The Secret to Barefoot Running

Born to Run author Christopher McDougall had a provocative piece in yesterday’s New York Times, “The Once and Future Way to Run” about a simple 19th century technique for teaching good running form. The “100-up” drill McDougall describes forces a runner to land on the ball of the foot rather than the heel. Even though I’ve switched to barefoot running I still heel strike occasionally, a habit caused by a lifetime of wearing cushy shoes. I’m gong to make this drill a regular part of my fitness program. 

The article also takes a jab at Rodale’s Runner’s World magazine which, apparently, hasn’t ever seen a shoe it didn’t like. Multi-million dollar advertising contracts with shoe companies just might be the reason why. This is a common ethical lapse in fitness journalism. A local free running rag I picked up had a cover story on barefoot running which was all about . . . minimalist shoes! In two years of running with no shoes at all (i.e. barefoot) I have yet to get even a scratch.

Click on the article link above to see a helpful video showing the 100-up drill.

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  1. my husband loved this book and I have plans to read it. What if you’re starting with walking? Is it possible to employ this technique without the momentum of running?

  2. @rosiemomma – I started out running, quickly overdid it, and decided to build up my feet first walking. I recommend 3 to 6 months of barefoot or minimal-footwear walking to build up the strength in your feet. Then gradually gradually gradually add some running. Erik may have a different approach though!

    @Erik – I’m gonna hit 6.6. miles this week (of about 63 miles running total) in the Vibram Five Fingers, plus 4 or so miles barefoot walking. I was progressing quickly but then I read some horror stories about people getting metatarsal fractures and I slowed down the progression. How much are you running barefoot these days?

  3. Hey Alex,

    I’m running only 1.5 miles three times a week–still battling knee problems which I think are related to bad form and way too much running in my 30s.

  4. Thanks for posting the Times link. I loved Born To Run and I ran in moccasins for a while, but maybe it was too much too soon. I started feeling a return of my plantar fasciitis.

    These days I’m using SoftStar’s RunAmocs as my everyday, walking-around shoe. For running I’m using a transitional shoe, a cross country racing flat (saucony shay xc2), with a very low heel-toe incline. It’s a nice way to get some miles in with a minimal shoe until I can build back up to barefoot.

  5. I switched to barefoot a few years ago and all my injuries (which WERE frequent) disappeared. And I developed ARCHES in my feet.

    I have to recommend what I’ve been wearing for the last 2.5 years (and built a company around) — Invisible Shoes running sandals (

  6. I do not live in an area that is friendly to barefoot running. I do, however, run barefoot on the beach and I also encourage my track team to run barefoot on the grass.

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