Would the Tarahumara run with a cold?

Despite what felt like a recovery yesterday I am still very much battling a cold. It’s really a shallow dry cough that I am finding most annoying.  I ended up getting about four hours sleep last night so my morning has been a series of short naps that I’m hoping will get me through the rest of the day. In a strange way I blame my conditioning for the way this cold is playing out. It’s like my immune system is refusing to give into illness and, consequently, I’ve remained in this stasis of mild symptoms over the past three days. I actually feel strong enough to run, as I did yesterday, but I’m going to hold off on that until later. If I’m noticing improvement later I may try a workout of some type. I’m a firm believer in powering though colds while respecting fevers.

I’ve finished McDougall’s “Born to Run” and I recommend it to anyone who has an interest in physiology, anthropology,  native North American culture, adventure, nutrition and (of course) running technique. The book features many interesting people (US ultrarunners and native Tarahumarans) with fascinating stories. The main focus of the book is on how these amazing people gathered together in a dangerous and obscure part of Mexico’s Copper Canyons for a unique and incredible 50 mile race. I cannot recall any book I’ve read in recent years that interested me like this one.

I’m anxious to get out and run if makes sense to do it later. The focus I’ve given to front/midfoot striking, upright form and higher cadence has been an interesting experiment that I hope will lead to a successful re-engineering of my running style. A point made often in the book is “If it feels like work, you’re working too hard.” I believe there’s something to that.

Progress made on Boxing Day

http://c.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f9/3924348001?isVid=1&publisherID=1274168784

My wife suggested that I should rest today since I still have eight more days away from the office for doing long runs. Her point would be better made if she herself didn’t work out every day for 45 minutes, especially today when she is battling a cold. I figured if she was going to maintain her routine under those conditions so would I. Maybe I’ll take a break on Monday.

One reason I really wanted to get out and run is that I’m driving myself (and everyone around me) crazy with my curiosity about the Tarahumara running technique and the best shoes for that style. I mentioned that I tried on some ASICS 2150s and Kayanos on Wednesday that felt really good. Exceptionally good in fact. Now I’m understanding the best way of strengthening the arch and the forefoot is to run with shoes that don’t surround your foot with soft cushioning. Instead it’s better to force yourself to adapt to shoes with less support. The impact of running on your legs can be up to twelve times your body weight. In the book “Born to Run” the author Christopher McDougall says””[it’s] preposterous to believe a half inch of rubber is going to make a difference against, in my case, 2,760 pounds of earthbound beef. You can cover an egg with an over mitt  before rapping it with a hammer, but that egg ain’t coming out alive.” I get that completely.

So this morning I went out to run about 3 miles and I wore my lightest, least cushioned shoes (NB 460s) and continued to focus on cadence and landing front and mid foot. It was warmer than yesterday, around 39 degrees, with a slight rainy mist that left after a few minutes. I tried to stay conscious of the number of steps I was taking and I also worked to maintain my pace more evenly than yesterday. For the third time in as many days I returned home to see that I had run much faster than usual on recreational runs. Today I covered 3.17 miles in slightly longer than 27 minutes for an 8:36 pace. That’s a 5K/4 mile race pace for me and I wasn’t even working that hard. I’m having a really hard time justifying an investment in new shoes if I’m going to run like this. But you can’t argue with the results, I’m not going back to my previous style. Of course that doesn’t mean I won’t try the Brooks GTS 10s out of curiosity. It just may mean that my next pair of Brooks is more likely to be the Green Silence.

The Tarahumara have made me a faster runner

I’ve been enjoying the book “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall for a number of reasons. First, because it’s about ultrarunning, a subject that fascinates me. Second, because the author takes amusing pot shots at Dean Karnazes, whose book I just finished. Mostly I like it because it centers on the Tarahumara – the indigenous people of Mexico’s Copper Canyons. The Tarahumara society is represented very positively, almost utopic, with running as the core activity of their lives. The Tamahumara are incredible runners who can run a hundred miles or more without resting. There is a lot of discussion in the book debating the benefits of modern running shoes compared with the purer technique of these people who run with simple rubber bottomed sandals. I believe that the growing interest in minimalist running has been fueled by this book.  I’m not ready to give up my stability running shoes but I am interested in some of the techniques mentioned in the book.

I’ve been constrained to the treadmill over the last couple of days so I decided to run in the neighborhood this morning provided that conditions were safe. I’m home today so I waited until 7:30 AM to go out, thinking that the extra light would improve safety. The roads were almost completely free of ice and snow and I set off thinking about the Tarahumara method of running – smaller steps and upright form – and decided to try it out. I’ve read that increasing the number of strides per minute helps to increase speed. I usually run at around 80 steps/min but today I averaged 84 with the first half of my 3.63 mile run averaging slightly higher. The running felt easy, almost too easy, and I imagined that I would return home to discover I was pacing close to 10 min per mile. I had great energy on the run and I had planned to cover about 5K but took some extra roads near the end because it felt so good. When I completed my run I was surprised to see that I averaged 9:06 per mile. It was such an easy experience that I questioned the accuracy of the Garmin and immediately checked my route on Gmaps which verified the distance and pace.

I am still amazed that I maintained such a decent pace without working very hard. There could be many reasons for this: the time of day, the amount of rest I’d had or the perfect 25 degree weather. I’m hoping it was due to the new technique and I will try again tomorrow, perhaps pushing my speed a little to see how that works. I only averaged 81 steps/min when I hit my 5K PR in November so I’m very curious to see how that equivalent amount of effort would work with a cadence of 84. I’m optimistic that I’ve found a way to improve my speed without a lot of extra work. I’ve learned that nothing good is easy but in this case I’ll happily make an exception.