of Tracking:  The Origin of Science, which is probably another good read.

Born to Run left me with a better understanding of what a proper running diet would be (less is more, and vegan seems to be choice), what shoes would best serve a long-distance runner (not the expensive kind that offer an overly supporting structure), and the best running form (run barefoot and you will figure out your best running form actually is). Born to Run also left me with a great respect for ultrarunners, most specifically those ultrarunners who were mentioned by the author.  These athletes love running.  Otherwise I don't believe they could do what they do.