I’m not a runner at all. I can lurch a couple hundred feet at low speed if being chased by a dog or police. But that’s it. I do read the Sunday New York Times, and was intrigued by an article in the magazine about changing how humans run.
Back at the lab, Lieberman found that barefoot runners land with almost zero initial impact shock. Heel-strikers, by comparison, collide with the ground with a force equal to as much as three times their body weight. “Most people today think barefoot running is dangerous and hurts, but actually you can run barefoot on the world’s hardest surfaces without the slightest discomfort and pain.”
Lieberman, who is 47 and a six-time marathoner, was so impressed by the results of his research that he began running barefoot himself. So has Irene Davis, director of Harvard Medical School’s Spaulding National Running Center. “I didn’t run myself for 30 years because of injuries,” Davis says. “I used to prescribe orthotics. Now, honest to God, I run 20 miles a week, and I haven’t had an injury since I started going barefoot.”
Instead of new running shoes or swag, check out the 100-up exercise (invented in the 1870s) that helps train barefoot runners.
Mark Cucuzzella was just as eager. “All right,” he said in the middle of our run. “Let’s get a look at this.” I snapped a twig and dropped the halves on the ground about eight inches apart to form targets for my landings. The 100-Up consists of two parts. For the “Minor,” you stand with both feet on the targets and your arms cocked in running position. “Now raise one knee to the height of the hip,” George writes, “bring the foot back and down again to its original position, touching the line lightly with the ball of the foot, and repeat with the other leg.”
That’s all there is to it. But it’s not so easy to hit your marks 100 times in a row while maintaining balance and proper knee height. Once you can, it’s on to the Major: “The body must be balanced on the ball of the foot, the heels being clear of the ground and the head and body being tilted very slightly forward. . . . Now, spring from the toe, bringing the knee to the level of the hip. . . . Repeat with the other leg and continue raising and lowering the legs alternately. This action is exactly that of running.”
Cucuzzella didn’t like it as a teaching method — he loved it. “It makes so much physiological and anatomical sense,” he said. “The key to injury-free running is balance, elasticity, stability in midstance and cadence. You’ve got all four right there.”