Christopher McDougall | Talks at Google

Christopher McDougall | Talks at Google

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>>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 McDougall.>>[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 world.”>>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 insights?>>[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 tribe?>>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 that.>>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]

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