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Born to Run? Then Why Do I Hate It So Much?

If you happen to follow my blog, you’ll know that I am slightly obsessed with the book Born To Run by Christopher MacDougall.  I am on a tear about it, and have suggested it as reading material to every runner I know.  And some non-runners too.  Although it’s not, in my humble opinion, particularly well-written, it is an astonishing story.  But even more than that, the author is right about a great many things, in particular how the human body is perfectly designed to run long distances.  And he has managed to spark a huge debate about the running shoe industry and whether or not they are good for us or bad for us.  I find myself falling into the bad-for-us camp, and have started to embrace the idea of barefoot/minimalist running.

But at the moment, that’s neither here nor there.  As many of you are new runners, I don’t want to overwhelm you with thoughts of ultra-marathons and minimalist running shoes.  I want to address another point altogether, a point much more suitable for beginning runners.  It’s a question of motivation, and really, it’s one that applies to all of us, no matter how new or how seasoned we are.  And it comes at a point in the book where the author has successfully illustrated that humans are actually evolved for long distance running.  We may be much slower than our four-legged counterparts, but we can outrun them in the end.  We can, quite literally, run our prey to death.  Then the author asks “Then why do so many people hate it?…If we’re all born to run, shouldn’t all of us enjoy it?”.

Chances are, you’ve asked yourself the same question.  You’ve just managed to complete your first 5k, and you know how much work that took.  You’re wondering how anybody runs more than that, because those 3.1 miles took everything you had.  How does anyone ever run a 10k, let alone a half-marathon, a marathon or an ultra-marathon?  Those people are crazy.  Born to run…whatever!

But the problem isn’t our bodies.  Those are, in fact, perfectly designed for running (I see you shaking your head…but I will convince you in the end!).  The problem is our heads.  Or rather, our brains.  Along with our talent for long distance running, we evolved these enormous brains that consume vast amounts of energy.  They are only 2% of our total body weight, and yet they consume 20% of our energy when we are at rest.

But our brains also happen to be conservationists.  They are always trying to find ways to conserve the energy we have, because back in the day, our survival depended on it.  Now it’s no longer a matter of survival, but our brain doesn’t really know that.  It’s still constantly scheming to keep us low key and resting, keeping any extra energy on hand for a time when we need to chase our prey or to avoid being eaten by lions.  One expert in the book described it thus:  “You’ve got this fancy machine, and it’s controlled by a pilot who’s thinking ‘Okay, how can I run this baby without using any fuel?’”.

Now that we live in such a sedentary society, we (the collective we) have gotten out of the habit of running.  We don’t need to run to catch our food and we don’t need to run away from becoming food for other predators, so the brain’s insistence on conserving energy takes precedence.  When you start a running program, you are retraining your body to ignore your brain.  All of those whispers in your head about how hard running is, how tired you are, how you just want to stop?  That’s your brain faking you out.  Tell it to shut up.  Tell it that you are born to run.

Because you are.  After you stick with it, and you get back in the habit of running, you will find that your brain does shut up…at least some of the time.  And in the end, both your body and your brain will thank you.

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Written by Carolyn


Carolyn is a writer, a runner, a mother and a diabetic. She is also the evil mastermind behind All Day I Dream About Food. She lives, and runs, for food. Join her in her experiments in creating delicious low carb, gluten free recipes the whole family will love.

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er - September 20, 2012 - 11:56 am

I finally decided to just join you guys! I have been following and love all the posts, and I run already, not sure why it has taken me so long! Great post Carolyn, I need to check out that book – but it is so true, if you can get past your brain you can do it! - September 20, 2012 - 1:41 pm

I love this post! I have spent a good many years of my life hating running, doing it anyways but hating it. I justified hating it by telling myself that my body just isn’t designed to be a runner…others bodies are made for it and that’s why it’s easy for them and maybe why they love it. But not me…it was just always going to be hard and never joyful.
It wasn’t until this first RFR 5K challenge that something switched on in me…I DO like this, my body IS designed for this…holy crap…I’m a runner!!!! I had been away from running for about 5 years and decided to jump back in slowly with the 5K training program, that was key for me. Now, I’m hooked and so excited about running again! Unfortunately, I had shoulder surgery on August 30th so I’ve been sidelined but it the funniest thing to hear myself hounding my surgeon as to when I can start running again!!! Can’t wait to get back at it!

Sarah @ Will Run for Pasta - September 20, 2012 - 2:20 pm

Great post! So funny that you bring up the brain thing as the NPR show Radiolab just had a really interesting episode called Limits that talked about the brains roll in pushing your limits of exhaustion (they looked at that cross-country bike race), really interesting if anyone wants to listen to – on their next run :) – the podcast it can be found here:

Krista - September 20, 2012 - 2:50 pm

I love this Carolyn! Wonderful job. It’s amazing how much the mind plays a part in a person’s ability to run. It’s taken me a long time to learn that and to quiet my brain.

Carolyn - September 20, 2012 - 4:53 pm

Andrea, the funny part is, I always thought I wasn’t a runner either, despite studying human evolution and knowing that humans could chase down their prey. It just “clicked” with me too, and there is something immensely reassuring in knowing that we are in fact designed to do this and just need to overcome the “lazy” brain.

Cindy @ Once Upon a Loaf - September 20, 2012 - 6:19 pm

Wonderful post. You know I concur! I really like looking at it this way; it’s true that our brains need to be retrained, then the next step is for us to realize that not only can the brain stop stopping us from running, it can MAKE US GO ON running. And on and on. Bravo, Carolyn!!

Katharine - September 20, 2012 - 6:57 pm

I blame my knees for my running issues, but maybe it’s just my brain? :) Actually, since I’ve changed my diet and switched to the Galloway method (run 4 min/walk 1 min) I can go for 6 miles at a faster pace than when I was running the whole time 10 years ago! And my knees have been feeling great. I’m trying to convince myself that it’s still running if I take these little walk breaks. But either way, I’m soaking up my “runs” after a 10 year break! I want to check out that book. Does it blame injury on our shoes? That’s my biggest fear right now – return of tendonitis. Great post!

Jamie - September 20, 2012 - 11:34 pm

my brain SO needed this kick today… I’ve been thinking myself out of a run ever since I woke up.

another interesting running book I’ve read is Return to Running by Richard Benyo. it was published in 1978 so it’s more old-school philosophy on running but it made me want to put on my nikes and get out the door. plus, the cover is kindof awesome:

Cookin' Canuck - September 21, 2012 - 9:51 am

This is such a great post, Carolyn. There were many, many times in the past when my brain got in the way of running farther or faster. It still does on occasion. However, now I know what my body can do because I’ve experienced that blissful feeling that occurs when you push your body past the limitations of your brain. Now I can say…yep, I’m born to run.

bridget {bake at 350} - September 21, 2012 - 10:13 am

This is a great post, Carolyn! I need to tell my brain to “shut up” more often. I started the 5k program in Merrell minimal shoes and LOVED them! They ended up hurting my foot as I added more time to my runs and I switched to another minimal show with a bit more padding. Now that I’ve gained a little more strength, I want to try those Merrell’s again…I felt light as air running in them!

Amy - September 21, 2012 - 10:20 am

It is so much a mental battle for me every single time I run. Every. Single. Time. Thanks for the encouragement!

[...] run further than a 5k, so I can’t wait to see if I can accomplish this. Also, I just read this article and it really resonated with me. It’s like the minute I start running, my brain starts a loop [...]

Lisa @ Lisa the Vegetarian - October 3, 2012 - 8:25 am

This is SO true. I did the Couch to 5k program once and I faced this struggle every time I got on the treadmill. I never actually got up to the point of running a 5k, but I would really like to in the near future.

[...] Who has a copy of Born to Run I can borrow? Because, once again, I realize I should read it. [...]

Sue - October 8, 2012 - 9:43 am

Hi all!!

I did my first 5K Saturday October 6th….I placed FIRST place out of 11 in my age category. There were 391 participants and I was 195th overall. Pretty good for a 60 year old! It was great and look forward to continue my training towards the big 1/2 marathon in Phoenix in January. PF Chang Rock and Roll!!!!

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