Christopher McDougall’s Top 4 Running Tips
Born to Run author Christopher McDougall will co-host Reinventing Running: The Cabaret with the actor and avid trail-runner Peter Sarsgaard on Friday, November 5 at the New York Society for Ethical Culture. Harvard professor Daniel Lieberman, coach Eric Orton, Born to Run star Barefoot Ted McDonald, and proponent of paleo-athleticism/nutrition John Durant will all speak at the event. Consider it a prelude to the NYC Marathon Sunday, November 7. You can get tickets at: christophermcdougall.eventbrite.com.
Whether or not you’re a believer in barefoot running, McDougall’s got some pointers for you. Here are his top four running tips.
4. Get Naked: The more studies that come about cushioned running shoes, the more overwhelming the evidence that they're a hindrance at best. Even Alberto Salazar, the great marathoner and Nike-sponsored coach, believes that a barefoot-style foot strike is the key to swift, efficient running. The best way to learn proper running form is to strip down to first principals: shuck your shoes and re-acquaint your feet with planet Earth. Once you've mastered barefoot-style form, you're free to wear any footwear you like. Patrick Sweeney wins marathons in Barefoot Ted's huaraches, while Emil Zatopek trained big miles in combat boots and did just dandy.
3. Air=good. Earth=Not So Good: The old joke about the guy who leaps off the top of a skyscraper applies to distance running: as he plummets toward the ground, he shouts “OK so far!” You're fine as long as your foot is in the air; the trouble only starts when you land. So spend as much time aloft as possible by making your footstrikes quick and light. I like to occasionally check my cadence with a four-count (1,2, 3,4…1, 2, 3, 4). I count as each knee comes up, making sure each foot is lifting as quickly as the other.
2. Learn, Don't Burn: When it comes to learning a new footstrike, less isn't just more; it's everything. If you feel your calves burning or your Achilles tightening, you have to back off and re-assess. The problem isn't a lack of strength; it's faulty technique. The beautiful thing about minimalist running is that everything means something, so if you try to ignore discomfort and muscle through, those muscles ain't going to cooperate for long. Stop; take a breather; compare what you were doing to what you should be doing; and try again.
1. To Get Fast, Forget About It: One of the first and most lasting lessons I was taught by Caballo Blanco, the “White Horse” I met in the Copper Canyons, is this: “The problem with most people is they only care about getting fast, and think that once they get fast, running will get easy. They got it backwards. First focus on getting easy, because if that's all you get, that ain't so bad. Once you can run easy, focus on light. Once you get light, focus on smooth. By the time you're easy, light and smooth, you won't have to worry about getting fast–you will be.”
Photos: Barefoot Ted and McDougall at the finish of this year's Leadville Trail 100. McDougall was BFT's pacer (Courtesy of Christopher McDougall)