Better Running With the Barefoot Pro

I’ve been lucky enough to learn from a lot of excellent barefoot runners and natural-running coaches. Dr. Mark Cuccuzella in West Virginia and Ryan Miller in Boston are top-notch; they teach Danny Dreyer’s ChiRunning and are masters of making the technique easy to learn and remember. Ken Mierke, the Annapolis-based coach who developed Evolution Running and first got it through my head that form is everything, is also a superb instructor.

But every time I run into Lee Saxby, I learn something that makes my head snap up. Lee began his career as a physical therapist with a waiting room full of limping runners. He knew how to get them back on the roads, but the best he could offer was temporary fixes: he could ease their pain but not prevent their injuries. Then he got wind of some Soviet emigre named Dr. Nicholas Romanov who claimed to have a revolutionary technique called “The POSE Method” which would end running injuries forever. Saxby knew it had to be a scam, but with nothing better to offer his patients, he decided to check it out. He was right to be concerned; what he learned threatened to ruin his career. What, no more deep tissue massages, or hamstring stretches, or cross-training? No more orthotics, or shoe referrals, or months of after-care? Where’s the profit in making people unbreakable?

But rather than resist, Saxby signed on; he blended his teaching skills as a physical rehab specialist with Romanov’s breakthroughs in movement research and became Europe’s top POSE teacher. I’ve visited him twice over the past few years while I’ve been in London, and both times he crisply and unerringly zeroed in on little hitches in my stride. The effect was always startling: I instantly felt lighter, stronger and quicker, and the upgrade became an easy and permanent part of my runs.

What I like best about Lee is that he doesn’t lecture, or require more than an hour of your time, or even demonstrate very much. He’s figured out how to break the key movements down into a sequence of snappy drills. Do them, and you’ll be electrified by how great it feels to run naturally, and how easy it is to learn. Like this guy…

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

But to be clear: I don’t mean this as any kind of endorsement of a shoe. I’m a fan of form, not footwear. If I need some protection on rough terrain, I like all kinds of minimalist styles: Vibram FiveFingers, the Mizuno Wave Universe, Barefoot Ted’s “Air Luna” huaraches, Terra Plana’s “Evo.” That said, I’m awed by the convictions of Galahad Clark, head of Terra Plana and heir to a shoemaking dynasty. For a long time, Terra Plana’s bread-and-butter was women’s fashion shoes, but once Galahad became convinced of the harm done by overly-engineered shoes and the benefits of natural movement, he decided he couldn’t live with himself if he sold products he knew were dangerous. So rather amazingly, he decided to tear up his product line and sell nothing but barefoot-style shoes.

And how did he signal the switch?

By running the 2009 New York City Marathon in his bare feet.


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