I am A Runner
It is with great pleasure that I introduce to you Toe Salads inaugural running editor: Raul Escutia. To get to know him a little better, I thought it would be good to hear his story. If you have some time, give him a friendly welcome in the comments! - Damien
I chose a good time to finally acknowledge that I was runner.
I have always loved running (you can ask any of my childhood teachers, family members, or babysitters for confirmation). In my high school days - while today’s elites were busy developing their lungs, hearts, and leg muscles - I did only what was needed to stay in shape for soccer. I remember watching the cross-country team practice, and wondering “how can they just run like that, with no real aim; where’s the fun in that?” Don’t get me wrong, I ran hard in those days and prided myself on mile times and always giving my absolute all. Yet, I was convinced that running was a way to get better at other sports, not an accomplishment in and of itself… “look at those hamsters pounding that track.”
After about a year and a half of college (where my main source of exercise was the 12 oz curl) I realized I needed to hit the gym; so I did. Again though, I suppressed my innate desire to run even though I would often I find myself joyfully running from one end of campus to the other; I still denied I was a runner.
When I graduated and found a job I learned that one of my coworkers loved to run and I wondered what secrets he knew. How could this guy knock out 6-7 miles over lunch and come back looking even more refreshed and alive than when he left? Wasn’t running draining? Wasn’t it just a means to an end, a way to “get in better shape”? Finally I asked, and he was gracious enough to offer his help. He asked me to bring in my running shoes for wear analysis. I obliged and brought in some old clunker of a shoe that my mind has long since forgotten. He looked: “Oh yeah, I can see from the way your shoe is worn that you overpronate. I run in the Nike Air Pegasus, you would love it!”.
I rushed out eager to buy the shoe that would make me a runner. When I bought it I knew it was the key. There was a picture of Bill Bowerman himself inside the shoe; it had to be the real deal!
I remember strapping into that shoe - so excited - ready to hit the road and become a runner. I remember thinking I should take as big a stride as possible because a bigger stride would mean I was moving faster, and moving faster had to mean I was doing it right. Needless to say, this experiment in “running” didn’t last very long. Within weeks I could barely climb down stairs. The side of my knee hurt so bad I had to choose between taking cautious agonizing steps, or recklessly attacking the stairs hoping I would make it to the bottom with all my teeth. I later learned I had the classic runner’s injury, Iliotibial band syndrome. I tried stretching. I tried icing. I even used a knee band while running, but the pain never subsided enough to make running fun. Eventually those Nikes, Bill Bowerman and all, ended up in the barrels at Goodwill. Maybe some people just aren’t meant to run.
Flash forward 5 years. I never stopped working out, but working out never included running. Then in 2009 my little brother wrote me an email raving about a book he had read that changed his life; “You have to read this!” I appreciated the gesture, but ignored his initial suggestions like big brothers are apt to do. He tried again, this time taking the effort to split the audio version of the book into files small enough to email. Even when he broke chapters of the book down into easy to digest chunks I ignored it. Then in December while on a 4 hour flight home I decided I should at least give it a chance; I hit play.
The book was Born to Run and it changed my life forever. I sat on that cramped plane and played micro-chapter after micro-chapter, listening to the narrator describe all of the painful reasons he had not liked running. I then listened to the narrator describe all the reasons he learned to love running. I hung on every word thinking “Wow, you mean there is a right way and a wrong way to run? You mean running is not supposed to hurt?” Somewhere over Iowa the last micro-chapter ended and I sat restless, anxious for more. I needed to know how the story ended; I needed to know more about how and why running felt so right even when it hurt. I did not sleep much those first few nights home from vacation, choosing instead to spend every free minute absorbing the knowledge Christopher McDougall was sharing.
By New Years Eve I knew I was meant to be a runner. My plan was to take it slow, research shoes, watch videos, learn proper technique, and forget everything I thought I knew. I messaged my close friend and talked about how we were meant to run and how I was ready to maximize my human running potential. I floated the dream of running a half marathon and how it would be awesome to run a race in San Francisco together some day.
I woke up New Years Day to an email from my friend, no text, just a screenshot of his race registration. He had signed up for the SF Kaiser Half Marathon on February 7th. I didn’t think twice. If he was going to do it, I was going to do it.
And so it began… for the first week of January I scoured the ‘net looking for resources that would build upon what I had learned from Born to Run. I searched for the perfect pair of shoes, settling on the Mizuno Wave Universe - a shoe so light, it weighs less in your gym bag than a pair of protein bars. I read about Pose running. I read about Chi running. I read about minimalist running without catchy names or spokesmen. I started what is now my favorite of all lunch time rituals: I ran! Except this time instead of stomping along like a gorilla on pogo-stilts I told myself to keep it light and easy. I reminded myself to take short strides and kept my feet moving fast. I focused on landing soft and ran with my head held high. Life was great.
I soon realized I had again made mistakes. By week two I had turned lunch into a personal challenge to run more miles in the same amount of time each day. I had gone from couch to turbo in one day of revelation. My disregard for the advice to start slow and build-up time and distance with caution, brought me dangerously close to the classic barefoot/minimalist injuries. My calves burned and the top of my feet ached. I am sure that by the time the race came around I had at least a mild calf strain and was bordering on a stress fracture. But even then, the running felt so good.
I ran my first race with naivety and gusto. I ran without a clue as to how to fuel or hydrate (pinch the cup!). I ran without considering that an all out effort over the longest distance I had ever run might not be a good idea. I had planned to finish and run back to cheer on my friend, but by the time I crossed the line I was so dehydrated and exhausted that I barely managed to walk through the finishing area.
Since those first few months, I have reinforced that there really is a right way to run and I have admitted to myself that I love to run. I have continued to learn and have since run a few full marathons. My lunchtime ritual is still the best part of the day. I have flirted with injury, especially when I let myself get sucked into the moment and forget the importance of staying in control, but I have also managed to stay relatively healthy. There is no doubt in my mind that running with a minimalist style (forefoot strike) and in minimalist footwear (light, flat, flexible and wide) has allowed me run further than I had ever imagined without ever feeling that unbearable pain in my knees or hips.
In the coming months, I will be contributing to this site and to our community of runners; runners who realize how great it feels to stretch your toes. I am looking forward to sharing what I have learned with you and am even more excited to learn from you. I hope that this corner of the ‘net becomes a place for an open dialog about the joys of minimalist running. If you have questions, by all means ask or if you have topics you would like to read about or discuss, let me know in the comments.
My name is Raúl, and I am a runner.
About the Author
I am a runner and I am Chicagoan, who has been living in the California Bay Area for over 10 years. I am an engineer for a living but get out almost every day to let my inner wolf run free. While I appreciate and respect the virtues of barefoot running, I personally prefer light, thin and flexible minimalist footwear; including my awesome pair of hand-made huaraches.