I have a confession to make.

I only just now read Born to Run.

I have known for a long time that this was the runner’s Bible, particularly barefoot runners. I knew what a big deal it was. I knew how many people it had inspired. And I knew that all my friends had read it. Yet I still hung back.

I got Born to Run when it first came out and everyone was reading it. I watched the hype and all the book tours. But I let it sit on my shelf. For weeks. Months. Until the hype was mostly over. Until people stopped talking about it. And everyone assumed that I had read it.

I have an interesting relationship with books. Books were my best friends all through childhood and adolescence. They’re what got me through life.

My dad used to always refer to his books as real people, and it was always clear to me that he loved his books more than he loved me. I wasn’t to ever harm any of his books. If a spine was bent, or if a cover was creased, I would have to face his consequences.

My dad’s approach to reading was extreme, but it did engrave in me a profound respect for books. I approach a book now with near-reverence.

I can read fast, but at the same time I read slow because I stop a lot. I read until I get a thought and then I stop to really think about it. Then I act on it. And I don’t come back to continue reading until I’ve done what I need to do. Until I’ve applied what I’ve learned.

I knew that Born to Run would take me a long time to read. I knew, deep inside, that it would somehow change my life. And I wasn’t ready for change when I bought it. So I let it sit.

I knew that I would love this book, because I love running. But I wanted to love running on my own terms. I wanted to tackle my first ultra before cracking the cover. I wanted to explore barefoot and minimalist running before turning any pages.

So much of my knowledge is book knowledge. But running is one of the few things that I can truly experience. I didn’t want to read about it. I just wanted to run.

I also didn’t want to be carried away by a fad. A quick barefoot run, and then back to normal life. I didn’t want anyone to say that I came to love ultras because of Born to Run. Or that I tried barefoot running because of this book. I wanted to love ultras on my own terms. And run barefoot for the sheer joy of it.

So I did.

I ran my first ultra and fell in love with the 50k+ distance all on my own. I took off my shoes and never put them on again, all by myself. I didn’t want to know the stats or the proof or the studies. I just wanted to know that it was right for me because it FELT right. I wanted to know, based on feel, that I could never run any other way.

Last month I finally picked up Born to Run. The time was right. And last night I finally finished it.

It was like watching the first movie of a series, when that movie was the last to come out. You already knew the ending. But you didn’t know the beginning. And suddenly everything makes sense.

Born to Run was exactly like that for me. I already knew that I loved ultras and I always would. I knew that running barefoot would always work for me. But I didn’t know why.

I’m not a better runner because of Born to Run. It’s not going to make me any faster or make me push any further. But I do feel wiser. I feel like I’m on the right track. And I feel that just because people don’t get what I do, doesn’t mean that it’s wrong.

I think this book strengthened my resolve to fully embrace who I am and what I love. I recently confided to a friend: “I can’t shake the feeling that my whole life is supposed to be about running. It’s the only thing that consumes me.”

I used to try to explain myself to others. I felt that I had to justify my passions. Why do I run barefoot? Why do I run so much? Why do I make running a priority?

But I’m done with that.

This book showed me the why behind a lot of these questions, but it also showed me something more important: That I don’t need to explain it. I can just know it. And I can just run.

To me, Born to Run will always conjure up the image of Caballo Blanco cutting through dips and turns and crevices too dangerous to speak of. A mere shadow slipping through spaces so narrow with drops so steep that it’s senseless. Life and death all hanging on a long run. And I want that. I have for a long time.

These aren’t risks that anyone can explain. According to the voices of reason, this is not what I’m supposed to want. Who wants to get lost? Who wants to get exhausted? Who wants to fall down?

I’m supposed to want to stay where it’s safe. To compromise my dreams of wilderness and wanderings, and while I’m at it – to put on some god damn shoes.

Except that I can’t. And I fear that the day I loosen the grip on my passions is the day someone pries them from my cold dead fingers.

They should look for me at the bottom of a canyon.

15 responses

  1. If you want a life and death run, I recommend the Escarpment 30K in the Catskill Mountains. It’s an easy 6 hour drive, and although it’s only 30K it is harder than any 50K around.The first hour is a fairly steep climb. I remember at one point dizzily hanging onto a small tree on a cliff, thinking that if I lost my grip, I was going to die. The year before we ran it, a guy went over a cliff, smashed his pelvis and had to be helicoptered out.
    Just make sure you have out of country medical insurance!


  2. This is one of the most amazing posts I have ever read. I admire your passion. It is both inspiring and reassuring. You are one of a kind my dear and yet I feel a familiarity in your words. Run on my friend!

  3. I think people only ask why because they truly are curious, not trying to judge you. I get that a lot from my family and friends. All you have to say is that it’s fun :)

    While I’m not a barefoot runner, I admire the confidence you have to stick with what works for you.

  4. Vanessa, I agree with Angie and Chris. Loved your words.

    It’s a welcomed rollercoaster… from the humorous “I have a confession” – to the insight into your dad’s relationship with books and the impact that had on you – to the tear-inducing, chest-tightening words about your relationship with running.

    By the last line, I just let the cry flow. Very moving, woman. Very moving.

  5. Books have always been pivotal in my life as well. I read Born to Run after I had been wearing the minimalist shoes for 3 months. I don’t think I am off to run ultra-marathons any time soon, but I gave me the courage to keep running as long as I want to without worrying about having to be competitive about it. Thank you for such a lovely post!

  6. This is a wonderful post! But I admit that I’m reading it with my kids at my feet so I’m going to close the computer but mark this to come back to. I am in the middle of this book and it is really life changing in a way. My husband read it and it changed him so much…he has fallen in love with running for the first time ever! I am also trying to find your e-mail so I can e-mail you about possibly hosting a giveaway for art of runninghood….I’ll contact you soon. :) Love your blog!

  7. Great sentiment. I may be one of the few that don’t connect Born to Run directly to barefoot running. I had already decided to try it and had been researching from my own nerdy ‘how-to instructional’ approach before I landed on BTR. What the book did for me was fuel my desire to run, in whatever way I chose to run. Running and reading are my escapes, and BTR helped link them together. It has made the idea of Ultras an aspiration (for this newly returned, highly out of shape runner)…

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