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Writer/runner brings unique running tale to Promise of Hope program

| Date Posted: 1/14/2010

Writer/runner brings unique running tale to Promise of Hope program
January 14, 2010

PINEHURST – As far as Chris McDougall is concerned, the 21st century sport of running—with its expensive clothes and celebrity-endorsed shoes—has gotten way out of hand.

Barefoot runner Chris McDougall will discuss his running technique and the adventures he encountered with the barefoot runners of the Tarahumara Indian tribe of Mexico in a Foundation of FirstHealth Promise of Hope lecture scheduled for Jan. 29 at the Pinecrest High School Auditorium.

For the real take on running, watch kids.

Children don’t need pricy shoes or orthotics. They don’t warm up or stretch. They don’t pull hamstrings or get shin splints or heel spurs.

They just run.

A lot.

And, until peer pressure or a hovering mother gets the better of them, usually barefoot.

“Only in our lifetime has running become this scary, fearful thing that’s unique to the 21st century,” McDougall said recently during a telephone interview from his home in Pennsylvania. “Prior to this, people were never afraid of running. The real message is that you don’t need to be afraid of running. As long as you get back to the fundamentals, running can be fun.”

A former Associated Press correspondent and three-time National Magazine Award finalist, McDougall is now a contributing editor for “Men’s Health” magazine. He will discuss his running technique and the barefoot-running story of Mexico’s Tarahumara Indians in a Foundation of FirstHealth Promise of Hope lecture Friday, Jan. 29, at the Pinecrest High School Auditorium.

Scheduled to highlight the 15th anniversary celebration of the FirstHealth Center for Health & Fitness-Pinehurst, McDougall’s Promise of Hope visit will begin with registration at 5 p.m. followed by the program that begins at 5:30 p.m. There is no charge for the complimentary event, but reservations are suggested and can be made by calling (910) 695-7510.

After his presentation, McDougall will sign copies of his book, “Born to Run,” an account of his quest to locate the Tarahumara and learn why they are called the world’s greatest distance runners and how they manage to escape the injury-plagued running woes of the rest of the running world.

According to McDougall, the “Born to Run” story began several years ago with the same “investigative curiosity” that had previously taken him to war-ravaged Angola, Rwanda and Congo as a Lisbon-based AP correspondent covering the former Portuguese colonies.

“You want to find out why something is happening,” he said.

McDougall’s curiosity had been piqued by a photograph, the image of a man, obviously well into middle-age, that he had seen in a magazine while on assignment in Mexico. The fellow was running, but in garb that resembled sandals and a bathrobe.

Although recurring injuries had caused him to give up running, McDougall thought to himself, “Why is running bad for me and not for him?” and concluded that it was because “he’s just doing it differently.”

Just how differently was what McDougall determined to find out.

As he recounts in “Born to Run,” McDougall began what became a physical challenge as well as an intellectual journey with no clear idea of what he was getting himself into. “I had no real appreciation for how dangerous the area was and how inaccessible the tribe is,” he said. “The area is extremely remote, and the canyons are deeper and wider than the Grand Canyon. There’s lots of drug-running and a lot of crime, and I just wandered in.”

McDougall eventually found both the Tarahumara and the man in the photograph, the mysterious Caballo Blanco (“White Horse”), a white man who had lived among the tribe for many years. After observing first hand the way the man ran, McDougall returned to the United States with a unique resolve.

“I came back to the States and started to duplicate that running style,” he said. “The first and most important thing to do was to get rid of the shoes.”

For McDougall, who will also discuss his running technique with trainers at the Center for Health & Fitness, the increased mobility of barefoot running has become a way of life. He runs about 50 miles a week either “totally barefoot” or, whenever extremes in the weather dictate, in Vibram Five Fingers, foot coverings akin to rubber gloves for the feet.

He has never been hurt, at least not since giving up shoes.

“The last time I got hurt was last winter,” he said. “I had started wearing running shoes again. There was a lot of snow, and I got a heel injury.”

The Promise of Hope Lecture Series is supported by an endowed gift from a local couple to provide education for the community and clinical and medical staff members. For more information, call the Foundation of FirstHealth at (910) 695-7500.

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