Saturday, February 26, 2011

I Was Born to Run -- But I Don't Feel Like It.

In a way, Christopher McDougall is responsible for sparking my interest in evolutionary fitness and Paleo nutrition. Even though his focus is on barefoot running, McDougall's book, "Born to Run," presented a compelling argument that applies equally to running and eating:

If hunter-gatherers (both ancient and modern) can run/eat/live more healthfully than their "civilized" counterparts who heel-strike in cushioned running shoes and fatten up on super-refined low-fat junk, why the hell do we think that these modern conveniences are so great for us?

I read "Born to Run" in the fall of 2009, when I was still in my first round of P90X. The book didn't just get M and me out of our chunky cross-trainers and into Vibram FiveFingers and Terra Plana Vivo Barefoot shoes -- it made me think about fitness and nutrition in an entirely new way. The transition wasn't always smooth -- remember how I said I'd never give up grains? -- but McDougall's book opened a new door for me.

It's a little disheartening, then, to see that there's some internecine warfare a-brewin' between the barefoot endurance running camp and the disciples of Art De Vany's "less is more" approach. The former say that humans are built to run long distances; the latter say that endurance running is a recipe for disaster. But I see more similarities than differences: Both espouse a philosophy of going back to evolutionary basics, and eschewing the crutches of Western civilization that turn out to be more harmful than helpful. John Durant has a nice write-up that tries to reconcile the two viewpoints, but for me, it boils down to this:

If you're someone who loves endurance running, go for it (provided you're not in footwear with a big-ass cushioned heel). But while humans may be "born to run," I'm not planning to go on any super-long runs because: (1) I'm lucky enough to have access to grassfed meat and wild game without having to engage in persistence hunting, (2) I get bored easily, and (3) endurance running ain't necessary -- or even optimal -- for fitness. Analogy: Just 'cause the Masai can thrive on milk and blood doesn't mean I need to get in touch with my inner vampire to eat healthfully. Just as with Paleo nutrition, the way we run should be based on "a logical framework applied to modern humans -- not a historical reenactment."

Okay. Getting off my soapbox now.