Quest for Fire, running, and trade

I finally got around to seeing the movie last night. Very fun; I liked how one of the spandrels of being able to make your own fire (as opposed to hunting for it) was laughter. What I’d really like to know, however, is how did the actors prepare for all the barefootery? Not a single shoe in the whole flick, and they were running around over stuff that would make me grab my vffs. I imagine there were injuries, but if not, wow.

The movie got me thinking about the Man = Distance Running Animal theory. There’s a lot of talk about persistence hunting when we try to understand the relationship we have with running, but I wonder if that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Could running have been the catalyst for the Great Leap Forward? New technologies, new social structures, new ideas, new memes, all start spreading like wildfire. Are we supposed to believe that Extra Terrestrials flipped a switch in our collective brains, or is it more likely the ability to share information QUICKLY with our neighbors resulted in a rapid increase of progress?

In Quest for Fire the protagonists are running around looking for fire to take back home. They chance upon another group that has learned to make their own fire (the aforementioned laughers). Minds blown, they return home with the ability to dramatically improve their quality of life. The movie essentially ends there, but of course life does not. That group will now have the means to come up with other ideas, which will spread to anyone within running distance. The societies with the best runners will have a tremendous information-gathering advantage. Knowing isn’t half the battle. It is the battle. Sorry, G.I. Joe.

Here’s my hypothesis, which if I were all smart I’d, like, study and write about and deliver in speeches to other smart people and stuff: running was the vehicle for the early exchange of technology and ideas that ultimately made our brains bigger. It may have started with persistence hunting, but maybe it happened at the same time. That would make running very, very important to our early survival and our historic identity. Running is an expression of our interconnectedness with other people, both for good and bad purposes. Maybe we wouldn’t even be able to tell the difference between “good” and “bad” if it weren’t for running.

It would be really interesting to find out if the Neanderthal were runners. They had bigger brains than us, were physically more powerful than us, but they lived in small groups with little interaction with other groups (I think; what do you think I am, a Neanderthalogist?). Did the lack of interaction stunt their language? Their trade? The exchange of ideas? Maybe “stunt” is an unfair word. Maybe running gave homo-sapiens an advantage far and above anything any other life form had.

Well, germs etc still have us beat, but you get my point.

Anyway, these are the things I think about when watching movies. Tomorrow, I’ll pontificate on the early warfare themes in Xanadu and how the plot mirrors the rise of Nazism and apartheid, with the rollerskate as the symbol for the destruction of mankind.

UPDATE: I’m a hopeless neurotic, just like you

Readers of my ranty blog probably note my inconsistent running attitude. Sometimes I’m all zen, happy to run just to run a race to be out with folks, other times I want to take on the world. Overall, I love my running life more than I ever have before. So I’m not complaining or feeling down about myself or anything. I also think most runners, myself included, would be better off not focusing on speed so much, at least from a health perspective. But, here we are.

This week I’m going over to RunnerDude Fitness to get assessed – VO2Max, etc. I don’t really know what to expect, I’m just looking for a perspective of my potential that isn’t grounded in wishful thinking and sugar plum faeries (ie, my own). I want to know what is dictating my pace: my brain, or my body? Maybe I’ll be a little closer to the answer on Thursday.

OK, so why do I want to get faster? Let’s make a list! In no particular order:

1. I want to be able to run with just about anybody.
2. I enjoy the racing game, and would like to be more competitive. I’m frequently in the top 10 or so of my AG in races, so with the right training I think I could win sometimes.
3. To further legitimize barefootery. I know I shouldn’t care what people think, but I do. I don’t like hearing after a race “you ran a good time, considering you’re barefoot.” If I can go from mid-packer to front-packer (stop giggling) barefoot, that would be pretty cool. I want to be considered a serious runner, not a guy with a gimmick.
4. 2001 was my first year of racing. My 5k PR was 23:21, 4mi @ 29:08, 5mi @ 36:58, 10k @ 49:53, 18mi @ 2:34. While I’ve gotten a bit faster (especially the 5k and 10k), I would think my improvement would be greater given my improved training and time running. Plus, for those races in 2001, I rode my fixed-gear bike about 6 or 7 miles to get to Central Park, so I was already a little used up at the starting line. I just feel I should be faster after all this time.
5. Speaking of time, it isn’t stopping for me. I’m 35, and I figure if I want to get faster I’d better get to it now. Running from death, etc. You know the drill.
6. I’d like to be finished with a marathon in under 3:30 on a regular basis because I get hungry.
7. I want to see if I can. If I can put in the work, and if I can be fast. I’m curious. Inquiring minds want to know.
8. Cash prizes.

Obstacles:
1. Weight. I’ve lost a lot of weight this year so far. I eat like crazy, but the pounds keep falling off (although I’ve gained some back since tapering). Burning out won’t make me faster.
2. Discipline. Running is fun when you only run when you want to (for me, that’s a lot). This is going to require work and sticking to a plan.
3. Impatience. Part of the reason I’m getting assessed on Thursday is to learn what kind of progress I should expect. Should an October 5k be 18 minutes or 19:55 if my PR is 20:02?
4. My feet. I’m playing Devil’s advocate here; sometimes my feet just feel extra sensitive and don’t want to be fast. I might not listen to them and hurt myself.
5. My genes. Maybe this is it – this is as fast as I can go. That would be a bummer.
6. My busy work schedule. Ha ha, just kidding.

I assume just about everyone wants to be faster. Are there reasons I haven’t listed?

UPDATE: I’m on an update kick lately. OK, reason #9: there are way more 5ks and 10ks around, and it’s a fun distance. I could do one every weekend. OK that’s it for now.

UPDATE: What were we on?

As in terrain. I think a better understanding of what type of surfaces early man ran on and how we dealt with it will shed some light on why barefooters should appreciate and not fear concrete and asphalt. This is all speculation, of course. Since my usual reaction to the “asphalt/concrete fallacy” involves a derisive, snide remark or two, I’m going to do my best to be like, mature and stuff.

Imagine you’re a young child circa 15,000 years ago. These dudes are your neighbors. You’ve just learned to walk, and you’re straying from your mother for the first time. What were you stepping on? Everything. By this time, human beings were living in just about every biome the planet has to offer. Yet, the oldest shoe we’ve ever found won’t be laced up for another 10,000 years. Whatever footwear might be around, it won’t be available to you. Whatever the biome, you have to travel on it barefoot. No, there won’t be asphalt and concrete, but there’ll be plenty of rock, which is pretty hard too. But more influential to your walking and running form than the hard surfaces present in every biome on the planet, will be the debris. Nature’s litter. You’re going to have to learn how to chase, flee, and play on a cluttered ground.

We’ve got over 7000 nerves in the soles of our feet.

UPDATE: Woops, I must have hit “post” instead of “save.” I’ll just add to it now, and leave the stuff above unedited as is.

So yeah, we’ve got touchy feet. Feet that flinch at anything sharp or prickly. As a child in the distant past, I imagine there was a lot of flinching involved in learning how to navigate the terrain. Would you, prehistoric brat, be in a constant state of misery and agony? How could sport ever get invented if being sedentary was the only way to avoid tearing ones feet up? Either your feet are going to have to get so tough that you can crush debris without injury, or you will learn how to run and move lightly.

Now back to concrete and asphalt. Early man couldn’t run even on cushy surfaces with a pounding stride because the debris would make it hurt. The way that you, prehistoric brat, learn to run on littered earth makes you well adapted to the “unnatural” surfaces we have today. You wouldn’t slap your feet on the pavement because it wouldn’t occur to you to do so.

This is why it is so important to run on a variety of surfaces if you want to learn how to run barefoot. It’s not about your feet. It’s about your brain. Unfortunately you’re no longer a child with a sponge brain and a lack of preconceived notions. You’re not surrounded by other children, playing on the ground barefoot as if it’s the most natural thing in the world (wait a minute… it is the most natural thing in the world…). You’re an adult in a culture that expects covered feet and a disassociation/disconnection from the ground. If that weren’t enough, it appears the way things feel affect our mood and thoughts in a very manipulative way. The ground is hard. Hard is difficult. The ground is rough. Rough is abrasive. Light and hard don’t mentally go together instinctively. Neither does gentle and rough. Those concepts seem opposed to each other. Not only do you, prehistoric brat in grown-up clothes in a modern world, have to overcome these deep-seated biases if you’re going to learn to run barefoot, but you will be constantly confronted with these biases from others.

These biases are very strong, and can even make people see things that aren’t there. “Wow, your calluses aren’t that bad,” said a runner to me while looking at my feet post-race. My feet were dirty, but certainly callus-free. He so expected my feet to look a certain way that he saw things that weren’t there. People so expect hard to equal impact, rough to equal abrasion, and stepping to equal pounding because that’s all they know. The only answer to pounding on rough, hard surfaces must be cushioning. That is as true as the sky is blue for most people. That’s why the experts don’t even bother with conducting research about running barefoot before committing to a conclusion. It just seems so self-evidently foolish, given the false axioms they’re working with.

Anyway, if you’re going to learn how to run barefoot, you’re going to have to change what you think “normal” is. You’re not a prehistoric brat, living in a time and place where bare feet is normal. But it might help to think like one. And that means playing. Taking chances. Goofing off. Having fun. The prehistoric brat doesn’t want to learn to run barefoot. They want to enjoy themselves with what they have. What we have are clean, smooth roads. Hard? Sure, but so what? Adjust. Adapt. It could be worse. You could be stuck in an environment littered with things that can kill you. That’s how we lived for eons. We are very, very lucky.