Stop running in those shoes!
An interview with Chris McDougall, author of Born to Run

I am not a barefoot runner. There, I said it. In fact, I used to be a staunch critic. When I first heard that people were running around barefoot in the park I judged, big time. Who were these crazy people and why weren’t they concerned with getting blistered, bruised, cut, and stubbing their toes? Then those weird shoes came out, the ones with the cut out toes and the rubber soles that look like they belonged in the planet of the apes costume department. I made a game of spotting them in the “wild” taking a photo, and posting it on my blog (yes, me… judging again).

When my boyfriend gave me a copy of Chris McDougall’s book, Born to Run, I thought that it was going to be an instructional book and he was giving it to me so that I could “broaden my horizons”. I was wrong. I was swallowed up by the story, I finished the book in days, and I literally wanted to be Ann Trason.

Since then I haven’t been daring enough to step out for the quick loop around my neighborhood park sans shoes, but I have been exploring the minimalist variety of running kicks and I love them. Have my horizons been broadened? I don’t know, but this week while we’ve been dedicating the dailymile blog to barefoot running, I have been learning much more than I intended. And who knows, maybe after this interview with the barefoot running man himself, I’ll be courageous enough to take off my sneakers.

*the dailymile community contributed to writing the questions for this interview – thanks for helping!

Kathy Simpson: Can you tell us a little about who you are? A short autobiography…
Chris McDougall: Not the tombstone question! I can see this is going to be a tough interview if you’re leading with a fastball down the middle. Let’s see … I grew up in Philly, knocked about as a foreign correspondent for the Associated Press before returning to the US as a magazine freelancer. For the past ten years, I’ve been working on long, oddball articles and books and spending not as much time as I’d like mucking around at home with the kids, geese, and chickens in Lancaster, PA.

KS: What made you write the “Born to Run” and who is your intended audience?
CM: I’d never come across such great material for a story in my life. While I was working on the book, I thought of it as a book about running for people who don’t care about running. Kind of like “Into Thin Air” and “To The Linksland” — I couldn’t care less about mountaineering and even less than less about golf, but those two books had me captivated.

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KS: Did you ever anticipate your book being the tipping point of a movement?
CM: I could sense that the running-shoe hoax was ready to blow up. All the evidence had been available for a while that over-built shoes were harmful, so I’m just glad that I was able to compile and deliver it.

KS: Do you believe minimalist runners will eventually become the majority?
CM: Sure. It’s an overdue correction. There’s no longer any question that motion-control and cushioned shoes were a bad experiment. The shoe companies themselves are pulling off a silent recall by quietly pulling them off the shelves.

KS: What’s the funniest/strangest thing you’ve overheard about minimalist or barefoot running?
CM: Check out this quote from a podiatrist. I know, beating up on podiatrists is too easy, but comments like this are irresistible:

“If everybody stopped wearing shoes from the moment they are born, maybe it would be an easier transition, but right now, for someone to transition all of a sudden to doing barefoot running, I don’t think it’s a good idea.” —Dr. Michael Lacy, Indiana.

So according to someone professing to understand human movement, we come into the world with shoes already shoved on our feet and only the reckless amongst us dare remove them.

KS: Why did you decide to run the 2011 HAT 50k with all those amazing dailymilers?
CM: For me, it’s a home game. The race is right out my back door and it’s a local favorite — everyone around here who’s run HAT loves it.

KS: Which shoes are you planning to wear at the HAT Run 50k?
CM: Gotta go with Barefoot Ted’s Lunas (pictured left). I wore them on the Leadville trail when I paced Ted last summer and they worked great.

KS: What do you think your chances are of beating Peter L., Steve S., Andy O., Thomas N., Jenny J., and Jeanne B. at the HAT Run 50K next weekend.?
CM: Did you know they serve freshly-cooked french fries in the middle of this race? If I get my hands on beer with those fries, the smart money says I’ll never leave the aid station.

KS: Where do you find the motivation to run ultra marathons?
CM: I’ve got almost no races on my resume. Nearly all my runs are hopping into whatever random run looks like a good time. Last Thursday, I found myself running a steep, rocky trail at night in the middle of a thunderstorm. It was totally stupid, but we had a blast. I ran the same trail by daylight over the weekend and couldn’t figure out how we ever did it in the dark and came away un-fractured. Likewise for HAT — I’m probably under-trained, but the course is gorgeous and the run smells like a lot of fun. And I’m not just talking about the fries. Although mostly. So I don’t really have a problem with motivation; it’s all just playtime.

KS: The barefoot running element of your book overshadows almost everything else you write bout. What other topics from Born To Run deserve to have more attention?
CM: Odd, isn’t it? And to think I almost cut the running-shoe chapter out of the book because I figured everyone already knew that stuff. For me, the true message of the book isn’t about footwear but about fun, about not fearing our bodies. We’ve taken the one great natural ability we’re born with — this universal human talent for distance running — and we’ve allowed it to be marketed as something dangerous. I think of Born to Run as an adventure story that demonstrates how thrilling and whimsical running can be. This talk I gave at the TED conference sums it up best.

KS: How long until you stop getting stone bruises, blisters, and caluses from barefoot running?
CM: I’m not sure if I’ve ever gotten a blister or a callous. Hard to say, because whenever something doesn’t feel good, I just back off.

KS: Thoughts and opinions on the New Vibram Five Finger Bikila-LS and do you think Vibram is slowly shifting away from their initial Ethos on footwear according to the new 2011 models?
CM: I’m not really that focused on footwear. When I find something I like, I wear it and stop looking. These days, I’ve been enjoying BFT’s huaraches.

KS: Do you have a favorite minimalist running shoe?
CM: Depends on the conditions. I wore Vivo Barefoot’s Evo most of the winter, but as soon as it got into the 50s, I was back barefoot or in huaraches.

KS: What is the next book and/or project?
CM: I’m trying to keep that to myself until I finish it. I’m hoping to have a solid draft by this fall.

Chris is always travelling around to talk about minimalist and barefoot running. He’s on Naked Tour right now, check out his events page. I’ll be at the Naked Cabaret in SF!

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