Mindful Running & Lessons to be learned from Evolutionary Biology

5 Comments December 8, 2009 / Posted in Mindful Running, Oz on Injuries, Oz On Marathoning, Running Form & Style, Running Injury Prevention, The Running Mind

Had a lengthy, informative, and enlightening phone conversation with Dan Lieberman, from Harvard’s Department of Evolutionary Biology. We weren’t able to link schedules for a run. For both of us family and friends came first during this Thanksgiving holiday in Boston. So the phone had to do.

After speaking with Dan I am excited about the tipping point of barefoot/minimalist shoe running. Put together  McDougall’s Born to Run, the research from Dan Lieberman and the training of forefoot landing by Pose Method and ChiRunning and the curiosity and enthusiasm of  runners becoming experiments of one, and you see the worldview of runners and walkers changing regarding what they put or don’t put on their feet. You can obtain  PDFs of Dan’s Research at his website

The day will come sooner than I thought.  I was certain that the thick soled running shoes of shoe companies would be around another generation or three.

Before the running boom of the 70’s thanks in part to Ken Cooper’s Aerobic Training, the standard running shoes were leather bottomed and thin-with little or no cushion….none would be appropriate. With the boom and shoes created by the likes of Bill Bowerman’s waffle shoe bottoms and then the minimalist running shoes from Addidas and Puma,  running shoes of the early 70’s were thin soled.

That began to change when most injuries were attributed to poor biomechanics or one’s running shoes.  This change in shoe structure was to supposedly minimize running injuries. Over the past 30 years you saw the development of every possible type shoe to correct every possible type of foot issue. Just look at the MBT’s rocker soled shoes. After talking with Dan who lived among the Masai, my take is that MBT has done a magnificent job of marketing its shoe. I have a few friends who swear by them. I just keep quiet. Steven Robbins, MD and a small group of people in the early 90’s began questioning the structure of running shoes calling them more hazardous than helpful to the runner, saying they caused more injuries than then cured.  More a voice crying in the wilderness, but a voice that a growing number of people heard.

The assumption and the general belief told to me when I questioned heel striking that running was natural. You’re suppose to land heel first. I stopped counting the coaches and others who continually told me that everyone knows how to run. They would share their belief that one could not change the running form and style of the individual as it was natural. They would add that if a coach did, then they were probably messing up what was natural for that person. When it came to running for the general population, I was told over ad over again that coaching wasn’t necessary. Somehow  it was overlooked that in swimming, biking, skating, golf, football, baseball, tennis, crew and every other sport including track and field and…marathons, that they all have coaches.

With the popularity of barefoot/minimalist running developing over the past few years, we are in for an interesting run of events. Something, like I said several years ago, that would not happen in my life time…is happening.

When you know something is right for you and you question the status quo, you are confronted by the critics, the nay-sayers, the doubters, the belittlers. So you just keep sharing a perspective that you know from experience is correct for you and makes sense. Science is now backing up what  a small core group of coaches and researchers have said all along. There is a correct way to run and the proof is in the running.

Fred Wilts, Percy Cerutty,  and Arthur Lydiard  are a few of the coaches  who were so moved and moved me.  These are Coaches who look at proper running form. Add the science of evolutionary biology to “homo runnicus like hellicus” and Dan Lieberman was so moved.  The early adopter Ken Bob Saxon was so moved and all his atavistic Barefooters have also been so moved. Nicholas Romanov, his family and the Pose Method coaches have been so moved. Danny and Katherine Dreyer and their ChiRunning and ChiWalking coaches have been so moved. They’re  good company and align with my convictions and teachings: there is a most efficient way to run…and it is available to every human that is able to run.

Special thanks go to a hero of heroes, Abebe Bikila, who in 1960 showed the world by winning the Olympic Marathon in Rome taking off his shoes around mile one or two and running the rest of the way barefoot. Here he is four years later in Toyko with shoes this time but as smooth and effortless.

5 Comments... What do you think? Subscribe via RSS
  1. jansport said on December 8th, 2009 at 6:54 pm

    I just dont see the MBT’s helping .. to me they seem opposite of barefooting..the nike free or vibrams seem more like it..

    good research though, thank you.

  2. Ozzie Gontang said on December 10th, 2009 at 11:35 am


    Please read that MBT has done a great job of marketing. I am sure that inventors believe in their product. From the very beginning I was doubtful of their effectiveness having been influenced by minimalist running shoes since the 80’s when I kept speaking about running form and style being more important than shoes

  3. Ozzie Gontang said on December 14th, 2009 at 12:31 am

    I was saying that marketing has sold these shoes and am in agreement that they are the antithesis of barefoot or minimalist shoes.

  4. Paul MacKenzie said on January 27th, 2010 at 3:04 am

    Thanks for your article. I found it very informative.

  5. […] original here: Mindful Running & Lessons to be learned from Evolutionary Biology By admin | category: running shoes | tags: aerobic-training, before-the-running, […]

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