is the author of Born to Run
, a New York Times bestseller. Chris, first let me thank you for participating in a second interview with RunColo.com. When we did the first interview ďBorn to RunĒ was a few days from being published and you were starting your book tour. The book has now been out for nine months and currently sits at #18 on the New York Times bestseller list for non fiction. Did you ever imagine that your book would be this successful and spark such a debate in the running community? How many copies have been sold? Also, when will the book come out in paperback?
Simon, great to hear from you again. Iíll always be in your debt for posting an interview about the book before the book even existed, and for hauling yourself out to hear me yap at Tattered Cover bookstore. I never knew what kind of reaction the book would get, but the one I least expected was this firestorm around running shoes. Iíd spent so much time researching running shoes over the past three or four years that by the time the book was nearly done, I assumed everyone already knew the benefits of barefooting running technique. The argument in favor of proper technique is so simple and powerful, and Iíd already been in touch with so many converts, that I had the feeling that it was old news and I didnít need to include it in my book. Glad I did, obviously. Itís really taken hold and helped a lot of people who, same as I did, thought theyíd never run again. The paperback comes out in August. I donít have the hard sales tally; publishers keep that close to the vest till near the end of the 1st year. After ďInconvenient TruthĒ Al Gore became the spokesperson for global warming whether he wanted the position or not. With the success of ďBorn to RunĒ you have been pushed to the front of the barefoot/minimalist movement as the de facto leader. How have you been handling it all?
Luckily, I can always dish off to Dr. Lieberman at Harvard, or Dr. Irene Davis at the University of Delaware, or Barefoot Ken Bob Saxton, all of them barefoot runners and far more eloquent and knowledgeable on the subject than Iíll ever be. The only real challenge is reminding myself that itís a conversation, not a battle. Thatís why I turned down an invitation from Runnerís World to debate a podiatrist. Natural running is about learning and teaching healthy technique, not about scoring points off a guy who sells orthotics. Pete Magill refers to the barefoot movement as a fad. He talks about your legs starting to ache after 300 miles on a pair of running shoes because the midsole shocks on those shoes were actually doing some good. Have there been any studies that you know of that show newer shoes are better for you than older shoes? I used to religiously toss my running shoes at 400 miles, because thatís what I had been told; now I have 600 miles on my current pair and am pain free. Whatís your response?
I think Dr. Lieberman put that argument to rest once and for all with his study in Nature magazine. He found that the collision forces when you heel strike in shoes are three times greater than when you forefoot strike in bare feet. Hereís the most remarkable part: when you forefoot strike in bare feet, the collision forces are virtually zero! So why not just forefoot strike in shoes? You can Ö unless, like most shoes, the sole is so thick that you have to point your toe up to clear the heel. There is no study whatsoever that indicates that midsole cushioning makes a heel strike in shoes more comfortable than a forefoot strike in bare feet. That 300-500 replace-your-shoes mantra is strictly a marketing ploy. There is absolutely no evidence to support it. And not coincidentally, 300-500 miles equates to about six months, which is precisely when the shoe companies are rolling out their new models and the running magazines are printing their best-selling issues of the year: the shoe reviews. Iíve seen a lot of criticism directed towards your book and the barefoot running movement calling it a fad. However, arenít the $160 training shoes the real fad? I guess I struggle to see how getting back to the basics can ever be a fad, what are your thoughts?
Sure, it sounds freaky and looks funny to see people trotting around in bare feet or wearing bizarre rubber monkey shoes. But thatís only because what we consider normal is what is going on in America in the 21st century. On gigantic portions of the planet, and for the overwhelming majority of human history, back-to-the-basics was and is the ONLY way to run. Have any traditional running shoe company reached out to you since the book came out? What are your thoughts of the belated efforts of the shoe companies to bring minimal shoes to the market? Do you have any ties to Vibram financially and have they reached out to you to be a sponsor or spokesperson?
Nope, no contact from the shoe companies and no ties whatsoever to Vibram or anyone else. Iíve given book talks and done some barefoot demos in running shoe and outdoor stores that sell minimalist shoes, but thatís the same as I do with schools, bookstores and running clubs. I did have a fascinating conversation with the CEO of Brooks Running Company, which Iím about to post on my website. He seemed genuinely befuddled about the way forward, because for him, it is a genuine problem. And the problem is this: ultimately, itís all about teaching safe technique, but whose job is that? The podiatrists certainly arenít helping, as he pointed out. ďI talk to a lot of podiatrists,Ē he said. ďThese guys are selling orthotics like theyíre McDonaldís hamburgers.Ē Greg Crowther takes issue with your book calling it Born to Hype and the injury rate of runners, stated in the book, who run in shoes, how would you respond to his assertion? Also, in those studies do you know how they define an injury; is it only an injury if it prevents the person from running?
He doesnít dispute the numbers; he just doesnít agree with the forceful way I present them. As he puts it, Iím ďnot incorrect.Ē But itís important to be forceful. Poor technique is injuring a lot of people, and scaring away many others who wonít even try running because theyíre convinced theyíre going to get hurt. I donít care how an injury is defined. If itís bad enough for people to ding a box on a survey, then itís bad enough to make them associate running with pain. And if you want to prevent anyone from performing any action, thatís the way to do it: threaten them with pain.
I address a lot of these questions in a piece I posted on my website: http://www.chrismcdougall.com/barefoot.html Do you think there is difference in running with Vibrams versus an ultra lightweight racing flat like the Asics Piranha? The Piranhas are actually lighter than the Vibrams but obviously still a shoe.
Hereís something weird, at least for me. I had this conversation with Dr. Davis recently, and I tried to make the case that minimalist shoes (racing flats, water shoes, moccasins, whatever) were as good as bare feet. She shot me down. She said that once you cover up all those nerve endings in the foot, youíre taking a step backward. Youíre losing ground awareness, stability, balance, all kinds of key input that you can only get from a naked foot. Then, she proved it to me. She had me run three tests on her force-impact treadmill: first in bare feet, then in fivefingers, and finally in the Nike Free 3.0 (the thinnest Frees on the market). When I put on the Frees, they felt so thick and deadening that I had to stop and rip out the insoles. Even that way, I had trouble sticking my landings and finding the sweet spot for footstrikes. It felt like stumbling around in the dark. It was the first time Iíd ever found myself on the losing end of an argument about whether too little is too much. I got her point: sometimes terrain and weather will require you to put on some protection, but given a choice, bare is best. Do you have an update on the Tarahumara and have you been back to Mexico since the book has been published? Also, what your thoughts on stretching and core work to reduce/prevent injuries, Iím guessing the Tarahumara donít stretch for 20 minutes after a long run or do crunches.
The book only came out in May, so I havenít been able to get back to the Canyons since then. I hear from Caballo
often, and Iím psyched that heís not only putting the race on again this year, but expecting a staggering number of runners --- hundreds of Tarahumara and more than 60 of us non-Tarahumara folks. As for Tarahumara warm-ups, Caballo likes to say that the Tarahumara stretch is otherwise known as a nap. Whatís next for Christopher McDougall, are you working on a new book? Have you had any offers to turn the book into a movie?
Yes, Iím working on a new book now that I think and hope has as much good raw material as ďBorn to Run.Ē Iím hideously slow and doubt-plagued, so it wonít be out the door for another two years. Film rights for Born to Run were acquired by the same producer who did the Bourne movies and Benjamin Button, but Iíve got no clue what happens next. Lastly, do you have any racing plans for 2010 and how has your current running been going? I know you mentioned to me an email that you had broken your small toe twice while running on trails in the Vibrams at night, has that made you switch over to a pair of Brooks Beast?
Yup, that is one drawback of the Fivefingers: they donít mix well with testosterone. Twice, I was pushing too hard on a rocky trail as the sun was going down, and twice Iíve snapped my little toe (once on either foot). I thought I was the only dumbass out there with that problem, but Iíve heard itís happened to a few other guys as well. I met a Special Forces officer in North Carolina recently whoíd done the exact same thing, and we both agreed that there is no greater pain-per-square-inch than smashing the tar out of your pinkie. The good news is, you can still run with a broken toe in either bare feet or open-toed sandals. The first time I broke a toe, I ran a 10k trail race 3 days later in my bare feet. The second time, I went trail-running the next day in a pair of Tevas with no trouble. Iíve been having a great year of running, apart from the fractures, and itís been a blast to just charge out the door every day with no thoughts of distance, or destination, or upcoming races. Just having fun.