Baby, we were born to run

The Hamilton Spectator - - HEALTH - ERIN BLAKEMORE

What makes us hu­man? Heady stuff, but for au­thor Vy­barr Cre­gan-Reid, the an­swer is not just in our minds or souls but also in our feet.

Cre­gan-Reid’s new book, “Foot­notes: How Run­ning Makes Us Hu­man,” re­frames run­ning not as sport but as a vi­tal part of the hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence. Sound cheesy? It would be — if it didn’t make pound­ing the pave­ment so ap­peal­ing.

The au­thor, a nephew of cham­pion Ir­ish marathoner Jim Ho­gan, trav­elled the world in search of the rea­son peo­ple run. Sim­ple enough. The re­sult, how­ever, is any­thing but. The book is a densely lay­ered mem­oir/man­i­festo/meditation on what hap­pens when peo­ple move their feet, an ac­tiv­ity that, Cre­gan-Reid ar­gues, is lit­er­ally built into our bod­ies.

Cre­gan-Reid veers from Ro­man­tic po­ets to the bi­ol­ogy of the places he runs to the biome­chan­ics that let the hu­man body sprint or slog — some­times on the same page. Lit­er­a­ture, phi­los­o­phy, health and sci­ence share each chap­ter, along with ac­counts of his runs in such places as Paris and Bos­ton.

He’s a de­voted run­ner and an aca­demic, and it shows. Who else could con­nect Rousseau, the his­tory of crime and pun­ish­ment, and clin­i­cal stud­ies about tread­mills? (Cre­gan-Reid loathes those ma­chines, by the way, call­ing them the equiv­a­lent of ex­er­cise junk food. “If you want to res­cue some of your life from obliv­ion, stay off the tread­mill,” he warns.) But the con­nec­tions he draws be­tween our bod­ies and souls — from the tricky re­la­tion­ship be­tween psy­cho­log­i­cal plea­sure and phys­i­cal ex­er­tion to the pic­tures our sen­sory sys­tems paint dur­ing a run — are ac­ces­si­ble and thought-pro­vok­ing.

You may put “Foot­notes” down to con­tem­plate, for ex­am­ple, whether and how the hu­man body will one day evolve to sup­port a seden­tary life­style in­stead of an ac­tive one. (Cre­gan-Reid brings in neu­ro­science, evo­lu­tion­ary bi­ol­ogy and po­etry to delve into that ques­tion.) But you’re just as likely to opt for a run in­stead — and af­ter 331 pages of in­spi­ra­tion and in­quiry, your run could come to mean much more than the pound­ing pur­suit of fit­ness.


“Foot­notes: How Run­ning Makes Us Hu­man” by Vy­barr Cre­gan-Reid, St. Martin’s Press

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