Return to the Running Lab
I recently had a chance to return to Dr. Irene Davis’ biomechanics lab at the University of Delaware. Dr. Davis one of the co-authors of the Nature magazine study on barefoot running, not to mention an honest practicioner of her own advice: over the past few months, she’s become a barefoot runner herself. As I describe in “Born to Run,” I first visited her lab as a broken-down ex-runner who was trying to figure out why I couldn’t seem to put together a few months of easy, recreational jogging without suffering some kind of excruciating injury. During that first visit, Dr. Davis videotaped my running stride, and I’ve been trying to drive those images out of my mind ever since. Limbs flailing every direction, feet sailing through the air, heels whomping down like I was crushing cockroaches… what a horror show. Anyone could see that my running technique, by any measure of artistic grace or biomechanical efficiency, was a disaster. But when I asked Dr. Davis how I could learn how to run gracefully, she essentially shrugged. Back in 2005, no one was teaching proper running form. No one was pointing out that a forefoot landing was so much gentler than heel striking. (All those “no ones” come with a gigantic asterisk: Barefoot Ken Bob, Dr. Romanov of POSE Method, Ken Mierke of Evolution Running, and Danny Dreyer with his ChiRunning were all teaching exactly that … except few people had ever heard of them, and running authorities and the mainstream press were treating them as sideshow freaks).
But this time, it was a whole different story. When I returned to Dr. Davis’ lab two weeks ago, she fitted me out with sensors and had me run across a force-impact plate. My collision forces were, essentially, zero. Instead of clomping down as I had six years ago, I was now gliding in for a light, flexible landing. The difference was so dramatic, Dr. Lieberman even decided to use my now transformed footstrike in a sample video on Harvard’s barefoot running website. (I’m “Experience Runner Barefoot Striking,” which I think I prefer to Caballo’s name for me: Lumbering Bear).