When the going gets tough, the tough go the only place that makes sense...
Barnes and Noble.
After my disastrous run on Saturday (which I wrote about here), I knew that my major concern wasn't my legs or tummy. It was my head. I had to get my head straight before I could even contemplate another long run, mainly because I was scared out of my wits. The only coherent thing I could utter at Boot Camp on Monday morning (aside from a growing list of ailments) was "That can't happen again. I mean, it can't happen. I simply cannot do that again." If every long run meant fetal-position-stomach-cramping that lasted five hours, well, I was ready to hang up my running shoes without so much as a backward glance. Clearly I wasn't meant for this sport.
Serendipitously enough, the night before my ill-fated run, I went to a little gathering with friends. While we stood around and noshed on heirloom tomatoes, fresh from a Kentucky farm, and straight-from-the-oven foccacia bread, my friend Nancy asked me if I had ever read "Born to Run," by Christopher McDougall. Nancy is a tiny, sprite-like fleet-footed trail runner with more energy than my toddler. She said that the book, among other things, describes the Leadville race, an ultramarathon in the Colorado. This perked my interest - Reinier had just done the Leadville race this past August. Considering Nancy's impressive track record, I trusted her recommendation.
So as I wandered the aisles of my local book store on Monday morning, desperately trying to convince myself a pumpkin spice latte would not be in my best interest, I stumbled upon the book. Maybe it would be a good read? I was really more in search of books about nutrition and training - whatever I could read that would ensure my stomach wouldn't hurt while running. But I had a gift card, so throwing another book on the pile didn't seem like such a big deal.
What can I say about "Born to Run"? First, I finished it last night, less than 48 hours after purchase. The sign of a good book, by Kimmy Standards, is if I refuse to talk to my family because my nose is buried in a book. I once spent an entire Christmas ignoring my family because I wanted - no, needed - to devour the third Harry Potter book. (I was like, 16. Cut me a break).
This book is like running Prozac. Or running Xanax. Or some kind of wonderful pharmaceutical that just makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside. McDougall, the author, made me feel like he was just like me - a runner who liked to run but kind of sucked at it. His foot hurt, his legs were prone to injury, and he had trouble upping his miles without serious disaster. The part where he is not like me is that he is an award-winning journalist who gets paid to trek off into the deadly Cooper Canyons in Mexico to study the world's greatest ultrarunners, a tribe of Indians called the Tarahumara. Lucky dog.
Embedded in the narrative about these fascinating, amazing people, McDougall crams in all kinds of fantastic running advice. While the form, stride and pace info was helpful, it was the historical (anthropological, actually) and spiritual bits of wisdom that made me run for my highlighter pen. And when you think about it, if you are about to set off and run 100 miles through the wilderness, you better have your head on straight. I've always known that the biggest struggle of running exists between my ears, but this book was like a massive wake-up call. I can do hill days and night runs until my knee caps fall off, but until I really embrace the cognitive challenge ahead of me, it's all for naught.
My favorite quote? From Ken Chlouber, the creator of the Leadville Trail 100: "Make friends with pain, and you will never be alone." Not to get all hippy-dippy, but as any philosopher would tell you, in order to truly conquer something, you need to embrace it, not run from it. Running 26.2 miles is going to be tough, and the more I try to tell myself it's not going to hurt, the more inauthentic I become. I need to own it, to acknowledge it, to shake its hand. Pain, nice to meet you. Welcome to my life.
And the best part (to me, at least) was how he was able to link present day runners and ultrarunners to our earliest origins, Homo sapiens. I mean, we've managed to survive all of these years without claws, sharp teeth, rapid speed, or incredible strength. We survived years before the advent of primitive weapons, and we did it with a wimpy, skinny little bodies and oversized heads. How? Endurance running. If we can outrun our prey, we win. We might not be the fastest or strongest, but we can outlast the animal through persistent hunting. So what he's arguing, is that essentially, at our deepest core, we were born to run. By denying our ability to run, we are denying who we are, who we were born to be: natural runners.
See what I mean? Deep thoughts. Like, whoa.
As much as I love (adore, actually) this book, I'm not sure if it would appeal to non-runners (but if you don't run, you really should start.Please reread the previous paragraph.) For those with Gu in their pantry or the ability to talk about socks for hours, this book is a fantastic way to rediscover your reason for running and inspire yourself to be better. I plan to reread this bad boy the week before the marathon to get my head in the right mindset.
The amazing ultrarunners, the Tarahumara, run and run and run. They actually get faster as they older. Everything about what they do is counter-intuitive to American running beliefs. But as McDougall notes, "You don't stop running because you get old. You get old because you stop running." On the eve of the my 35th birthday, this just fills me with sense of lightness and joy. In the two years since I started running, I feel younger, fresher and full of more energy than I ever thought possible. I feel happier, more at peace, and more balanced than ever before.
I hope I have 35 more years of running ahead of me.
Happy trails, friends.