These are excerpts from the book 'Born to Run' written by Christopher Mc Dougall (and spoiler alert), if you haven't read the book, please don't read them. The book is much, much better. And the review was done here.

Brain meme

(Image Credits)

The pleasure of running?

"There is something so universal about that sensation, the way running unites our two most primal impulses: fear and pleasure. We run when we're scared, we run when we're ecstatic, we run away from our problems and run around for a good time."

Why not? I can vouch for it, as many of us, who have ever run for even a while will attest. Here, in this Metropoly, this feeling of running away looms larger than ever, only to be quelled by the reason and fear of excessive pollution outside. Sigh! I am such an 'excuse ready' person. I've talked about this unity of running from anxiety, and then pleasure in one of my old posts, when I didn't even know if it meant anything at all.

The superiority of Civilizations

The last time the Tarahumara had been open to the outside world, the outside world had put them in chains and mounted their severed heads on nine-foot poles. Spanish, silver hunters had staked claim to Tarahumara land - and Tarahumara labor - by decapitating their tribal leaders. "Raramuri men were rounded up like wild broncos and impressed into slave labor in the mines," one chronicler wrote; anyone who resisted was turned into a human horror show. Before dying, the captured Tarahumara were tortured for information. That is all the surviving Tarahumara needed to know about what happens when curious strangers come calling. The Tarahumara's relationship with the rest of the planet got worse after that...Good guys were even deadlier than the villains. Jesuit missionaries showed up with Bibles in their hands and influenza in their lungs, promising eternal life but spreading instant death. The Tarahumara had no antibodies to combat the disease, so Spanish flu spread like wildfire, wiping out entire villages in days."

The bane of processed foods, and the cartel of Capitalism

"There's a village called Mesa de la Yerbabuena... Many of the best runners were from Yerbabuena", Angel said. " They had a very good trail which would let them cover a lot of distance in a day, much farther than you could get to from here." Unfortunately, the trail was so good that the Mexican government eventually decided to slick it with asphalt and turn it into a road. Trucks began showing up in Yerbabuena, and in them, foods the Tarahumara had rarely eaten - soda, chocolate, rice, sugar, butter, flour. The people of Yerbabuena developed a taste for starch and treats, but they needed money to buy them, so instead of working their own fields, they began hitching to Guachochi, where they worked as dishwashers and day labourers, or selling junk crafts at the train stations in Divisadero.

"That was twenty years ago," Angel said. "Now, there are no runners in Yerbabuena." The Yerbabuena story really scares Angel, because now there's talk that the government has found a way to run roads along the canyon floor and right into this settlement.

Men finding men good-looking

I tried not to stare, but it's hard to keep your eyes off a guy as good-looking as Arnulfo. He was brown as polished leather, with whimsical dark eyes that glinted with bemused self-confidence from under the bangs of his black bowl-cut. He reminded me of the early Beatles; all the early Beatles, rolled into one shrewd, amused, quietly handsome composite of raw strength. He was dressed in typical Tarahumara garb, a thigh length skirt and a fiery red tunic as billowy as a pirate's blouse. Every time he moved, the muscles in his legs shifted and re-formed like molten metal.

Such a description (again, it is written in retrospect by a man from industry, much in control of his language) when we know racism runs in our upbringing in most insidious ways. No! I’m not accusing him, but accepting my shortcoming.

And here you find a contradiction, of personalities, perhaps. For another author, as Christopher noted, had written that Tarahumara men were "so bashful that if it weren't for beer, the tribe would be extinct." "...the uncivilized Tarahumara is too bashful and modest to enforce his matrimonial rights and privileges; and that by means of tesvino chiefly the race isnkept alive and increasing."

Does it sound like self-confidence?

A long innings is about smart tactic:

"What was wrong with her? The trash talk, the hasty exit - Ann didn't even take time to slip on a dry shirt and socks, or get a few more calories down her neck. And why was she even in the lead at all? Mile 40 was only round one of a very long fight. Once you jump ahead, you're vulnerable; you surrender all element of surprise, and you become the prisoner of your own pace. Even middle-school milers know that the smart tactic is to sit on the leader's shoulder, go only as fast as you have to, then jam'er into gear and blow past on the bell lap...nobody gives up the pursuit position if they don't have to. Not unless you're foolish, or reckless - or Garry Kasparov.

In the 1990 World Chess Championship, Kasparov made a horrible mistake and lost his queen right at the start of a decisive game. Chess grand masters around the world let out a pained groan; the bad boy of chessboard was now road kill (a less-gracious observer for The New York Times visibly sneered). Except it wasn't a mistake. Kasparov had deliberately sacrificed his most powerful piece in exchange for an even more powerful psychological advantage. He was deadliest when swashbuckling, when he was chased into a corner and had to slash, scramble, and improvise his way out. Anatoly Karpov, his by-the-book opponent, was too conservative to pressure Kasparov early in the game, so Kasparov put the pressure on himself with a Queen's Gambit - and won."

It is all about the air: Like, really!

Here's the thing about running which I could surmise: Form matters.

"Shoes block pain, not impact! Pain teaches us to run comfortably! From the moment you start going barefoot, you will change the way you run."

All that cushioning underfoot let him run with big, sloppy strides, which twisted and tweaked his lower back. When he went barefoot, his form instantly tightened; his back straightened and his legs stayed squarely under his hips.

"No wonder your feet are so sensitive," Ted mused. "They're self-correcting devices. Covering your feet with cushioned shoes is like turning off your smoke alarms."

Running downhill can be trash your quads, not to mention snap your ankle, so the trick is to pretend you’re running uphill: keep your feet spinning under your body like you’re a lumberjack rolling a log, and control your speed by leaning back and shortening your stride.

Stick to the basics, there's a lot of Money swindling BS in the market, above all, don't be afraid to use your head, and read, if nothing else works:

"The deconditioned musculature of the foot is the greatest issue leading to injury, and we've allowed our feet to become badly deconditioned over the past twenty-five years,", Hartmann said. " Pronation has become this very bad word, but it is just the natural movement of the foot. The foot is supposed to pronate."

To see pronation in action, kick off your shoes and run down the driveway. On a hard surface, your feet will briefly unlearn the habits they picked up in shoes and automatically shift to self-defense mode: you'll find yourself landing on the outside edge of your foot, then gently rolling from little toe to big until your foot is flat. That's pronation - just a mild shock-absorbing twist that allows your arch to compress..."You have to land on your heel to overpronate, and you can only land on your heel if it's cushioned.

"Just look at the architecture," Hartmann explained. Blueprint your feet, and you'll find a marvel that engineers have been trying to match for centuries. Your foot's centerpiece is the arch, the greatest weight bearing design ever created. The beauty of any arch is the way it gets stronger under stress; the harder you push down, the tighter it's parts mesh. No stonemason worth his trowel would ever stick a support under an arch; push up from underneath, and you weaken the whole structure. Buttressing the foot's arch from all sides is a high-tensile web of twenty-six bones, thirty-three joints, twelve rubbery tendons, and eighteen muscles, all stretching and flexing like an earthquake-resistant suspension bridge.

An awkward promotion of vegan culture:

As a corporate-sponsored elite athlete, Scott had the worldwide buffet of nutrition at his fingertips, but after experimenting with the entire spectrum - everything from deer meat to Happy Meals to organic raw-food bars - he’d ended up with a diet a lot like the Tarahumara.

“Growing up in Minnesota, I used to be a total junk eater,” he said. “Lunch used to be two McChickens and large fries.” When he was a Nordic skier and cross-country runner in high school, his coaches were always telling him he needed plenty of lean meat to rebuild his muscles after a tough workout, yet the more Scott researched traditional endurance athletes, the more vegetarians he found.

Like the Marathon Monks in Japan he’d just been reading about; they ran an ultramarathon every day for seven years, covering some twenty-five thousand miles on nothing but miso soup, tofu, and vegetables. And what about Percy Cerutty, the mad Australian genius who coached some of the greatest milers of all time? Cerutty believed food shouldn’t even be cooked, let alone slaughtered; he put his athletes through triple sessions on a diet of raw oats, fruits, nuts and cheese. Even Cliff Young, the sixty-three-year-old farmer who stunned Australia in 1983 by beating the best ultrarunners in the country in a 507-mile race from Sydney to Melbourne, did it all on beans, beer, and oatmeal (“I used to feed the calves by hand and they thought I was their mother,” Young said. “I couldn’t sleep too good those nights when I knew they would get slaughtered.” He switched to grains and potatoes, and slept a whole lot better. Ran pretty good, too).

There are more instances of it sprinkled in the book, but then there is one, with a personal anecdote. "Have you ever had salad for breakfast?" She asked me. Dr. Ruth is a six-time Ironman triathlete and, according to 'Living Fit' magazine, one of the ten Fittest Women in America. She only became an athlete and a PhD in health education, she told me, after she was diagnosed with breast cancer, twenty four years ago. Exercise has been shown to cut the risk of breast cancer recurrence by up to 50 percent, so even with the sutures still in her chest from her mastectomy, Dr. Ruth began training for her fee triathlon. She also started researching diets of noncancerous cultures and became convinced that she needed to immediately transition from the standard American diet - or SAD, as she called it - and eat more like the Tarahumara.

"I had a medical gun at my head," Dr. Ruth told me. "I was so scared, I'd have bargained with the devil. So by comparison, giving up meat wasn't that big a deal." She had a simple rule: if it came from plants, she ate it; if it came from animals, she didn't.

I had my medical tests done in early January, for the first time out of my own volition, and a full comprehensive test, because for a long time, I had been thinking that I am not living the lifestyle I would have wanted to, and since the past two years, have been an ardent fan of 'data' (data analytics, data interpretation) after having read the wonderful article 'Competing on Analytics' by Thomas Davenport, among many others from HBR's Must Reads collection. Even before that, even when I came here in Delhi, I had decided that I would rather spend a lot and live large, rather than spend less and live small. That philosophy the first thing which went out of the window when I started living in shared apartments with friends from my college, who were also colleagues in office. Living large, is a selfish thing which cannot be done when you share everyday resources, and are immodest enough to see them being shared among others and hate it to a point that you'd rather starve yourself from it than share it with anyone who doesn't get what it means to you (even when you've never really made it clear). Living alone was out of question, have you seen the pricing here? All the flats that I like are the ones I cannot have, all the gadgets that I like are the ones which would dig a wide hole in my pocket. Above all, my parents don't approve of me going solo. So, now that I am a little more comfortable in my eccentricity (but not too much), and might not care in doing my thing, I wanted to revamp what I could, and do it with precision. The first thing I could do anything about was my body. You know, I realized that all these books that I had read in the past years had catered to my mind, now I needed some brain food for my body too. For my mind cannot outlast my body, they are equi fated. So, I wanted to collect the terms that doctors use to calibrate and measure body performance. Searching the internet is like upturning each pebble in the river bed while searching for diamonds. It turned out that not everything was all right. So, I too have this metaphorical medical gun pointed at my head. Then again, I reasoned that I can I be so un-selfish to not be able to spend half an hour or one on myself? That’s so un-me!

The simplest answers might be the right answers, but how do we know?

Particularly, how do we know that they are not driven by our biases? Particularly when we know so little about these biases ourselves? "Bramble suspected, he'd (David) fallen victim to the most common mistake in science: the Handy Hammer Syndrome, in which the hammer in your hand makes everything look like a nail." This was when David gave an evolutionary theory (hypothesis)

There is strength in numbers (and it pays off far more richly in a hostile environment to have gender equality and a sense of community):

“Women have really been underrated,” Dr. Bramble said, “They’ve been evolutionarily shortchanged. We perpetuate this notion that they were sitting around waiting for men to come back with food, but there’s no reason why women couldn’t be part of the hunting party.” Actually, it would be weird if women weren’t hunting alongside men, since the’re the ones who really need the meat. The human body benefits most from meat protein during infancy, pregnancy, and lactation, so why wouldn’t women get as close to the beef supply as possible? Hunter-gatherer nomads shift their camps by the movements of the herds, so instead of hauling food back to camp, it made more sense for the whole camp to go to the food.

Previously, the author, and Doctor Vigil had noted, women tended to fare better in long distance running than men in terms of endurance. While men showed a big percentage of dropouts from the strenuous Leadsville trail, 95% women who participated finished it. (There could be an explanation that only very fit women participated, while men also participated out of their macho sense only to be humbled by the vagaries of mother nature.) He writes, “...a curious transformation came over us when we came down from the trees: the more we became human, the more we became equal. Men and women are basically the same size, at least compared with other primates: male gorillas and orangutans weigh twice as much as their better halves; male chimps are a good one-third bigger than females; but between the average human him and the average human her, the difference in bulk is only a slim 15 percent. As we evolved, we shucked our beef and became more sinous, more cooperative… essentially more female.

The side-effects of modern controlled life are explained in how the bushmen had abandoned the nomadic life and were living on government settlements. “Their decline was heartbreaking; instead of roaming the wilderness, many of the Bushmen were surviving on slave wages for farm jobs and seeing their sisters and daughters recruited by truck-stop bordellos.”... He writes further, as the tribesmen told Scott, “It was better before… We did everything as a family. The whole community was a family. We shared everything and cooperated, but now there is a lot of arguing and bickering, every man for himself.”

The way I see it (in terms of trade offs and finding balance), the inventions are never an effort of a community, but an individual effort. When in the crowd, you follow the crowd. A solitary person has better odds of chancing upon something novel or new. But, it is the community which sustains such individuals also. And no matter how fascinating his inventions, methods or discoveries be, if he has no one to share them with, or spread, they’ll wither and wane with him, as useless things. Now, with less community and more individualism, we have, or are tilting towards the other end of the spectrum, where a man works in isolation, thus increasing his chances of success, provided he knows what he is trying to do. But, if he does not rejoin the community, which we call giving back to the society, he will be shunted off, and alone in unspeakable depths even if he sits atop a mountain of fame and individual distinction. A time would come, should this balance tend to tip to this side, that there would be no more inventions, for creativity thrives in problems, and not in reinventing wheels, and community as a whole will always find something which is a hindering block to its efficient progress. That is why interdisciplinary is as important as core research, cultural confluence as important as the maintenance of diversity, and joint families are as important as nuclear families.

Here's this little piece of wisdom that Christopher notices in Scott: "The reason we race isn't so much to beat each other, he understood, but to be with each other." The one who is left behind knows it best (and if by grace, or grit, as in the case of Scott, he gets to the top, he usually doesn't forget it).

"He was no good and had no reason to believe he ever would be, but the joy he got from running was the joy of adding his power to the pack. Other runners try to dissociate from fatigue by blasting iPods or imagining the roar of the crowd in Olympic Stadium, bit Scott had a simpler method: it's easy to get outside yourself when you're thinking about someone else."

I can vouch for it, and know that an intently selfish person, who also happens to love solitude says this.

If we're born to run, why don't all enjoy it? The justification why some are greedy, while some, plainly lazy, and why some get into Engineering and never get out.

"Our greatest talent", he explained, also created the monster that could destroy us. " Unlike any other organism in history, humans have a mind-body conflict: we have a body built for performance, but a brain that's always looking for efficiency." We live or die by our endurance, but remember: endurance is all about conserving energy, and that is brain's department. "The reason some people use their genetic gift for running and others don't is because the brain is a bargain shopper." For millions of years, we lived in a world without cops, cabs, or Domino's Pizza; we relied on our legs for safety, food, and transportation, and it wasn't if you could count on job ending before the next one began. Look at !Nate's wild hunt with Louis; !Nate sure wasn't planning on a fast 10k immediately after a half-day hole and a high-speed hunt, but he still found the reserve energy to save Louis's life. Nor could his ancestors ever be sure that they wouldn't become food right after catching some...The only way to survive was to leave something in the tank - and that is where the brain comes in.

"The brain is always scheming to reduce costs, get more for less, store energy and have it ready for an emergency," Bramble explained. "You've got this fancy machine, and it's controlled by a pilot who's thinking, 'Okay, how can I run this baby without using any fuel?'

You and I know how good running feels because we've made a habit of it." But lose the habit, and the loudest voice in your ear is your ancient survival instinct urging you to relax. And there's the bitter irony: our fantastic endurance gave our brain the food it needed to grow, and now our brain is undermining our endurance.

Wait a second! Could it be that women’s brains are better at practicing economy (from all these years of managing the households and often other avenues quite singlehandedly) and that is why their brain knows when to jerk and when to flex in running too?

I'll tell you this funny thing. I bought a bicycle in the second year I got to Delhi. In the mountains, there isn't much avenue for cycling (unless you are a die hard fan of it), and on dirt roads as of the villages, a bust tyre is a normal occurrence, for you don't pedal on a slope, and the roads will rock you. I could never really learn bicycling while my parents tried to teach me balance on our terrace. It was when I once went to Chandigarh, with Papa, and found that the relatives we were visiting were yet to return from their errands. (It was a time of landline phones, and there were no cellphones). There, under the winter afternoon sun, I found a full sized bicycle, and on a whim, took it outside. After a few initial hiccups, I was pedaling it, on my own, without falling. I never really cycled again, except a short stint with the medium sized cycle at home, on our terrace. So, when I came to Delhi, I had a chance to accomplish my childhood fancy of cycling, and after mustering much courage (I still fail to understand why was I hesitant and why does it set back in) and failing to get any, I cycled to office one Monday morning on a whim. It was beautiful. Now, I didn't have to depend on haggling with Autowallas everyday to get to office. However, it did not last. Long story short, I found cycling outlets on Saturdays when I'd cycle some 4km each side to and from a temple. And when that stopped, and I started to hate the cycle standing on its side stand, I bought a bicycle trainer, and mounted my MTB atop it. I pedalled sporadically, until last December, or probably January, and found my stamina to pedal had dropped to a bare 5 minutes of panting at 24kmph. As I was revving up my thrusters, I noticed this thing. For the first 5 minutes, all was good (at 22kmph), then it became tough till 10. I pushed to 12, then 15, and noticed that by the time I went to 15, nothing happened. The same pattern would happen everyday. 5 minutes, easy, 10 !minutes, give up dude, 15 minutes, go on, we could go on forever. I had reached up to 25 minutes and cycling did not feel like much, at 23-24kmph. So, I do believe that the first step is the toughest, and the first stride too, but then it gives us pleasure.

Life is often described as a banyan tree, whose roots grow from heavens to the earth

I wonder why I want to know everything. Here's an amicable answer.

"Knowing that, it's no mystery why Arnulfo had no interest in racing outside the canyons, and why Silvino never would again: if they weren't racing for their people, then what was the point? Scott, whose sick mother never left his thoughts, was still a teenager when he absorbed this connection between compassion and competition.

The Tarahumara drew strength from this tradition, I realized, bit Scott drew strength from every running tradition. He was an archivist and an innovator, an omnivorous student who gave as much serious thought to the running lore of the Navajo, the Kalahari Bushmen, and the Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei as he did to aerobic levels, lactate thresholds, the optimal recruitment of all three types of muscle-twitch fiber(not two, as most runners believe)"

He also talks of Arnulfo and Scott approaching their art from opposite ends of history, Alnulfo from two thousand year old culture, and Scott, a modern American, and the two met precisely in the middle.

Later, Caballo tells about himself, and how he, "Mike Hickman was a sensitive kid who hated hurting people, but that didn't stop him from getting really good at it." I know, man! I cried every time I hurt my brother (because he beat the pulp out of me then, just kidding. :P) And the author has an affinity for the word ‘man’, like young duds and gals have for the word ‘dude!’.