Losing the fear…Chris McDougall

Hello all,

Tonight I had the opportunity to attend a seminar and Q&A session with Christopher McDougall, author of the best-selling “Born to Run” at the Boulder Bookstore.  I read the book, “Born to Run” over a year ago and although I thought the book was very interesting and entertaining, I wasn’t sure how it would translate to racing/training.  Tonight’s seminar and Q&A session was very interesting and educational, so I wanted to highlight a few interesting quotes and ideas from him.

First he discussed how America is currently “losing the fear.”  Losing the fear relates to multiple things.  One is that we are now losing the fear of being “naked.”  Not that he meant literally we should all be running around naked, but that there has been a shift from needing the most high-tech fancy super-absorbent pronating reducing waterproof shoes, shirts, hats, etc to a more down to earth running.  He described Anton Krupicka and how he runs 200+ miles a week with little more than sandals, shorts, and a bottle of water that is in the back pocket of those shorts.  His description of Anton was that he was seamless, smooth, almost at one with moving.  He got to talk to Anton after the Leadville 100 Mile race last weekend.  He described Anton as “naked and without fear” stating that, “Yeah, I gave it my best out there yesterday but had to drop out a 75 miles.  I was not able to achieve my goals today.”  Now, talk about straight up honesty with no fear of repercussions or anything – Anton simply told it like it was.  Another “fear” that we are losing is the fear of barefoot running.  He hates getting asked the questions, “well what about glass, well what happens when it’s cold?”  “Wear shoes!!!!” was his answer.  Although it’s a simple answer it hits the point – he doesn’t advocate barefoot running in all cases, but there is no fear in running barefoot where it is safe.  Although not said in the speech, I really like the idea of “losing the fear” of competition.  As I embark on a challenge to become one of the top American distance runners, “losing the fear” of competing against the best is necessary.

Born to Run

Another statement he made was about a show that was recently on TV (I believe it was an HBO channel?) where these interviewers actually got two nike shoe designers to ask them questions.  One of the interviewers asked, “Has any Nike shoe ever been tested and scientifically proven to reduce injuries.”  The response, “The Nike Free” – which is a shoe designed to mimic barefoot running.

One man asked the question, “Okay, so barefoot running is obviously continuing to expand…but where does it go from here?  Do elites start racing barefoot at major marathon?”  (I did see a guy running at about mile 23 at San Francisco completely barefoot.  I don’t care if it helps your form – running those streets barefoot is simply dangerous).  McDougall’s response was that, No, elites will never run barefoot BUT they are minimalistic.  He stated to think about what most elites wear in races…very very lightweight racing shoes that just provide enough protection.  BINGO! I never thought of myself as a minimalist, but when it comes to races I definitely wear the lightest shoe possible.  In fact, Mizuno makes a 3.5oz racing flat that I plan to use in my road races, even the marathon.  The Mizuno Ronin flat is about 7-8oz and I could actually see myself wearing it for training runs because it is sturdy, provides enough protection, and is lightweight.

Another question asked was, “I have been running high mileage for many years without a single injury.  I wear the Nike Structure Triax.  What good is it for me to switch to barefoot running?”  His response was, “well, are you a forefoot or a heel striker?”  The lady had no idea.  Chris then made an interesting point that most runners can tell you extensive details about how their shoes work, yet most do not even know how their foot makes contact with the earth, which is the most important thing!  In addition, he made the comment (along with his coach who was in attendance) that although you might be not injured, you might be inefficient.  That is (I believe) a very valid point and one of the first ideas that makes sense for elites to do some barefoot running.  By running some miles barefoot, you can become a more efficient runner – and therefore a faster runner.  He also cited a recent interview with Alberto Salazar who claimed to be changing Dathan Ritzenhein’s form to be a forefoot striker and how Alberto has been blasted on letsrun for doing that.  I found it very cool that McDougall does keep up with the latest research and news related to barefoot running/biomechanics and that he has not stopped even though his book has been published.

If you have read the book, you would also know that Chia Seeds are made out to be a great “superfood” from the tribe in Mexico.  Someone asked if they are really that amazing.  His response was surprisingly “No!”  But why? He said that most Americans are simply getting too many calories as it is.  By adding another food to our diet we are not helping becoming leaner.  However, he said that substituting Chia Seeds for another food in your diet would be great because they are very high in nutrition, and he does include them in smoothies and such.  As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, I put Chia Seeds in my oatmeal because they add in nutrition.  The difference is, I used to make 1.5 cups of oatmeal and now I make 1 cup but add a tablespoon of Chia Seeds and 2 tablespoons of wheat germ – which gives me the same total calories but more nutrition.

Chris McDougall was entertaining, highly knowledgeable, and very open.  I look forward to reading his next book, which he said should be really really good as he likes the new material a lot.  I wanted to share some of this information/quotes with everyone and would love to see some comments on if you have tried barefoot running and what it has done for you – or if you are against it and why.


7 thoughts on “Losing the fear…Chris McDougall

  1. I was a wear-test for a minimalist shoes for a Runners World article that I think comes out in October. I’m a forefoot striker and do not weigh that much-so minimalist shoes make sense. Did I have to transition into the Nike Frees? yeah. Did it make me any faster? no. Do I think that it makes me a better runner? I don’t know, but whatever works for you, is what you should do.

  2. I have a pair of Nike Frees that I use for a shorter run (3-4 miles) each week. I also have a pair of Vibram Five Fingers that I use to do a one-mile loop around my neighborhood a couple times a week.

    In both shoes I’ve been more cognizant of my form, which is a good thing, especially since when I get fatigued I tend to get really sloppy. I haven’t found that “free” feeling in them quite yet, but I think I could see it.

    But I admit, I’m scared to go completely away from the stability shoes that the running store recommended. Baby steps I guess… it’s all a good exercise in listening to my body which we always need to do as runners!

    Great post!

  3. Jill,

    Thanks so much for the comment! Posts like yours are what I hope to see from the blog – intelligent, fun discussions that share other people’s experiences!

    I walk around in the Frees all the time and love them. I do think they really help for that. Lately I have been doing part of my cooldown barefoot around the Fairview high school turf field. It really adds a bit of playfulness and fun after a really tough workout!

    Interesting on the stability shoes. I looked at a professional group in another state that would have had me work part-time in a running store. They were explaining how specific shoes get “bonus incentives” for when they sell them. The employees were not very “happy” to push specific shoes on people, but if it helped them get a few extra bucks in their pockets then they did.

    Thanks again for the comment and glad you liked the post 🙂

  4. Hi Tyler,

    I read BTR in June 2009 when I was suffereing from a chronic case of achilles tendonitis. Having been a runner for 25 years off and on (in between foot/lower leg injuries), I decided to commit to barefoot running 100% and focus on learning to run better. Thanks mainly to thebarefootrunning.com, I relearned how to run with a more efficient form and gentler landing. What also helped was the encouragement from the site to start very slowly. It took several months to build up to 3-5 miles of daily running, all of it barefoot, on the roads and during the winter. I think protection is over-rated, but to each their own and what they are comfortable with. I’ve had to pull out a piece of glass a couple of times in the last year, which I think is a small price to pay for running well! I ran a spring marathon in 2010 with no shoes. My time was about 15 minutes slower than the previous year in shoes and my feet were getting sensitive in the second half. Now, I’m running about 40 miles/wk and plan on a late fall marathon.


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