From the monthly archives:

November 2011

Get past the product pitch and you’ll find Meb’s real message — at age 36, he finally got off his heels and changed his form to a gentler foot strike. The result:
* He was able to get rid of the orthotics he’d been wearing since college
* He ran the fastest marathon of his life
* His performance at the New York City Marathon improved by 2 minutes in the span of one year.

100 Up in action

by Christopher on November 10, 2011

See? Couldn’t be easier.

For your 100 Up Ipod playlist

by Christopher on November 8, 2011

Jason of The Nadas just alerted me to the Tarahumara song he wrote back in the ’90s after backpacking the Sierra Madres

Run in Place

I’m curious to see whether anyone finds that the 100 Up relieves plantar fasciitis, beyond the possibility of preventing it. I had my own bout with the dreaded vampire bite back in late 2007, after I’d returned from the Copper Canyons and was working on Born to Run. It didn’t stop me from running, but it was annoying and enough to let me know something was wrong. Luckily, Men’s Health sent me to London to research an assignment about connective tissue, and I had the chance to consult two rather offbeat experts — Dr. Robert Schleip, a German fascia researcher who cured his own fasciitis by running barefoot, and Lee Saxby, a natural movement specialist who, at the time, was working for an expedition company called Wildfitness. Once Lee got me back to running Tarahumara-style, I was startled by how quickly the PF vanished, never to return. That experience with Schleip, Saxby, and plantar fasciitis convinced me that form is not only paramount, but far too easily taken for granted. It was also a turning point in my approach to footwear. I touched on this episode in the article I wrote for Men’s Health, but here’s a more detailed version I gave in answer to a follow-up question from Matt Metzgar, author of “Stone Age Power.”

here’s the back story:when i came down with plantar fasciitis, i was in the midst of writing “born to run,” and i was convinced that after studying the tarahumara and techniques like pose, chi and evolution running, i’d mastered perfect running form. i thought i’d never be injured again — and yet i was. so once again, i made the same round of visits to podiatrists, massage therapists and sports medicine physicians, and once again was given the same useless advice (night splint, stretch your calves, roll your foot on a golf ball…)
BUT NONE OF THEM — and this is so important, it deserves double all-caps — NONE OF THEM EVER ASKED TO SEE ME RUN.
Lee Saxby did. that’s the first thing he did. he took me outside, then videotaped me as I ran up and run down the street. when he played the tape back, i was astonished to see that instead of landing on my forefoot, i was coming down on my heel. and instead of keeping my back straight and feet under my hips, i was leaning waaaaaayyy back and striding way out past my center of gravity.
ugh. it was horrible.
it didn’t take long to figure out what happened. that past winter, we’d had a burst of snow back home in pennsylvania. since i believed i had mastered Tarahumara-style running, i thought i could get away with wearing a thick, warm, cushioned shoe. i started running in the nike vomeros, the shoe equivalent of an escalade. i didn’t realize it, but the shoes were so plush that i could no longer tell which part of my foot was hitting the ground. bit by bit, my running form went to hell. i was backsliding to my awful old technique, and totally unaware of it.
so what was lee’s cure?
first, the overhead squats with the 12-pound bar. the purpose of the bar is to force honest, upright posture. if you don’t stack your joints properly and come straight up-and-down, the bar will make you wobble and force you to kick out a foot for balance. when you can go all the way down to a full squat and back up again without moving your feet, you know your ankles, hips, shoulders and head are all in erect alignment.
and so?
so that means you have to get off your heels and up on your toes to execute the squat, which stretches the plantar fascia between the arch and heel. forget all that nonsense podiatrists tell you about stretching the calf; PF has NOTHING to do with the calf. it has EVERYTHING to do with the plantar fascia in the foot. i had this explained to me by Dr. Robert Schleip, head of the world-reknowned Fascia Research Clinic at Germany’s Ulm University. Schleip himself suffered from plantar fasciitis. and his cure? running barefoot through the parks of Berlin. “when you run in bare feet, you get a deep stretch in your foot that’s hard to accomplish any other way,” Schleip told me.
and that brings me to the final part of Lee’s Saxby’s Miraculous PF Cure:
lose the shoes.
after the squats and some rope-skipping (which also drives a deep stretch into your arch), lee took me back outside for some barefoot running drills. lee is one of the best POSE method teachers in the world, probably second only to dr. romanov himself, and it didn’t take him long to sharpen up my posture and correct my foot-strike. that afternoon, i went for a long barefoot through hyde park. it felt sensational. since then, i’ve never put on a running shoe — and never felt a twinge of heel pain again.
so my analysis? i think the overhead squats immediately relieved the irritation by stretching the fascia, and my subsequent maintenance has come from running in bare feet, usually about 50-70 miles a week. it’s been over a year, and my legs feel awesome.

Since then, whenever someone asks me what to do about plantar fasciitis, I’ve said “See Lee.” If you can’t catch him in person, you can learn a lot from this video. It demonstrates almost exactly what Lee did with me.

Learn to Run Barefoot with Lee Saxby and Terra Plana from GTB Goodtruebeautiful GmbH on Vimeo.

The Barefoot M.D., in his own words

by Christopher on November 6, 2011

…my journey of discovery began afar: while watching Kenyan runners go barefoot

I’ve been impressed by Dr. Mark Cucuzzella ever since I first heard his story at a Boston Marathon forum two years ago (where, incidentally, he was mocked by a running-shoe expert). I’ve been down to see him in Shepherdstown twice, and I’m sure that’s just the beginning. Besides being a terrific source of medical and biomechanical insight, he’s just a blast to run with. Yesterday, he posted his story here, in the New York Times comment section.

Mark Cucuzzella MD
Shepherdstown, WV
November 5th, 2011
9:58 pm
NYT Readers,
I’ve been flattered by the emails from around the globe of runners sharing their stories of recovery and discovery. Here is my story.
“A man’s errors are his portals of discovery” — James Joyce
Twice in the past two years, my running shoe store, Two Rivers Treads, which is in the small town of Shepherdstown, West Virginia, was honored to host and gain wisdom from best-selling author and force of nature Christopher McDougall. Locals came to hear from Chris aka “Mr. Born to Run.”
Chris and I both share a similar pathway in the discovery of better fitness and health through natural running. He is now a world-famous author, and in addition to owning a minimalist shoe store, I am a family physician in a town of 3,000. We both are in our mid 40s, and have trashed our feet and legs along the way, the result of a lifelong addiction to running.
Chris’s bestseller “Born to Run” follows several narrative threads, but it is also his own personal story of “why does my foot hurt?” He discussed the regular trips to the doctors, shoe stores, and orthotic makers. With each escalation in care there was more pain, that is, until he found a different route in the remote Copper Canyon of Mexico where the Tarahumara Indians run in flat-sole tire-tread sandals happily into their 80’s. He also met barefoot runners during his research for the book. He eventually arrived at the conclusion that most conventional running shoes are the cause of running injuries.
I began running barefoot on the beach as a pre-teen and easily covered distances of 10 or more miles. My personal path of pain began in high school and then into a college and post-collegiate running career. I had successes that were often tempered by injury, setbacks, surgery. I had acquired a closet full of arch supports, orthotics, various shoe types. This was always in search of the holy grail of pain- free running.
I pushed through the pain in pursuit of the Olympic Marathon Trials 2:22 standard and came within two minutes on two occasions. When I hit 34 years of age, my first toe joints were fused with arthritis, and I was forced to have surgical procedures to reduce the pain. The prognosis looked bleak for a future in running.
And a lot like Chris’s own trip to Copper Canyon, my journey of discovery began afar: while watching Kenyan runners go barefoot. I applied this natural way of running to my own jogging. I learned how to run softly. Seven months after surgery and with a new efficient and painless running stride, I ran a 2:28 for third place in the 2001 Marine Corps Marathon, only four minutes shy of my best time ever for the distance.
A decade has passed and the learning I gained about natural running only became deeper and broader. You might say that I was being “home-schooled” on all aspects of movement and how the foot interacts with the ground. For example, the Tarahumara Indians run in a style reflective of how we all ran as children; they land lightly on their mid-foot (not the heel), have a slight forward lean, and are completely relaxed and happy. Also, the best shoe was less shoe.
My self-enlightenment about footwear and running was not as immediate as Chris, who experienced it by cultural immersion. Chris and I both agree that it is not about the shoes (or lack thereof), but more about understanding how your body stands and moves, improving strength and function, and then figure out what shoe (if any) to wear. Ten years after the foot surgery and being told not to run, I feel that I’m finally putting all the pieces of the puzzle together. I finished the Boston marathon in 2011 in 2:37:00, practically smiling the whole way. Several months later, I won the Air Force Marathon outright; and back running the day after the race. I love light and flat shoes for road races, trails, casual, and at work to get me secretly close to barefoot at my day job as a physician.
We all have to follow our own path of what works or doesn’t work. Our bodies and past running histories are different. View the resources Natural Running Center, you will have a practical way to make injury-free running a permanent fixture in your own life.
I especially want to thank colleagues for sharing knowledge: Danny Dreyer, Jay Dicharry, Lee Saxby, Danny Abshire, Dr. Ray McClanahan, Dr. Daniel Lieberman, Ian Adamson, Dr. Phil Maffetone, Blaise Dubois, Pete Larson, Dr. Irene Davis, Lorraine Moller, and Nobby Hashizume. And especially Bill Katovsky and Nicholas Pang for helping me create the Natural Running Center.
–Mark Cucuzzella, M.D.

This Sunday, I have a story in the New York Times Magazine which reveals the secret of perfect running. It’s a drill from the 1800s called “The 100 Up,” and after months of experimentation, I’m convinced it’s foolproof.
Check out the story here.