Friday, June 29, 2012

'Born to Run' - A great read.

I recently finished reading "Born to run" by Christopher McDougall. It’s a great motivational book for long-distance runners and for those who think they cannot run. It is full of incredible characters, amazing athletic achievements, cutting-edge science, and, most of all, pure inspiration. Here are some useful tips I picked from the book. I am listing it down to remind myself of these :)

Three Lessons by Micah True (better known as Caballo Blanco):

- Posture: For trail running, float arms until hands are rib high; chop strides to pitty-pat steps; straighten back until you hear vertebrae creaking. Don’t fight the trail. If you have a choice between one step or two steps between rocks, take three.

- Perfect form: Be up on your forefeet, with your back erect, head steady, arms high, elbows driving and feet touching down quickly on the forefoot and kicking back towards the butt.

- Performance: Think easy, light, smooth and fast. Start with easy, because if that is all you get, that is not so bad. Then work on light. Make it effortless, like you don’t give a shit how high the hill is or how far you've got to go. When you've practiced that so long that you forget you're practicing, you work on making it smooth.

Few more general tips from the book on Posture and Pace:

- Style:Have someone loop the rope against your waist and pull it taut. Bend against the rope, churn your legs, as you drag the person forward. Let the person release the rope for you to take off. "Whenever you run, remember this feeling of straining against the rope. It'll keep your feet under your body, your hips driving straight ahead, and your heals out of the picture."

- Super quick foot turnover: Quick, light leg contractions are important. So, basically no longer strides but shorter ones.

- Pace: Nearly all runners do their slow runs too fast, and their fast runs too slow. So, they’re training their bodies to burn sugar which is the last thing a long-distance runner wants to do. You have enough fat stored in your body to run from Mexico to California, so the more you train your body to burn fat instead of sugar, the longer your limited sugar tank is going to last. The way to activate your fat-burning furnace is to stay below your aerobic threshold – your hard-breathing point – during your endurance runs. Keep the pace relaxed enough to occasionally breathe with your mouth shut. Speed means less time on your feet. So, the faster you can run comfortably, the less energy you’ll need.

Let’s talk about Nutrition now.

- Pinole combined with beans has lot of proteins. Mix it with water and drink. Tastes like shredded popcorn. Pinole for breakfast is great - cook like oatmeal with honey and water, and carry it dry for having it during running. It gives a lot of energy.

- As per a study of Cornell University research, Phenols, which are plant chemicals, combat disease and boost immune system. Among wheat, oats, corn and rice, corn has the highest amount of phenols. And because it’s low fat, whole-grain food, pinole can slash your risk of diabetes and a host of digestive-system cancers.

- Tarahumara diet (The RarĂ¡muri or Tarahumara are a Native American people of northwestern Mexico who are renowned for their long-distance running ability.): Plenty of pinto beans, squash, chili peppers, wild green pinole ( and chia seeds are the best. Low fermented beer means beer with less alcohol and high in nutrients, making it a rich food source like a whole-grain smoothie while the regular beer is just sugar-water. As per Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Wild Geranium (Geranium Niveum) is their wonder drug. It’s as effective as red wine at neutralizing disease-causing free radicals. It is anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, antioxidant. Tarahumara corn seeds are called: Cocopah and mayo yellow chapalote and pinole maiz. As per most runners who have tried this diet have increased their performance.

- Tarahumara-style eating plan: Salad in breakfast. Lunch and dinner built around fruit, beans, yams, whole grains, and vegetables. When you get green leafy veggies in your body first thing in the morning, you’ll lose a lot of weight. Because a monster salad is loaded with nutrient-rich carbs and is low in fat, you could stuff yourself and not feel hungry when it comes time to work out. Plus, greens are packed with water, so they’re great for rehydrating after a night’s sleep.

And some more tips on improving Performance:

- Your body needs to be shocked to become resilient. Follow the same daily routine, and your musculoskeletal system quickly figures out how to adapt and go on auto-pilot. But surprise it with new challenges – leap over a creek, commando-crawl under a log, sprint till your lungs are bursting – and scores of nerves and ancillary muscles are suddenly electrified into action.

- Before you run long, you want to be strong. So, instead of stretching before the run, get powered much before. Every other day, devote at least half an hour to raw strength drills, with mostly all of them on fitness ball to sharpen your balance and fire those supportive ancillary muscles. Combine them with crunches, jump squats, lunges, pushups etc. Just after these, fire off to the hills. Long climbs are an exercise in shock and awe. Hills are speedwork in disguise.

- Remember aerobic exercises are powerful antidepressants. If you look at the history of most of the great runners, they started long distance running to forget their misery or some troubles in their lives.

Now on to some Painful Truths:

Painful truth no. 1: The best shoes are the worst: Runners wearing top-of-the line shoes are 123% more likely to get injured than runners in cheap shoes as per studies in Switzerland’s University of Bern. As per the American Journal of Sports Medicine in 1989, Runners in shoes that cost more than $95 were more than twice as likely to get hurt as runners in shoes cheaper than $40. More studies followed that expensive shoes lead to more plantar fasciitis and Achilles problems.

Painful truth no. 2: Feet like a good beating: Balance and vertical impact are related. Sports shoes are too soft and thick these days. The cushioned shoes make you a heal striker which is not good. Run in thin rubber sneakers and feel the difference. Remember that the people who advocate changing shoes every 300-500 miles are the ones who sell them. One of the greatest ultra runners, Arthur Newton found no use of changing shoes. He ran in his thin rubber sneakers until he’d put at least 4000 miles on them, winning various ultra races even at age 51.

Painful truth no. 3: Human beings are designed to run without shoes: Run barefoot three times a week on dewy grass.

Much more in the book. Read it and get inspired!