Authors@Google: Christopher McDougall

Uploaded by AtGoogleTalks on 27.10.2009

>> Hello, everyone. Welcome to today's Authors at Google Talk.
I'm pleased to introduce Christopher McDougall, the author of "Born To Run.”
His writing apparently has inspired a handful of Googlers to compete in relay races as long
as 200 miles, with some success, as I discovered over lunch.
And so, I'm pleased to hear what else he has to say.
And maybe we can do 400 next time. So please join me in welcoming Christopher
>> [Clapping]
>> This all sound okay, yeah? It's not echoing kind of weird?
Sound like Howard Stern for a second. Well, first of all, I want to personally thank
you guys. My wife and daughters want to personally thank
you. Without Google, this book -- which is already
one year past deadline -- God only knows when the hell it would have been done.
So, thank you very much. I think Barefoot Ted is here today.
He would also like to thank you. Barefoot Ted has actually not bought a book
since you guys went beta. So he's grateful as well.
You know -- I hate to do this, I hate to stir up controversy and piss people off -- but,
there's been people talking some crap about you guys behind your backs.
So, I just think you should be aware of it. You know, we'll deal with it.
But, this is what's being said about you people, okay?
This is from David Willey, who's executive editor of Runner's World Magazine.
He says, "The concern I have is that a lot of people maybe hear about this book called
"Born to Run" -- which is that bestselling book -- and feel like, "Oh, I can just throw
my running shoes away, and I'll just start tomorrow, and I'll become a barefoot runner.”
If a lot of runners -- or all the runners out there in America -- did that tomorrow,
the vast majority of them will get hurt very quickly and would have to stop running for
a very long time." Now, why is that?
The problem with you people is that you are not efficient and biomechanically-gifted runners.
The vast majority of people are not blessed in that way.
So, unfortunately -- despite all appearances to the contrary -- I and Barefoot Ted are
perfect. We are gifted and blessed, and you guys are
a bunch of fuckups.
>> [Laughter]
>> According to the executive editor of Runner’s World Magazine -- who must know a lot about
running -- and also, according to Dr. Louis Maharem, who's the medical consultant for
the New York City Marathon, and who's billed as the world's premier running physician
-- and he said exactly the same thing, that if most Americans tried to run in their bare
feet, 95 percent of the them would end up in his office, because they are not "biomechanically
gifted.” Which, you know, I'm sure -- hopefully, a
lot of you guys out there are engineers -- when you hear that.
For the layperson, I hear I'm gifted and blessed and biomechanically efficient.
It must mean that I must have some super-engineered, kind of, prolific bone structure, you know,
that makes me superhuman. Sort of, you know, Siborian.
But, hopefully, you engineers realize those words don't mean anything.
"Biomechanically efficient" means like, if I'm trying to have a beer, and I keep putting
it over here, it just means you just go like that [demonstrating], you know?
>> [Laughter].
>> It just means you do it right. And I love this idea that, if you're not "It,"
if you're not doing it right, well, too bad, you never will.”
You know, it's like taking a kid and throwing him in the pool and watching the bubbles come
up and go, "Sorry, you're not biomechanically efficient," you know?
>> [Laughter].
>> "And you never will be.” You know, what happens when you throw a kid
into the pool, and he starts to sink? You fish the kid out, do some compressions,
and you teach him how to swim, right? You teach him how to do it properly.
You know, if you're playing tennis, and that ball keeps sailing over the fence, "That's
the way it goes.” No. They teach you how to serve the ball.
And they don't say, "Buy a new racket.” They teach you how to do it properly.
So I've been hearing a lot of this backlash recently, and it's surprising to me that we've
gotten to this point where the prevailing notion of the human body is that it's born
broken and that's the way it goes, and all you can hope to do is minimize the damage.
And that's for almost -- not just running, but -- almost any form of exercise, you know?
"You can't do too much." "You're going to hurt yourself.”
You need a machine to sit on and pulleys to make sure you don't like, break anything.
When you run, you need to have these gigantic, prosthetic, pogo stick things on your feet.
Even walking shoes now. Have you seen these -- what do you call those
things? -- those -- Rocker Shoes! I don't want to offend anybody who's here, but I don't
get it. That's essentially a rocking chair for your
feet. It's what like seventy-year-old women knit
in -- on your feet. So you can't learn how to use the stinkin'
thing yourself. That's been the prevailing mindset, and I
think it's gotten us to a point where we've taken this activity called "running," and
we look at it like you're removing your own appendix, you know?
"It's dangerous" and "You probably shouldn't attempt it on your own.”
Guys here, I mean, how many people here really genuinely love to run?
All right. That's pretty good. That's pretty good.
You really love it, or you sort of do it? Do you like it a lot?
Okay, that's pretty impressive. Because, again, if this was a group of five-year-olds,
the kids would be out of their seats jumping around, you know?
What's unusual with humans today is that -- somewhere between the age of five and 25
-- we go from really loving it to like, "Ah shit, I got to do it.”
And that's what I'm sort of curious about is like, What exactly goes on?
Where is that transition period? And that was the same question that a much
smarter and more knowledgeable guy than I am -- particularly about running -- a guy
named Dr. Joe Vigil, a man with various Ph.D.'s and master's degrees sort of bristling out
of his resume. He's the most successful -- and probably most
beloved -- running coach in American history. He was the track and cross-country coach at
Adam State College. Have any of you ever heard of Adam State College?
Okay, proves my point. Okay, it's a nondescript, tiny, little school
in Alamosa, Colorado. But, the one thing they're known for is, they
can kick the crap out of anybody in cross-country races.
Dr. Joe Vigil is the only guy who'll take walk-on runners, and he blanked out the field
in the NCAA Cross-Country Championships. Meaning, the first five people who crossed
the line were his five runners. So essentially, the race was over and done
before the first guy from the other team even showed up.
Dr. Joe Vigil is successful because he has a raging sense of vulnerability.
He can't believe that's there's not something out there that someone's going to figure out
before him, and it's going to thrash him. And that's the reason why one of the few times
that these reclusive runners known as the “Tarahumara,” one of the few times they've
ever turned up at the Leadville Trail 100 Ultra Marathon, Dr. Joe Vigil was there, which
meant that, at the age of nearly seventy, this old man was standing out in the Colorado
Rockies at 12,000 feet in the dark at four o'clock in the morning, waiting for a bunch
of guys to come running by in robes and sandals. What he saw then -- he saw the Tarahumara
come ripping by him at mile sixty. Okay, this is sixty miles into a one-hundred
mile race on steep terrain. And the moment he saw them is a part of the
course where you just passed the sixty mile mark, and you've got to go up this really
steep dirt embankment that seems to be there for no other reason other than to just really
beat the crap out of runners. And no matter how good a race you're having,
that embankment is just rituous torture. And what Vigil saw when he saw the Tarahumara
come running up there was something he had never seen on a runner's face, ever.
And of all the things he would have picked out, I was impressed by the fact that he was
not interested in the Tarahumara's nutritional strategy on their race tactics on their biomechanics
on their physiology on their footwear. What he couldn't understand was What the hell
were these guys so happy about? Why are they smiling?
The worst possible part of the course these guys are having a blast.
And I remember him saying that, "It's as if running to the death makes them feel more
alive.” And he had zeroed in on something really crucial
-- not just the fact that these guys are having fun, which is pretty important.
Because if you want someone to be successful at something -- as your cafeteria demonstrates
-- Make people want to be here, you know? Make people want to actually do their show
for the job. So what Vigil saw was the smiles.
And he was thinking to himself, "You know, I've never seen a runner enjoy it that much.
And if my runners enjoyed it as much as these guys, God only knows what they could do.”
But secondly -- the second point too, he says, "Running to the death makes them feel more
alive.” And at that point, he was starting to spiral
down in something that's really unusual about the Tarahumara.
You know, the Tarahumara are a tribe which have essentially lived in isolation at the
bottom of this deep, dangerous, very inaccessible network of canyons in north-westernish Mexico
called the "Copper Canyons." Back in the 1600s, when the conquistadors
arrived and started taking heads, there were two options.
You could fight back like the Mayans and the Aztecs, or you could turn around and take
off, like the Tarahumara did. Very few Mayans and Aztecs around today, but
the Tarahumara have managed to hide themselves and live down there, almost untouched by the
modern world. So, essentially, they are living today exactly
the way they did 400 years ago in the 1600s. That's really tantalizing, because you know,
we can blather on all we want about what history says and what humans evolved to do.
Most of it is basically, you come up with an idea of how you think humans should do,
and then you go back and try to gin together some fossils and prove it.
But what's interesting about the Tarahumara is they are there.
They are our living proof. They are a Smithsonian exhibit come to life.
And so, if we want to actually figure out what humans were doing in the 1600s, there
they are. Go ahead and ask them.
What they have -- besides their unbelievable ability to run super-long distances -- and
I'm talking about 150 or 200-miles at a time, on essentially a starvation diet.
We're told that the marathon is the ultimate challenge?
Well, try knocking about a dozen of those out, one after the other, in the same day.
Besides their ability to do that, the Tarahumara are also free from greed, crime, violence,
warfare, heart disease, high cholesterol, diabetes, clinical depression, almost every
single form of cancer, domestic abuse. Everything.
You could do a whole itemized list of all the things we're trying to get rid of in modern
culture, and these guys don't even know what that language is.
They are free from it. The Tarahumara don't even have money.
They don't have a currency. They're form of economics is by trading favors
and beer. So, you know, not capitalism, not socialism.
It's kind of niceness and beerism. So what Dr. Vigil was seeing there was --
either it's a coincidence, or it's cause and effect.
And he's a guy who's made his bones by finding cause and effect where everybody else sees
coincidence. You know, when you look at lean, Kenyan marathoners,
we like to just say, "Ah well, it's just coincidence. They got that magic gene, that special chromosome.”
And we try to find apologies for ourselves why -- any time someone does something better
than we do, why, "Well, that's just the way it goes.
There's nothing we can do.” When Vigil looks at the Tarahumara, he's not
trying to find excuses. He's trying to find cause and effect.
He's trying to find the causal logical sequence that he can then reproduce.
He looks at the Tarahumara, and he goes, "You know, you don't have two extraordinary outliers
in the same tribe, and find no connection.” You know, the guys who run the most and the
best are not coincidentally also the most serene and healthiest on planet Earth.
What he wanted to do was find that connection to see if there were transferable skills he
could bring back to the modern world. Unfortunately, he subsequently had triple
bypass and turned seventy and was tapped to coach the U.S.
Olympic long-distance runners. So, he never got a chance to make that trip.
By the way, if you want to know about his success, the only two medals in the Olympic
Marathon we've had in thirty years were directly coached by Dr. Joe Vigil.
He never got a chance to make that trip. And, for better or worse, I did.
I was in Mexico on another magazine assignment, and knew nothing about the Tarahumara, knew
nothing about distance running, really, because I had given it up years earlier after suffering
the latest in a long series of extremely painful, running ailments, as most people do.
You know, the running injury rate is something like sixty to eighty percent every year.
And it has not changed in 30 years. I mean, it's like an absolute epidemic.
It is like the swine flu of exercise afflictions, and it never gets any better for 30 years.
So again, I was the same as everyone else. I got hurt.
I get hurt a lot, and I said, "To hell with it; who needs it?"
If you want to prevent someone from doing anything, threaten them with pain.
So I give up running. There I am in Chihuahua -- and it's sort of
testament to the impact of what was going to happen next -- that it totally drove my
assignment out of my mind. And my assignment was to find this voluptuous,
Mexican pop star, who was secretly running her own brainwashing teenage sex cult.
And within a second -- that's what I was looking for -- and then, I opened this magazine, and
I see this picture of this old guy in what looked like a bathrobe and sandals just tearing
down this rocky trail. And it turns out this guy was 55 years old.
And he had won a one-hundred mile race through the Rocky Mountains at age 55 in thin, homemade
sandals. And I remember looking at this picture, and
feeling all my sort of half-Sicilian blood starting to boil like, "What is this dude
doing that I'm not doing? How is this guy getting away with hundred-mile
races in sandals at age 55, and I'm told if I do 26 miles -- a quarter of that distance
-- in high-tech running shoes, that's the ultimate challenge; I'm going to break down."
Again, so there's only one of two explanations. Either it's some kind of weird chromosomal
thing, or it's strictly technical. He's doing something that we're not.
So I ended up having the opportunity to make the trip that Dr. Joe Vigil never was able
to make. And I got to report that it was an absolute
failure. I got down to the bottom of the canyons and
sort of finagled my way through drug cartels and, against all odds, I actually located
this hidden, sort of subterranean home of the guy named Arnulfo Quimare.
He was one of the best of the living Tarahumara runners.
I finally got there in the presence of the master, the keys to the kingdom at my feet.
And we sat down, knee to knee, and I looked into his eyes, and began to ask him questions.
And then, for the next four hours, he said nothing.
Just looked at me. It's like dating back in college.
>> [laughter]
>> He just looked at me and sort of like looked off, as if he thought he heard something but
he kind of hoped he hadn't. And that went on and on through the afternoon.
It was just excruciatingly humiliating. I mean, five minutes of silence is painful.
Four hours was abominable. At the end of that time, the guy who was guiding
me just sort of put an end to my misery, and says, "Let's get out of here.”
Get out of here -- where? You know?
We're at the bottom of canyons. There's nothing for miles in every direction.
He took me downstream to a little Tarahumara schoolhouse where the kids would come down
from their cave homes at the beginning of the week and basically camp out and live there
all week long, and then, at the end of the week, go back up to their hidden homes again.
We go down to the schoolhouse, and the schoolmaster -- who had spent time in Chihuahua there
-- was a little bit more acculturated than Arnulfo, or at least a little bit less discriminating.
He gave us a place to stay for the night. And he sympathized with me and said, "Look,
of course these guys aren't going to talk to you.
The way you remain a reclusive tribe is by not answering questions when people show up,
you know, poking their nose in your business. They're not going to trust you at all.
You'd have to be down here a long time before they will talk to you.
You have to be down here at least as long as the White Horse.”
What White Horse? And he starts to tell me this story about
some guy they called the White Horse who appeared one day, came running down out of the canyons.
And every once in awhile, he would come drifting in, have a cup of water, and go drifting back
out again. He was some kind of strange gringo like you.
That's pretty much all he knew. But he said, "If anybody is going to tell
you what's going on, it's this dude. Because he's the only guy who's been down
here long enough to be trusted, and is the only guy who's actually started to absorb
the very secrets that you're looking for." It was fantastic, except it only dawned on
me the next day as we're halfway out of the canyons that I'd just been totally blindsided
and snowed. Of course, there was no White Horse, you know?
What a great feints. What a great way to get me off the trail,
to go looking for this mythical guy. I guess I had to applaud them on their ingenuity.
It was a great disguise for masking their community with lies.
But, as it turned out, I was wrong. There actually is a White Horse, and I did
manage to locate him. And he was way beyond my expectations, because
-- just coincidentally -- this guy Caballa Blanca, White Horse, was in exactly the same
position I was in when he first came down to the canyons.
He's my exact height. He's my exact shoe size.
He was almost the exact same age I was when I was down there.
And, he also had busted-up ankles, and was pretty discouraged with running.
He came down to study the Tarahumara, and run with them.
And, by this point in his 50's, he was a totally transformed guy.
He took me for a run up on the trails, and it was unlike any kind of running I'd ever
seen before. I remember it was like watching smoke go up
out of a chimney. We'd go up this steep hill; within minutes,
I am dying and gasping for breath and my body's on fire.
And, this guy, it's like running uphill for him was like running downhill.
He just walked it on up. It was like nothing.
And I remember looking to him and thinking I'd only seen running like that once before
in my life, and it was the day before when I was at the Tarahumara schoolhouse and watched
these kids. This guy had done it.
You know, he had found out how to move the way they moved.
And it was unlike anything I'd ever seen. You guys ever go to a marathon? Stand at the
finish line and watch people coming in? 30,000 people -- 30,000 different running styles
-- and the only thing they have in common is they all look seriously unhappy, you know?
>> [Laughter].
>> People sort of clumping around. And I'm watching these guys, and it looks
weightless. It looks like it should produce the exact
same expression on the face that Joe Vigil had seen.
Have you ever seen a four-year-old or five-year-old running around?
If you ever watch what they do, they like to sort of lean forward first, and then fall
and go. It's a feeling of weightlessness, like their
legs are just trying to keep up with their body.
And when you think about that feeling of weightlessness, that's what everybody enjoys.
That's why the entire amusement park industry exists; it is to deal in weightlessness.
You know, roller coasters and twisters, all that kind of stuff.
It's this feeling of flying through the air. Every activity the kid does has some form
of weightlessness, jumping rope or trampolines or going on the swing set or being on the
sliding board. It's about feeling weightless.
You know, we love that feeling. It's as close as we get to flying on solid
ground. Somehow, these people had preserved a way
of running, which is based on the principles of weightlessness.
Caballo had learned it. I wanted to learn it too.
And I had a greater incentive too. Because Caballo had this plan, this thing
he wanted to do. He wanted to put on a race between the Tarahumara
and kind of a karmically-screened elite group of outside ultra runners, which sounded pretty
dubious the first time he brought it up. And the more he talked, the more ridiculous
it sounded. Because, not only did he want to have this
race, but he wanted to have it in this most inaccessible part of the canyons.
And then also, he'd be pretty discriminating about who he would let show up too.
It couldn't be the wrong kind of person. It had to be not only a good runner, but a
good person. And it was this ridiculous sort of thicket
of qualifications, which I couldn't see anybody who could qualify would bother showing up
for this thing. But I was still intrigued.
I was intrigued because I wanted to find out whether Vigil's theory was true.
Are there transferable skills that we can take from the Tarahumara, and incorporate
into our own lives? Because, you know, it's nice to say, "Hey.
They're great. They're wonderful.” But, it's pointless if we don't all go down
to the canyons and eat mice and run through the hills.
I was intrigued for one other reason as well, too.
When I got out of the canyons after that visit with Caballo and the Tarahumara, I started
to look into long distance running. And I discovered that there have been certain
mysteries of human history that, to this day, have never been answered.
If you guys have the answers, then you know more than anybody else on planet Earth, because
no other humans ever answered these three mysteries, okay?
One of the them is this: You women? I mean this respectfully, but as sprinters,
every one -- every woman in this room -- you suck.
You're terrible. Women are awful sprinters.
There is not a woman on planet Earth that could out-sprint a pretty good, high school,
boy sprinter. As milers, you are just about as bad.
The fastest mile ever run by a woman is routinely snapped by high school state champions nationwide
every year. 4:15 is the fastest mile that any woman has
ever run. Now, as marathoners, it's kind of interesting.
Because you get to the marathon, which is 26 miles, and you guys are only ten minutes
off the male world record. And you've only been doing marathons for about
20 years. You guys got all your uteruses in shape now
because, you know, 20 years ago, doctors were telling you if you ran a marathon, your uterus
would fall out, so.
>> [Laughter]
>> So I'm happy to see that somehow you have fixed your uteruses.
So define the best, medical opinion. I was in college back then.
It wasn't that long ago. It's unbelievable that international, expert
medical opinion said if you ran 26 miles you would drop your uterus.
>> [Laughter].
>> I've watched a lot of marathons. I have yet to see a discarded uterus anywhere.
So that was only 20 years ago when you guys were jerry rigging your uteruses and starting
the marathon, okay? Now, you get into the longer distances.
You get to 50 to 100 miles, and suddenly, it's anybody's game.
You put Nikki Kimball into a hundred mile race against any guy in the world, and it
is a coin toss who's crossing that finish line first.
You go back to -- what was it? 2003? or -- 2002 with Cam Reid.
She's like a milli-soccer mom from Texas or, -- sorry -- Arizona.
She's shows up at the Bad Water Ultra Marathon, which is one of the toughest endurance contests.
[pause] The "Arm of Nike." [pause]
>> [sound tech support]
>> Good? Okay. Sure.
It was back in 2003, I think, when Pam Reed -- who's a middle-aged soccer mom from Tucson
-- shows up at Bad Water, 135-miles across Death Valley, and up the side of Mt. Whitney
in July, the hottest time of the year and the hottest place in the world.
And Pam Reed schlacks the field, beats every man and woman there.
What's more intriguing is -- if you actually watch who came in next -- it was Pam, and
then a guy, and then a woman, then a woman, then a guy, then a woman, then a woman, then
a guy. Seven out of the top ten finishers were women.
Then Pam comes back the next year when the crosshairs are on her back -- everyone's out
to get her -- She wins it again. In 2006, a woman named Emily Baer turns up
at the Hardrock, which is one of the toughest one-hundred mile courses you'll ever find,
finishes in the top ten, and she might have done a little bit better if she hadn't stopped
to breast-feed her baby at the aid stations, okay?
>> [Laughter].
>> She beat hundreds of men of elite, tough, well-conditioned, ultra marathoners, while
stopping at the aid station to breast-feed her child, and finished in the top ten.
Okay. So, how's this possible? How is it that, as distances get longer, women
get stronger? Should not be physiologically possible, yet
it's scientific fact. Okay, another scientific fact too.
Two million years ago human brain, you know, australopithecus had a brain, you know, the
size of a cashew, and all of a sudden, homo erectus shows up, and we go from this little
peanut brain to this giant melon head, big old brain.
Two million years ago. Scientific facts.
You can only calorically support a brain of that size if you have access to some form
of concentrated protein essentially. There was no tofu.
It had to be dead animals. So two million years ago, no doubt about it,
homo erectus is eating dead animals. The only problem is, the first weapon only
appeared two hundred thousand years ago. So somehow, for nearly two million years,
we are getting nice, fresh, animal carcasses, with absolutely no weapons to get them with.
And, if you wanted to look around you and think, Is there on you at this moment that
can kill a kudu -- no, we have no claws, we have no fangs, we have no strength, we have
no speed. We have -- we are the biggest wussies that
have ever walked planet Earth. I mean -- and if you think it was speed --
you know, Usain Bolt is the fastest guy who's ever lived, but he sucks.
I mean, compared to a squirrel, he's slow.
>> [Laughter].
>> So, how on earth -- for two million years -- are we getting animals without any means
to kill them? Never been solved, okay?
>> Last mystery, again, never been solved. If you track the finishing times of people
who run marathons, usually you are only allowed to start running marathons when you're around
age 19. That's the youngest you can be.
Start running marathon age 19. Statistically you will get faster and faster
for the next eight years until you hit your peak -- you'll top out at age 27.
After age 27, it's that sort of slow decline. You get slower and slower until you're back
to running the same pace you were at age 19. So 19, get to your peak, slower and slower
and slower, back to age 19 again. Some of you've read the books, you may know
this answer, but anyone just sort of toss how long it takes you to lose your top end
speed after you beat? Eight years up and how many years down?
Want to throw it out? Someone knows the answer, I'm sure.
What's that? Age 64. It takes you 45 years to lose your top-end
speed. That's preposterous.
There's no other physical activity on planet Earth.
I mean, I'll go beyond sports. I'll go into like sex and eating and chess,
you know? There's no 65-year-old on the planet that
is competing with his teenage self and winning -- except in one sport -- and that is long
distance running. So how were these mysteries -- how could they
possibly be resolved? Well, they might be resolved in the same way
that we can resolve the mystery of those goofy smiles at mile sixty in the Leadville 1994.
What if humans evolved as hunting pack animals? What if the way we survived two million years
ago was by using these unique characteristics possessed only by us -- only by humans --
to run animals to death? To run them, run them, run them till they
[snap] drop over dead? Okay, it sounds preposterous. But the you start to think about it a little
bit. If you took this human leg, cut it off at
the hip, threw it up on the table, dissected it, and yanked out all the stuff inside, and
you brought an engineer in here to look at it.
And you would say, "Now, what would you do with all these parts?" He would say, "Well,
obviously, I would build some kind of a pogo stick.
Come kind of a bouncing machine, because obviously this is a propulsive device for bouncing.”
The human leg is like a golf ball. It is so packed with elastic recoil tendons,
that you can almost like bounce it like a perpetual-motion machine; it will let it go
and go and go. And if you want evidence of that, just look
at fighters. If you ever want to check whether humans were
evolved for an activity, see whether or not boxers do it.
Because boxers have zero margin for error. A boxer is not going to fart around with anything
that's not going to keep him alive, or he'll get his face punched off.
And if you ever watch a boxer in a ring, they're not running the way people do in a marathon.
What are they doing? They're bouncing on the balls of their feet.
And you bounce on the balls -- I would demonstrate it right now, but I would look stupid, so
-- when you bounce on the balls of your feet, suddenly, you'll click into a rhythm where
you no longer know you're bouncing. You're not even using energy anymore.
You're just going and going and going. So, we have legs -- they have dissected plenty
of other mammals. They have found one other mammal that almost
has as many elastic recoils in the leg as we do, and that animal is called a kangaroo.
We beat out the kangaroo for elastic recoil in our legs.
Second thing we have, which is unique to humans is -- the reason why I tend to, you know,
smell around here -- is because we perspire. Most animals perspire, but that is our primary
way of venting heat. We sweat, they breathe.
Which means, if you ever go up against a horse in a 20-mile race, you will win, because after
a certain number of miles -- by ten miles or so -- that horse has a choice.
It's either going to breathe, or it's going to cool off, but it ain't doing both.
We can. And if you want evidence of that, go back
to Bad Water. What other animal would voluntarily pay $800
to go to Death Valley in July, you know, to spend sixty hours running down the highway?
I mean, if you look down from a satellite on November first at the aisle of Manhattan,
and you suddenly saw tens of thousands of organisms running through the streets, you
would assume that it's either some kind of a panic or some kind of weird mammalian instinct
to run in a herd. That's what humans do.
You know, it's bizarre when you think about it.
What other animal -- other than like, you know, again, panicky wildebeests -- ever get
together by the tens of thousands to run for three hours through the streets?
There is something in us that wants us to gather and run together.
So that model works. If humans are hunting pack animals, and the
only way of acquiring the cranial capacity and the survival demands was to run animals
to death, well, that cause has certain consequences. You can't be a hunting pack animal if you
are a greedy bastard. You know, you can't haul a bunch of your crap
around while you're trying to keep up with the pack.
You've got to be basically free and unencumbered. You have got to be pretty egalitarian, you
know? You can't be the tough guy who's blazing out for individual glory.
You've got to be part of the pack. You've got to be able to be a woman and keep
up with that pack, because no time in your life are you more in need of animal protein
than when you are a nursing mother or a developing adolescent.
So, if you're a kid or a woman, you have got to keep up with that pack.
If you're an old guy, the pack can't do without you, because the hardest thing about catching
a kudu is figuring out which friggin' kudu you're trying to catch.
Because these guys will explode -- the herd will explode -- and go off in every direction,
and then reform again. And you got to keep chasing the same one,
because you can't keep chasing fresh legs. It's a very hard skill to acquire.
It takes more than a lifetime, and the only way that is developed is by these guys who
are in their 50's and sixties. One more thing that's kind of interesting
too. There's a guy named Louis Liebenberg who has
studied the Kalihari bushmen, who -- to this day -- still do what's called "persistence
hunts.” He's been on about a dozen of these persistence
hunts, and he's found on average it takes between two to five hours to run an antelope
to death. Which, surprisingly, corresponds exactly to
the finishing times for most marathons. Two to five hours.
So then, suddenly we start to have this model forming, this idea that maybe everything we
think is awesome about us -- you know, basically, everything you guys do for a living that is
sort of the height of human creativity and achievement -- Maybe it all sprang from one
thing: our ability to run. Because without running, we don't get that
burst of animal protein two million years ago which allowed our brains so it could be
fueled to grow in size. We never developed the communication skills
to be able to pass this knowledge on from person to person.
We never developed that ability to think outside, to think beyond the visible to the creative,
the imaginary. The thing about tracking is, there's comes
a moment when you've got to stop thinking about what you see, and think about what's
ahead -- not what you're seeing in front of you or what that animal has already done.
You have to anticipate. Anticipation is the basis of imagination
-- the basis of creativity. That's something we have in spades and few
other animals have. We can think ahead, and they can not -- as
far as I know. But, it also gives us a certain cargoload
of responsibilities to be in sync with what we have developed to do.
It's counterproductive if we first become immobile and greedy and possessive and domineering.
That's sort of not what we are. And the proof of that might just be down in
those canyons among the Tarahumara. Because, you know, you take an animal out
of the wilderness and you stick it into a zoo -- what happens to it?
Okay. It becomes antisocial and grumpy and fat and sexually dysfunctional, essentially
-- most like you guys.
>> [Laughter].
>> You know, you look at the animal in the wild and suddenly, it's not overeating.
It's not, you know, mauling its young. It's not sort of refusing to mate unless it
has the Great like, Lotus Leaf. It's just having a good time, you know, and
doing its thing. This brought us sort of full circle, and I
felt like I was on the verge of getting my hands on a lot of really cool wisdom that's
all been out there, but essentially hadn't all been sort of tongue-in-groove and locked
together yet. And I think Caballo's aspiration was that
the moment to do this would be at his race. What if he could bring down some ultra runners,
people who specialize in hundred-mile races? Bring them down to the canyons, and introduce
them to their prehistoric counterparts. And see whether there isn't not some sort
of common ground there. Whether these ultra runners are not trying
to rediscover what the Tarahumara have never forgotten.
And then bring back those transferable skills to the rest of us.
Because one thing that's unusual about ultra runners is, you see one thing on their face
that you don't see on marathoners, which is a smile, you know? Ultra runners bizarrely
seem to have much more fun than people who are running a quarter of the same distance.
The only problem with Caballo is, racewise, there basically was not a chance in hell he's
going to have any racers. I wrote an article for Runner’s World.
People knew about it, and the response was a resounding like, silence.
I heard nothing from anybody for months -- until just a few weeks before this race was
going to take place. I started getting a couple of messages.
I got a message from a guy named Scott Jurek, who, you know, I had to sort of double check
and e-mail back and make sure wasn't a gag. Because it's -- let's say you're going to
put on your Pro M Golf Tournament at your country club, and you get a call from a guy
named Tiger who wants to know if there's any chance he could fill out a foursome.
Scott Jurek is a guy who -- seven-time winner of the Western States 100, the premier 100-mile
event. One year, he went right from Western States
up in the mountains, then down to Death Valley, and -- not only won that race -- but set the
course record. You know, two weeks after winning a one-hundred
mile race, he then birthed the record for the 135-mile race.
Scott Jurek sent me a message saying, you know, he's interested and wants to show up.
So, I got one guy in the bag. And then, I made a phone call to a woman named
Jenn Shelton -- and, if you are not familiar with Jenn Shelton, it means you've never worked
for the Virginia Beach Police Department. Jenn Shelton was a surfer and a rugby player
and a skateboarder before she got involved in ultra marathons.
The first race she ever ran as a runner wasn't a 10K or a 5K; it was a fifty-mile race to
the Blue Ridge Mountains, in which she set the age-course record.
Her next race was a hundred-mile race where she did a hand-stand, shadow-boxed at the
50-mile mark, ate pizza and Mountain Dew, and broke the course record by three hours.
So, a few weeks before I was going to leave for this race in which I thought I would pretty
much be the only runner and maybe just a Lance Armstrong kind of dude.
I made a call to Jenn Shelton to do an article for Runner’s World about why it is that
so many of these young 20-year-olds were getting involved in races that involved spending all
Saturday night running through the woods. Here's what I said to her.
It was her answer that made me think that, you know, maybe we're a lot closer to these
___________ truths than we realize. Maybe there is a right way to run.
Maybe there are transferable skills where people can run and enjoy and not get hurt
in the eighty percent casualty rate we have now.
Or not depend on these big bone, art-supported, bullshit monstrosities that you pay $150 for,
and are told you have to get rid of in three months and get another pair.
Maybe there's a way where 26 miles is not such a big deal after all.
Maybe 50 or 100 is perfectly achievable. And by the time I was done talking to her,
I realized that -- well, this -- I'm trying to choose my adjectives carefully.
If this multipally-arrested, 21-year-old, college-dropout surfer could do it, maybe
the rest of us could as well. So, my first question to her was this, "So
why don't you run marathons? Don't you think you could qualify for the
Olympic Trials?" And Jenn said, "Dude -- seriously.
The qualifying standard is 2:48. Anybody can do that."
>> [Laughter]
>> Jenn could run a sub-3-hour marathon while wearing a string bikini and chugging a beer
at mile 23 -- and she would, just five days after running a 50-mile trail race in the
Blue Ridge Mountains. Yeah, but then what?
I hate all this hype about the marathon. Where's the mystery?
I knew this girl who's training for the trials, and she's got every single workout planned
for like, the next 3 years. I couldn't take it, man.
I was supposed to run with her once at six in the morning, and I called her up at 2 a.m.
to tell her I was shit-faced on margaritas and probably not going to make it.
>> [Laughter]
>> Jenn didn't have a coach or a training program.
She didn't even own a watch. She just rolled out of bed every morning,
downed the veggie burger, and ran as far and as fast as she felt like -- which usually
turned out to be about 20 miles. "You know, I never really discussed this with
anyone, because it sounds kind of pretentious, but I started running ultras to become a better
person.” Jenn told me.
I thought, "Man, if you can run a hundred miles, you'd be in this zen state.
You'd be the fucking Buddha. [laughter] Bringing peace and a smile to the
>> In my case, it didn't work. I'm the same old punk ass as ever.
But there's always this hope that it'll turn you into the person you want to be -- you
know, like a better and more peaceful person. When I'm at a long run, the only thing in
life that matters is finishing the run. For once, my brain isn't going "Bleh, Bleh,
Bleh, Bleh.” Thinking just quiets down, and the only thing
going on is pure flow. It's just me and the movement and the motion.
That's what I love. Just being a barbarian, running wild through
the woods. You know, I thought to myself, "Listening
to Jenn was like communing with the ghost of Caballa Blanco.”
So, I said to her, "You know, it's weird how much you sound like this guy I met in Mexico.
I'm actually heading down there in a few weeks for a race he's putting on with the Tarahumara
Indians.” "No way!"
"I think Scott Jurek is going to be there.” "You are shitting me!" the budding Buddha
explained. "Really? Hey, can me and my friend go? Oh
shit, no; hang on. We got midterms that week.
All right, I'm going to have to pull a fast one.
Give me till tomorrow.” So next morning, as promised, I get this message
from Jenn. "My mom thinks you're a serial killer who's
going to murder us in the desert."
>> [Laughter].
>> "It's totally worth the risk. So where do we meet you guys?" And that was
it. We were literally off to the races.
My friend Barefoot Ted showed up. Jenn and Billy Bonehead and Scott Jurek and
Luis Escobar and myself. And not long after, we found ourselves totally
mystified by the fact that the very guy -- who would not even sneeze in my direction
a year earlier, Arnulfo Quimare, came out with 20 other Tarahumara runners to turn out
for what Caballo would later say was a "World class event down here in the middle of nowhere.”
And you know, it's something kind of sort of unique happened after that event, which
is, we felt this -- I don't know, man. Would you call it a "bond of kinship," Ted?
Something very galvanizing happened down there, and I think it's because we all came away
feeling that we had absorbed something. And it's not that hard to learn.
And I -- as much as I am reluctant to offer some sort of panacea, some sort of cure all
-- I think that once the machine starts to operate the way it was designed -- once you
get the car off the block, and start to run that engine a little bit -- things fall into
place. I've never finished a run without realizing
I've been very wrong about something, you know?
That something was my fault or I need to apologize to somebody.
It's something about those meditative moments of running, I think, gets the machine operating
the way it should be. And, if I can accomplish one thing -- and
I think Ted feels the same way -- is, if we can end this war in running.
All this baloney, hysteria, "Be careful, don't hurt yourself.”
"Don't do too much." "Don't take your shoes off.”
I mean, shoes have existed for that long [snap] in human history, you know?
Tens of billions of people have done just fine without these things on their feet, and
yet somehow we're told we've got to have them. So, anyway, that's something that I think
I came away from is, I was grateful for regaining the use of my legs.
I think it's changed me in profound ways. And, you know, I think it's something that's
available to everybody else as well. So, thanks very much.
I'll be happy to answer any questions you've got.
>> [Applause]
>> Hi. I have a couple of questions.
I'll be quick. So you're saying that the Tarahumara run basically
barefoot, or in sandals? Did you see any kind of bunions among them
at all, like?
>> Ted, show your foot please? Would you care to remove your homemade footwear?
Demonstrate your bunions and your calluses -- all those calluses you get when you run
barefoot. Yeah. No, I guess -- bunions are caused by
shoes. There was a podiatrist named Paul Brand, who
spent a lot of time working with indigenous people, and he said, "You know, it's funny.
The only time I ever see bunions and hammertoes and foot ailments and disfigurements is in
the U.S. among people who wear shoes.” When people go barefoot those things just
don't exist.
>> And my other question was, when you do that much running, do you find you have to
do other things like, make sure your abs are strong, or stuff like that?
Or is it pretty much just with the running? In terms of like, injuries?
>> You know, it's kind of curious is that, I was really slow to figure out stuff that
was very obvious.
>> Uh-huh.
>> -- particularly stuff that was told actually told to me clearly, and I would listen and
not hear it. But, I was told from the getgo from the barefoot
guys -- the guys who have been doing this a long time.
There's like nothing that I come across that wasn't articulated by barefoot runners 20
years ago. And you know what they say is, you can only
do it properly if everything is in balance and focused.
What I find is, the better I'm running, the more accurate my core is, the better my posture
is, the more I'm using my arms. So it is -- in a sense -- that full-body work
out to do it properly.
>> So you don't have to like, prepare for it so much to have everything -- like in the
gym -- to have everything equal strength?
>> Have you ever seen a kid do hot yoga and put on a B race, you know?
>> [Laughter].
>> What do kids do? Kids just go -- I have a five-year-old daughter,
and when she wants to run, she just goes, "Go!" That's it.
You go.
>> Okay. Cool. Great talk.
>> Thank you. I mean, it is so much simpler.
I mean, Ted does barefoot running clinics. I'm sure he could teach you a dramatically
different way to run in ten minutes, you know. Any more questions?
>> How do you see the multi-billion dollar sports footwear industry responding to these
>> [laughter]
>> Death! Death to the multibillion dollar. It's the biggest, stinking scam -- other than
opposing universal health care. It's the biggest bunch of.
>> [Clapping] [cheering] Weu!
>> Or gay marriage -- one of those two. You know, it's just -- it's a serious bunch
of bullshit. Those shoes serve no purpose.
They cause the ailments that they're supposed to be curing.
There's absolutely no reason on earth that you should have a big pad of foam under your
heel. Now, the only thing that pad does is encourage
you to land on the one part of your foot you should never land on.
If I stand on this thing and jump off, the last thing I want to hit on the ground is
my heel. I want to land on the balls of my feet and
bend my knees. You land on your heel, that motion is impossible.
Running is a series of jumps, okay? Walking is a shifting of body weight from side to
side. Running, by definition, you're up in the air
and you're coming down. When you land on your heel, that leg is in
the most vulnerable position it can possibly be in.
The knee's hyper-extended. The leg is a straight shock of impact going
from joint to joint to joint, and you're balancing your entire body weight in a braking motion.
[Rrrp.] Like that. Now, if you run on your bare feet, you can't
do that. You'll land on the ball of your foot, you'll
compress that knee by necessity. The one point that I want to make is, this
is not really a battle between "shoes vs. no shoes.”
Shoes are better than bare feet. Protection is always better than no protection.
But, the question becomes, What is a shoe actually doing to your foot?
Does the shoe let your foot go where it wants to go?
As soon as the technology overwhelms the demand, then you got a problem.
Like, that's when the sibors become self-aware and are destroying humanity, you know.
>> [Laughter].
>> I like these crazy like, beaver Fivefinger shoes.
Like, doesn't your CEO wear these guys too? You guys want to go up through the ranks,
I'll get some of these crazy monkey shoes, if I were you.
Ted makes these huarache’s. A shoe that allows your foot to move the way
it wants to move is, -- and you know who said this too?
It wasn't me; this was Bill Rogers. Bill Rogers won what -- four Boston marathons,
one of the best marathoners of all time. He said the same thing.
The shoe that allows your foot to move as if it were barefoot, that's the shoe you want.
More questions?
>> Hi. Great talk.
Enjoyed it. What is the life expectancy of the Tarahumara
>> You know, it's actually pretty low. It's like 45.
They have an extraordinarily high infant mortality rate -- as most cultures do that don't have
access to pediatric care and to antibiotics. You survive those first few months, though,
and you're off the razor for a long time. So, what they lose on the front end, they
make up on the back end. The Tarahumara tend to be extremely nimble
and mobile. Caballo talks about a 95-year-old Tarahumara
guy that he saw cruising across a 30-mile mountain range at age 95.
>> You talked a little bit about how people lose this love for running between five and
25. I think that kind of spoke to me.
You know, you start in school, and running becomes this kind of artificial thing, right?
You're running in artificial tracks in loops and loops.
I used to run the two mile in high school, and it was 20 laps.
And you're doing that all the time, right? So by -- the good thing is, it's only ten
or eleven minutes. The bad thing is, by lap like 18, you want
to hang yourself. You know, I started doing cross-country.
Even though it's sort of regimented, you're out in the woods, like you said.
And I think, maybe that change needs to happen. Instead of having everything so institutionalized
in these, you know, hundred meters, two hundred meters, mile, two mile, if it was a little
bit more free form or you know, these longer races, where it's more true to the spirit
of running, that might put a lot of kids into running instead of off of it.
>> Yeah, you know, I totally agree with you. I keep thinking -- I mean, I wish people would
run two miles as if they were running a hundred miles, because you can't run a hundred miles
by yourself. You need a support crew there to help you
out, you need to have patience with you. There's something much more real.
And you can't just go jetting off as hard as you can.
You got to throttle back and be able to do the long haul.
And you see people now when they start to run, and it's constantly like, "Deet. Deet.
Deet." you know? Checking their watch.
And you know, people saying, "Have you run a marathon yet?
When are you going to run a marathon? How fast do you do a marathon?" It's all this
like, work stress in what's supposed to be recreation.
You know, we've done something with running which -- we've taken what we're crappy at,
which is speed, and make it the thing we try to do all the time.
Go faster and faster. But we're not fast.
We have endurance. And you mentioned cross country.
That is an endurance sport. It's a communal pack sport.
>> It's a team sport, yeah.
>> Yeah. Yeah. [pause]
>> Hi. My question is specific to the big runs.
I've started running in those. And I felt amazing for the first couple of
miles, and then started to get blisters --
>> Suck up to the boss, aren't you?
>> -- and friction and stuff like that. Just curious.
I guess that's just something you have to -- your skin will toughen up over time, and
it's something you get used to, or could be.
>> Barefoot Ken Bob, who's kind of the guru of the barefoot running movement said, "Barefoot
running is not about being tough. It's about being sensitive.”
And his point is that, I've got no calluses on my feet; neither does Ted.
If you start to callus, it means you're doing something wrong.
If you feel like your feet need to toughen, it's because you've got technical problems,
not a skin problem. The trick of barefoot running is basically
slipping the foot straight up. If you're pushing back, you're pulling like
that [demonstrating], you're going to have friction and you're going to callus.
And I would suggest too, before you actually start using the Five Fingers, I would do a
lot of running in your own bare feet on asphalt. Because, again, you'll learn pretty quick
how to do it right.
>> Yeah. But the calves were just like on fire after
>> Yeah. I mean it's something -- if you did 50 push-ups
today, you'd feel sore tomorrow too. Take a day off, and start again.
>> Okay. Thanks.
>> Sure. Wasn't it a great run this morning?
>> Oh, awesome run. Thanks for joining us.
During your research, did you come across any other cultures similar to the Tarahumara
that kind of provided that glimpse into our evolutionary history?
>> Yeah, you know, that's a great point. They're everywhere.
When the professors at the University of Utah were trying to substantiate their theory of
hunting pack -- humans as hunting pack animals -- they started digging in folklore mythology,
and what they found was -- everybody's got folklore about running animals to death.
The Seris, the Hopis, the Navahos, Kalahari Bushmen.
Every culture everywhere has had a strong ethos of long-distance running.
But more and more, those cultures are disappearing, you know.
In Peru, you still have long distance runners who act as couriers.
The Sherpas, the Kalahari Bushmen. There is a tiny group of Navahos to this day
who still use long distance running as ritual, and so do the Hopi's.
Anybody else? Chance. My brother's here.
Wide open field, man. [chuckle] Yeah? Nothing else?
Again, thanks very much. This is a lot of fun.
I really appreciate it.
>> [Applause]