Just finished this inspiring book…

I saw it in a mini-library. I tried reading the first few pages, and it was love at first-chapter.

I got my own copy several months later, and Christopher McDougall didn’t just sustain the high you get at the start of the book. But like a runner, his book had endurance and even sprinted toward the finish line.

Instead of waxing on and on about why I think you should get the book (and thus give you regurgitated meat), here’s an excerpt. You’ll see why I think this book should be required reading, not just for runners and athletes, but for human beings.

“How do you flip the internal switch that changes us all back into the Natural Born Runners we once were? Not just in history, but in our own lifetimes. Remember? Back when you were a kid and you had to be yelled at to slow down? Every game you played, you played at top speed, sprinting like crazy as you kicked cans, freed all, and attacked jungle outposts in your neighbors’ backyards. Half the fun of doing anything was doing it at record pace, making it probably the last time in your life you’d ever be hassled for going too fast.

“That was the real secret of the Tarahumara: they’d never forgotten what it felt like to love running. They remembered that running was mankind’s first fine art, our original act of inspired creation. Way before we were scratching pictures on caves or beating rhythms on hollow trees, we were perfecting the art of combining our breath and mind and muscles into fluid self-propulsion over wild terrain. And when our ancestors finally din make their first cave paintings, what were the first designs? A downward slash, lightning bolts through the bottom and middle – behold, the Running Man.

“Distance running was revered because it was indispensable; it was the way we thrived and survived and spread across the planet. You ran to eat and avoid being eaten; you ran to find a mate and impress her, and with her you ran off to start a new life together. You had to love running, or you wouldn’t live to love anything else. And like everything else we love – everything we sentimentally call our “passions” and “desires” – it’s really an encoded ancestral necessity. We were born to run; we were born because we run. We’re all Running People, as the Tarahumara have always known.”

600++ pesos at your favorite bookstore.

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ZOMBIES, TARAHUMARA AND A HALF MARY

In a span of almost a week, I found myself running against zombies, an overenthusiastic sun, and rebellions from my quads and calves.

The zombies came first, Saturday, April 14. And like most zombie attacks, it happened by surprise.

I was merely contemplating whether I should join Outbreak Manila (which happened in Nuvali, notManila) or not, when a friend texted me that she had just signed me up, and that I owed her 700 pesos for it! In fact, our entire set of friends had signed up, and strategies and rankings had already been discussed. Well, that settled that. I was going to try to escape from the running dead.

The premise itself was insane: Run the trail filled with over-enthused fans of Plants vs. Zombies and Zombieland. They would come, the website said, in the crawling and running variety. There were so many things that could go wrong: zombies who forget that this is all make-believe, runners who remember that they could fight back, or the race turning out to be just a 5 kilometer mega horror train – except that you had to walk through it. And if you have to indicate in your rules that no hitting and weapons are allowed, there’s something wrong.

Zombie, hamming it up, waiting for the right moment to strike (photo courtesy of Ceres Lina)

But you know what, it was the insanity that made it a lot of fun.

Before the first kilometer was over, I had to change my mindset from the usual 5k run to a cross between patintero and bang-sac. Difficulties lay in the trail, as well as in the zombie surprises. I didn’t escape with my any of my lives (they gave you three strips of plastic that represented lives. Zombies had to grab it. My last one was placed above my crotch. That still didn’t stop the zombie.), but I made it at just the same time as a friend who was just the 40th “living” person to cross the finish line.

I learned a lot of stuff, not just from running, and about what zombies actually are (I had them confused with vampires), but from my friends who ran with me. We used each other as human shields, threw the “dead” members (like myself) into the zombies, distracting zombies while the others run (jumps, twists and ninja kicks usually did the trick), what zombie make-up and costume combinations work, trying to outflank other groups but helping them, too.

But the simplest thing I learned was probably the most simple: That running should be fun. It was probably the most fun I’ve ever had in a fun run, and I have my friends to thank for that.

Friends celebrating with zombies at the photo booth (zombies still in character). Photo by Ceres Lina 

A week later, I was going to need that.

A week later, there were no zombies, but it sure felt like one of them was biting on my leg. It was the National Geographic Earth Day 2012 Half Mary.

I had trained better than my other runs. For the first time, I was able to do a 2 hour LSD. I was working on my balance, my core, my quads. I was doing tempo runs (or at least I think I was). Maintenance runs were consistent. And hey – I did outrun the living dead the week before, right?

But I guess you can’t prepare for the sun’s mood swings. There was no wind. There was water, but no electrolyte-promising sports drink. I was doing good time until the 10th kilometer. I still don’t know if it was my socks, my running form, or just an abnormal foot, but my right toe felt painful. I stopped,retied my shoelaces, and then ran again. I was steadily making up for lost time, and with a kilometer and a half to go, I thought I could actually match or even beat my PR.

Some kilometers back, I was crowing, “Gawang tao lang ang Gatorade.” My girlfriend, who had already ran her first marathon, then dutifully warned me about cramps.

Back to the last 1.5K. My girlfriend was already a good three minutes  away. But I was covering lost ground. I was about to crow again. Then, my right calf was sucker punched by cramps. It wasn’t the full-blown type, but it was enough to jolt me, and get my entire body’s attention. I tried jogging through it, but that wasn’t working. I walked, then tried to run again. This time, my left calf jolted me. Then my left thigh. Then my 1 minute walking break became 2. Then I cursed at the fact that this had to happen at the last 1.5 Kilometers, that the sun had to show up, and that Powerade didn’t. Then hope was running away from me.

Then I remembered the Tarahumara.

They are a tribe of people who run for the sheer joy of running. Just because it was fun. Just because it made them feel alive. Just because. I read about them in Christopher Mcdougall’s BORN TO RUN (more on that in upcoming posts), and their joy leapt from reality into words, and from Mcdougall’s words back to reality.

I went all-Tarahumara during that last kilometer. I remembered that running was Grace. That physical health was a gift. And every time people shut off entire roads for you, you better know you’re doing something special.

So I ran.

When I saw a camera, I smiled. I was in pain, but the smile was genuine. I saw the finish line, and I picked up my stride. No way was I going to cross any finish line walking.

despite cramps, you have to smile, and cross the finish line running.

Resting on my bed that afternoon, I was trying to piece it all together: the zombies, the Half Marathon, and the Tarahumara.

The fun that brought zombies and friends to Nuvali, the Tarahumara’s joy, and the smile and stride I finished the Half Marathon with, were all teaching me something.

Yes, running is the stuff of legend, part of the DNA of the gods. Words like glory and grit, determination and defiance of limits, patience and perseverance, hurt and heart, fill our vocabulary. Yet, one word – the simplest and purest of them can get you smiling straight into the finish line: Joy.

Yes, running is about pushing the borders of humanity, but it’s also about getting high on simply doing what we love. As much there is space in running for the epic, there must also be space for effervescence. As much as there are weekends for challenging the sun, there must also be insane weekends for outrunning zombies. And if running is not putting a smile on our faces, then it ain’t worth it.

Our society may often brush away fun as a frivolity reserved for weekends. But that kind of thinking may be  why we’re often depressed on Monday mornings: the dread of having to do something that doesn’t get us high.