Barefoot Running Advocate Addresses Cadets
Born to Run author Chris McDougall speaks to VMI cadets -- VMI Photo by Sarah Brown.
LEXINGTON, Va., Oct. 18, 2011 – “For every physical activity you do, there’s a better way and a worse way.” That was one of several gems of wisdom bestowed on VMI cadets by barefoot running advocate Chris McDougall during a talk yesterday in Gillis Theater.
His example, how to fall the right way from a 96-foot tree, made an interesting opening for cadets in the audience, many of whom are part of VMI’s Institute Honors program and all of whom pursue physical activity as a routine part of cadet life. The right way to fall from such a tree, according to McDougall, allows you to survive.
And the right way to run allows the runner to use sensory input to move in a way that is less likely to result in injury and more likely to result in enjoyment. The modern running shoe denies the typical runner much of that sensory input, asserted McDougall, who is author of Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen (2009), which added momentum to the barefoot running movement.
Touching on one aspect of the controversy surrounding barefoot running, McDougall said that the modern running shoe is the subject of a $17 billion industry based on a lie. “There is no study showing running shoes reduce injuries.” Exposure to ideas like this one, that challenge the norm, is one of the goals of VMI’s honors program.
“The Institute Honors program is about enrichment – about broadening cadets’ understanding of issues and ideas beyond their majors,” commented Col. Rob McDonald, associate dean for academic affairs.
Although honors cadets were required to attend, the talk generated much interest.
“This morning, for example, 20 honors cadets signed up to talk to Chris McDougall over breakfast,” said McDonald. “This was entirely optional, but all 20 seats had been spoken for within 24 hours after I sent the announcement. The honors cadets are hungry for this kind of engagement.”
The talk also touched on the value of research, which is of immediate interest to these cadets.
“I thought the most interesting thing he said was how he asked what was apparently a simple question about how one older man could run so well, and in the course of doing his research he discovered that the question had important broad moral and cultural implications that he could not have anticipated but which became the focus of his interest,” added McDonald. The book explores techniques employed by a tribe of people McDougall considers to be the world’s greatest distance runners, the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico. These Indians, he said, can run hundreds of miles without rest and are immune to the diseases and strife that plague modern existence
The talk also appeared to interest many cadets and faculty who are runners, inspiring a lively question and answer period afterward. In fact, Dean of the Faculty Brig. Gen. Wane Schneiter, an athlete himself, noted in introducing McDougall that he had received the book as a birthday present and had enjoyed it with his own children.
“The most rewarding thing about this [revolution in running technique],” said McDougall near the end of his talk, “is watching people learn to trust themselves and inform themselves.”
After noting, in response to a question from the audience, that shoes designed to protect the foot from cold and other hazards can be helpful, McDougall advised those interested in trying to technique:
“The best way to transition [to running without shoes] is not to transition at all. Just do it. If it hurts, stop.”
McDougall, a contributing editor for Men’s Health magazine and former Associated Press war correspondent, gave the talk as part of VMI’s Distinguished Speakers Series.
– Sherri Tombarge