I picked it up on various recommendations and I heard it would help me with my barefoot running. So far it’s great. I won’t give anything away, but I will say it is worth picking up if you’re a runner.
There is one passage near the beginning that intrigued me where Christopher McDougall wonders about how our most primal impulses – fear and pleasure – play a strong role in our desire to run. He goes so far as to say that as far as stress relief and sensual pleasure are concerned, running is what we have before we have sex.
Here’s a passage:
We run when we’re scared, we run when we’re ecstatic, we run away from our problems and we run around for a good time.
And when things look worst, we run the most. Three times, America has seen distance-running skyrocket, and it’s always in the midst of a national crisis. The first boom came during the Great Depression, when more than two hundred runners set the trend by racing forty miles a day across the country in the Great American Footrace.
Running then went dormant, only to catch fire again in the early 70s, when we were struggling to recover from Vietnam, the Cold War, race riots, a criminal president, and the murders of three beloved leaders.
And the third distance boom? One year after the September 11 attacks, trail-running suddenly became the fastest-growing outdoor sport in the country. Maybe it was a coincidence. Or maybe there’s a trigger in the human psyche, a coded response that activates our first and greatest survival skill when we see the raptors approaching us.
As I have mentioned before, running for me was born in the midst of personal turmoil and conflict and essentially the worst stages of my life. But whenever I ask other people why they run, the answers are always something like weight loss or good health or love of the sport. So I thought I was alone in embracing running for its therapeutic effects. For me, running heals things that would otherwise be broken. But I never heard it described that way before reading this book.
It really made me think about those primal links to fear and pleasure, and I tried to trace the role of some of the strongest human emotions and how they have personally contributed to my running: fear, anger, love, and hope.
When I started running, I lived at Yonge/Dundas (the centre of the universe as far as downtown Toronto). It was buzzing with people at all hours of the day and night, but the area where I lived had more than its fair share of the homeless and drug addicts. There were areas that I ran through where I literally could not stop for fear of being followed or attacked.
Sometimes I would run early in the morning and literally have to leap over people sleeping on the streets in order to pass. But I was stubborn and ran anyway, propelled by an even greater fear: my partner was in a coma and I didn’t know whether he would live or die.
I had a few close calls. I quickly learned to eliminate walking intervals. People would approach me if I was walking, but nobody would run after me. Running was the only way I could cross some shady parts of town. I could literally run right through a group of people that I would never dare walk past. If I ran fast enough, they would only stare. Once I was too slow and I got followed almost to my door. So I had to defend myself, and run faster the next time.
A few times I hoped a fence and snuck into a track at a local high school. People couldn’t figure out how to get in, so they would stand at the fence and watch me like a cat watches a mouse in a cage. But I felt safe there. I would run circles around the track, propelled by fear but strangely finding peace in the midst of it.
Before I lived downtown, I lived at Bloor/Lansdowne. Crack whore central. All I could afford there was a room, so I lived in a loft that was converted into eight tiny bedrooms. I had one and in the other seven there lived addicted men. Some were into alcohol, others drugs. But we shared the same bathroom and kitchen and I was the only female, and the youngest. I was scared to leave my room at night to pee.
Sometimes I would hear people getting beaten to near-death right outside my window in the middle of the night. But at the time my options were to either live there or live on the street.
My solution? I would grab my bike, and ride it to the lake at three or four in the morning, to the trails where I would eventually learn to run. I would find peace here. Fear is what drove me there, and fear is what moved my legs. If it weren’t for fear, I would not be a runner today.
When I have written about the music I listen to on my runs (here and here), a lot of those songs link back to anger. Towards people and events in my past. Because I run I am able to vent this anger and move on. But during the run I can think about it, and use it as fuel.
When I run I feel that I turned out better than what others expected of me. That I’m in a position of strength and power whereas before I was weak and vulnerable. Now bigger and stronger whereas those who knocked me down are fatter and older. Running makes me feel that I could step on them if I wanted to. But I don’t because they’re not even worth a heel strike.
This one goes back to grade school. And kissing tag.
Kissing tag was my thing. I had a strong personality in grade school, so I would gather a large group of people and force them to play kissing tag just so I could chase one boy: Dino Gavostas. He was Greek and the absolute cutest boy in school.
I ran like hell but damn it, Dino was fast. I only caught him ONCE – and when I did I was too shy to kiss him. But my friend found out so after school that day she grabbed me by the arm and dragged me to the back of the school building where Dino was being held hostage by other boys. We stood there staring at each other for what felt like 30 minutes but was probably only 30 seconds. Then I kissed him.
Two days later I got a note on my desk saying that Dino wanted me to be his girlfriend. And the rest is history.
Near the end of all my runs, I always feel a strong sensation of hope. Nothing is ever as bad as it seemed on my way out the door. School is great. Work is great. Life is perfect. I suddenly have faith in humanity and the inherent goodwill of others. I feel like helping someone, which is what I try to do with this blog.
I think everyone has gone through his or her personal struggles. I’m hardly alone. But hope is important. And so is helping others who are running behind you.