One of my favorite podcasts recently ran a show about the Tormentor of the Toes, the modern day sneaker. In the show, Steven Dubner interviews Dr. Lieberman, an evolutionary biologist who teaches at Harvard, and Elizabeth Semmelhack, a curator at the Brooklyn Museum who worked on the Rise of the Sneaker exhibit. The episode explores the benefits of walking, running, and moving about the planet without shoes. It also clarifies a few of the benefits of protective footwear. I love Freakanomics. It’s an exceptional show. Listen to These Shoes Are Killing Me!
I usually don’t like organized running races. Mostly because I consider running to be a solitary sport. I always run alone. This year, however, I’m making an exception for I am entering two races. The first is the Welches Huckleberry Half in August. This looks like a super fun race because Bigfoot will be there! And every finisher gets a fancy laser-cut medal!
The other race I’m running this year is the fantastically obscure Boring Marathon. Why the Boring Oregon Marathon and not the World Famous Portland Oregon Marathon? First of all, Portland is forty five minutes away from me, Boring is only fifteen minutes away. Second, Boring is a fun place to run. One racer from Boring wrote: “I was out running in the area the other day and a goat from a local farm came out and ran with me for about half a mile.” How could any barefoot runner resist that? I drive through Boring Oregon every Sunday on my way to work. It’s a cute and quirky town with lots of open space farms and fields. There’s children’s theater house that also hosts terrible local events. One time they held a “Craft Fair.” Aside from a few homemade candies that didn’t smell fresh and some handmade cards that didn’t look original, there were no crafts to speak of. At one of the booths a homeless looking woman spread out all of the junk from her shopping cart: hubcaps, filthy plates with cracks and chips, a broken blender with rusty mixer blades, torn dresses with weird stains, smelly sneakers with holes in them, and other unusable, unsalable items.
But this post isn’t about homeless women at craft fairs. It’s about joining the running community, shod and unshod alike. As I train my powerful feet for the upcoming races, I will do my best to pretend that this is actually a blog about barefoot running and will post my training updates daily.
BTW, I’m shooting for a modest 3 hour 45 min.ish finish for the marathon (as long as I break four hours, I’ll be happy). I don’t have a target time for the Hucklberry Half Marathon. I’m running that one solely for the Bigfoot medal–every finisher gets one.
Amid the sultry sticky gloom, I stroll through derelict East Village of Vancouver, British Columbia. (Forgive the florid prose, it won’t last.) Soon, I stumble across a bronze statue of two barefoot runners. Oh, wait! They aren’t barefoot. They have cleats attached to the thin fabric encasing their feet.
What on earth are these lanky runners doing on this side of town? Turquoise blotches surround the graceful serif lettering on the plaque. As I read the inscription, the mysterious pieces neatly snap into place. I am standing on hallowed ground; this is where thousands of fans cheered as they witnessed an epic race between two of the fastest men on the planet. It is one of the “Six Most Dramatic Events in Sports History“.
Who are these runners? Roger Bannister & John Landy.
Anyone who listens to Anthony Robbins, Marshall Sylver, or any other motivational speaker is familiar with Roger Bannister. At age 25, Bannister accomplished an impossible athletic feat. On May 6th, 1954, he became the first human being to run a mile in less than four minutes. He achieved his record breaking time of 3 minutes 59.4 seconds at the Iffley Road track in Oxford. Sports enthusiasts refer to his remarkable accomplishment as the “miracle mile“.
Anyone who listens to Anthony Robbins, Marshall Sylver, or any other motivational speaker will be entirely ignorant of John Landy. Probably because Landy fell between the cracks of history. A few weeks after Bannister set the record for the fastest human mile, John Landy, smashed it with a time of 3 minutes 57.9 seconds in Turku, Finland.
This set the stage for the ‘mile of the century‘ at the Empire Games in Vancouver.
Both men had conflicting running styles and training philosophies. Roger Bannister was known for his phenomenal ability as a “kicker”. His talent for hotfooting on the last lap was legendary. His final lap was always faster than the previous three, it was this strategy that allowed him to zoom past the four minute barrier. Bannister’s training system was to workout lightly and stay fresh. In fact, his breakthrough for the sub-four-minute-mile was discovering that rest periods were the key to faster times. His rest days gave him time to reflect on meaning of running: “[Running] gives a man or woman the chance to bring out power that might otherwise remain locked away inside. …The more restricted our society and work become, the more necessary it will be to find some outlet for this craving for freedom.”
Landy’s approach to running was poles apart, he was a front runner and he trained hard, never letting up. His tactics for racing were also different. Landy liked to build unbeatable leads by smoking the competition from the beginning of the race. He said, “The mile has a classic symmetry. It’s a play in four acts.” It was a boring play because Landy’s acts were all the same. Being a front runner made sense to Landy, “I just like to run fast.” He also wrote, “We run, not because we think it is doing us good, but because we enjoy it and cannot help ourselves. It also does us good because it helps us to do other things better. It gives a man or woman the chance to bring out power that might otherwise remain locked away inside. The urge to struggle lies latent in everyone.”
Which mortal would achieve glory and victory at the Empire Games, Landy or Bannister?
In the early part of the race, Landy took the lead. Bannister hung way back in third place. He planned to run easily through the third lap, but became nervous when Landy shot so far ahead. Bannister stepped up his pace after the second lap. This was not his typical style, he preferred to run hard on the last lap, not the last two laps. “With great poise, he spread his effort evenly over the entire third lap. In the middle of the backstretch he had cut Landy’s frightening lead in half.” When the bell rang to mark the last lap, Landy was clearly head of the pack, with Bannister chasing close. In front and on his way to proving that he was faster than Bannister, Landy made a colossal mistake. He turned his head to check on Bannister. That fraction of second was enough for Bannister to use his powerful “kick.” He beat Landy by a shoulder and won the race in 3:58.8, against Landy’s 3:59.6.
I look again at the statue on the delinquent side of town. It commemorates the moment Bannister passed Landy. I stare at John Landy. He is forever looking over the wrong shoulder as Bannister rushes past him. He’s frozen in bronze in second place forever. The statue irks me. The Vancouver Games were Landy’s to lose. And that’s exactly what he did. Landy lost because he was running against Bannister instead of running against himself.
Let’s face it, John Landy ran the mile faster than Bannister ever could. Bannister’s best mile, the one he ran against Landy at the Empire Games, was 3 minutes 58.8 seconds. Landy’s best mile was 3 minutes 57.9 seconds. So even though, Landy wasn’t the first human to run a sub-four-minute-mile and even though he lost the mile of the century, he was still faster than Bannister.
It’s tragic, Bannister retired after his victory ending his running career on the highest of notes, while Landy raced on and continued to lose race after race. Eventually, Landy burnt out and injured his Achilles tendon. His running career fizzled out.
After gazing at the statue, I search for the track. As I step toward the field, I see weeds jumping up around the cyclone fences, I wretch from the stink of rotting fish guts. The busy street buzzes with traffic. I wince when I hear the loud shout of a semi-truck’s air-horn blaring at a rusty Toyota. The once glorious track is dilapidated and barely recognizable. It’s fenced off in chain links. It reminds me of a prison yard. Like the rest of city, it decays. The track markers and rings are wiped out. The event center is filled with carnival rides. It is a forlorn amusement park. Looking at the place now, it’s hard to believe that it was here that two of the world’s fastest men ran the “Mile of the Century.”
The current fastest mile record is held by Moroccan Hicham El Guerrouj, who ran a time of 3 minutes 43.13 seconds in Rome, Italy, on 7 July 1999.
Read Heel Strike Article
This article confirms my hypothesis that there is no “one best stride”. One of the many delights of barefoot running is the ability alter stride on the fly. Apparently Grecians WEREN’T Heel Strikers. The Blackwork above proves that. That’s textbook mid foot striking.
Lower Impact Fewer Injuries Another Success Story
Run Safe. Run Bare.
Another story about the benefits of barefoot running. The other key to pleasurable barefoot running is diet. Check out No Meat Athlete for more information about fuel for running without shoes.
Want to Learn to Run Barefoot? There’s an APP for that!
Isn’t it wonderful when people respond positively to your writing? I always enjoy interacting with readers. Here is a wonderful story I received from a reader. Enjoy.
My name is Jarod. And I’m writing to tell you about about how your website and barefoot running changed my life. About five years ago, chronic back, knee, and heel pain was killing me. It got to be so bad that I started to HATE running. My doctor said that I was getting too old for running and that I should take up another sport like swimming or yoga. I quit running cold turkey and did some hot yoga instead. I strained some muscles from the yoga; so I took up swimming. Swimming was OK, but I kept getting ear infections, I ended up riding a bike. I was close to quitting biking because the pain in my ass was almost as bad as pain in my back from running.
Then I read Born to Run. I found your blog while I was searching for barefoot running blogs. I learned a lot about barefoot running and shoes from your posts. And I really enjoyed the section about learning to run without shoes.
I tried running without shoes, but my feet started to hurt all over. Then I took your advice and gave Xero Shoesa try. They were just what I needed. My knee , back, and heel pain are gone.
I just wanted to thank you for the resources your blog provides. It was a real help to me. Thanks.
And now I take advantage for a SHAMELESS AD PLUG:
These Barefoot Shoes Saved my Sole and Got me to LOVE RUNNING AGAIN!
It’s been over a year since I tossed my Nike’s in the trash. Since then I have been running either in thin Tarhumara sandals or straight barefoot.
Last summer was a disaster. I didn’t run much because I battled lower leg injuries: Achilles tendinitis, a torn calf, and wicked bruises on the ball of my foot. All of the injuries resulted from over striding and doing too much too soon.
Now that I have overcome the difficulties I am having the summer I was hoping to have last summer. I’m back up to my previous mileage. And I’m loving my runs.
Here are three miraculous benefits I enjoy from running without shoes:
I have run 9 miles in the heat without ANY blisters on my feet. I challenge any shod runner to five miles without blisters. I am astonished after each run. On occasion I will get a tiny blister on my toe or near the ball of my foot, but they’re nothing like the heel blisters I used to get in shoes.
No lower back pain.
I took a break from running because my lower back was killing me. After each run, it would ache for days. Barefoot running has eliminated the pain. For my longer runs, I may feel a slight twinge of pain during the run, but it vanishes hours later. Barefoot running automatically improves posture while leading to lower impact forces. The bouncy cushioning of shoes blinds the foot from the terrain. As a result, the runner tends to either heel strike or hit the ground harder than he or she would in bare feet. If you want to see a fluid PERFECT barefoot stride, watch any barefoot toddler run this summer. Barefoot children run with excellent form. And they DO NOT heel strike on the concrete or the lawn.
Super Spiked Runner’s High.
Maybe it’s childlike stride or perhaps it’s the steady pounding rhythm of my feet that releases the delicious sensation of flight, the wild insights, and the glorious communion the sexy universe. She kisses my arms face and neck with her cool breezes, she fills my eager lungs with the fresh essence of air and the scent of wet cedars; she delights me with the squish of soft earth, twisting a gentle tickle through my toes. Three miles completely barefoot in the woods is almost like smoking a joint–not that I would know what smoking a joint feels like 😉