Category Archives: articles and reviews

The Twilight Zone: walk-run theory

There’s an article on National Geographic’s news website which my husband has just forwarded to Maria and I. You can read it for yourself here.

I just read it and smiled. It’s opening paragraph was me just two days ago.

I was in London, dashing between classes and workshops in different locations. Time was tight and although I couldn’t do anything about the bumbling buses and trains, when it was me and the pavement, I ran. Then I walked a bit. Then I ran some more. Then I walked again. Then I ran, my backpack juggling around on my back and my other bags swinging from side to side. I didn’t want to be late. I hate being late.

Apparently, this walk-run scenario I’ve just described happens to us humans a lot. Knowing we are pushed for time, we don’t necessarily run the whole way. Instead, we combine walking and running250px-TheTwilightZoneLogo to conserve energy and still get there quicker. Manoj Srinivasan, professor at Ohio State University studying this theory calls this ‘the Twilight Zone’. I love this description. It’s “where you have neither infinite time nor do you have to be there now” he explains.

And for those runners who are pushing the distance, adding the miles, it’s a great theory to incorporate. I read a couple of years ago about a runner who wanted to qualify for the Boston Marathon (that’ll be a sub-3.05 please, Sir, if you’re under 34 and a 3.35, Madam, if you will) and started to train using walk-run techniques. In his short walks on the longer runs, he was able to recover, conserve energy and ended up with faster overall times.

And you don’t have to be a super runner to see the benefits of this. New runners will also use the walk-run method when they first start out. It’s daunting to say you’re going to run without stopping at first. Walking and running makes sense. As Srinivasan points out, “It’s basically an evolutionary argument” and has served us well from caves to now.

There will be purists out there who say running isn’t running if there’s walking involved. I understand that. But let’s not be pig-headed about it. I’ve had horrendously tiring runs (my 18 miles in marathon training, which I’ve mentioned here before, was one of note) and I believe that if I had just taken some steps walking in amongst the hours of running, I would have finished quicker and a lot less sore.

imagesAnd if that doesn’t make you feel better about a bit of walking, then being in The Twilight Zone certainly should.

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Believe we were ‘Born to Run’

Before picking up Born to Run I had never read a book about running. I thought books about running would be full of torturous workouts, the innermost thoughts of lonely runners pounding pavements and something about achieving goals. What else could there be to write about? You get up, you put your trainers on and you run. By doing that, and only that, in some people’s eyes, you already achieve.

But then again, Born to Run is about more than that. It’s about evolution, biomechanics, nutrition, history, conflict, secrets and some crazy yet wonderful characters the writer didn’t even have to dream up. Reading on page six about a cult devoted to “distance running and sex parties” does shake up boring runner stereotypes. And you devotedly keep turning the page.

First and foremost, McDougall takes us on a journey to our own running past; to how we got here, standing in our Nike running gear; and leaves us alone to kick off our shoes and take our first barefoot steps for ourselves. Science, opinion and experience interweave and you are left, not with a chanting chorus and drum beating for barefoot running, but with the simple question to ask of yourself; Why not?

McDougall doesn’t preach. He’s almost as excited and incredulous about what he finds out as you are. This is because of the most important part of this book: the writer is not merely an observer in this world. He might start out as so, but very soon he becomes a fully fledged pilgrim. And he doesn’t take it half-heartedly, he dives right in. Where once he was a reader, writer and admirer of ultra marathonistas, then he becomes one. And that leaves you room to marvel and admire all that he is learning on his journey to the greatest race the world has never seen.

The best parts of the book are, without a doubt, the stories and personalities of the Tarahumara. Delights such as: “They like to be visible only when they decide to be” and the description of Arnulfo, the most feared of Tarahumara runners: “It’s hard to keep your eyes off a guy as good-looking as Arnulfo. He was brown as polished leather… whimsical dark eyes that glinted with bemused self-confidence… he reminded me of all the early Beatles… shrewd, amused, quietly handsome composite of raw strength.”

The last gem in this book is the thriller finish. You’ve travelled to Africa; you’ve talked with the scientists; you’ve learnt the names of more than a handful of wonderful and surprising ultra athletes. And then, he brings you back to the start of his quest; the only place he can finish it off. He joins the Tarahumara and some of the best ultra-runners in a 50-mile race through the Copper Canyon Mountains, a hostile terrain and often dangerous place. Who will win? Who will even finish? Will one personality outshine another and suffer the consequences?

The home straight has got it all: guts, love, strength, revenge, hope, despair, pain. And then, glory. McDougall proves the saying right. Runners just do it. They go for the finishing line even though someone else has reached it first. And he proves that it is just as important for the super human athletes as it is for the normal runner who is just doing something not that normal.

But then that’s the point. It can be. Normal, that is. Old or young, experienced or not, fat or thin: Born to Run teaches you that no matter what and where you are now, you came from a place where you were born to run.

And: it’s not that hard.