Harvard Barefoot Running Study - December 1, 2007
or A Soles to Souls Study in Cambridge

I really didn't know what to expect when Mr. William Werbel and Dr. Daniel Lieberman invited me up to Harvard a couple of months ago for their barefoot running study. For the past several months, they have been studying subjects exclusively in the New England area -- particularly barefoot runners from Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, etc. When they invited me up, there was certainly some consideration given to the fact that I consistently run more barefoot miles than any one else in North America (over 10,000 barefoot miles in a little over 4 years). However, some of it had to do with cost. Since it was relatively inexpensive for me to travel from the Midwest to New England, I became an even more logical choice for their barefoot running study.

When I say I didn't know what to expect, I guess that is not actually the case in the broadest sense. I did know they were studying differences between shod and barefoot runners. However, more specifically, they were and are studying the difference in the elasticity of the longitudal tendons and muscles that make up the arch between barefoot and non-barefoot runners. The theory is that barefoot runners (and especially barefoot runners such as myself that run a lot of barefoot miles) will have a highly developed arch area regarding muscle and tendon development. The idea is that a lot of western civilization has atrophied their feet to the extent that to try do develop these muscles once again to run as our ancestors did would be an improbable feat. Subjects such as myself, however, who went barefoot a lot as a child and have developed and exercised the arches through barefoot running are candidates to show how arches will develop and strengthen -- rather than some erroneous suppositions that arches will fall and degenerate.

Arriving in Boston on Friday evening, I took the "T" (subway) to Cambridge and settled into my room at the Irving House Bed and Breakfast. By 7:30 a.m. Saturday morning, I had walked the few blocks to the Peabody Museum at Harvard and met with William Werbel. He escorted me to the study area within the anthropology lab section of the museum. He was still setting up cameras and sensors, calibrating the "touch point" area where the sole of my foot would record data on the pressure plate set up on the running course (a small section of hallway!). Using super glue, William began positioning sensors on various parts of my right foot, all the way up to my hip flexor area. We began by walking, then running over the control area pressure plate that would then tabulate sensor data regarding flexion, foot strike, etc.


About this time, Dr. Daniel Lieberman entered the lab area and introduced himself. We chatted between tests regarding some of the interesting studies he has conducted regarding running, both shod and barefoot. Dr. Lieberman is to the point after years of study to not necessarily give up the trainers, but to go to a minimal shoe. He realizes through his studies that the foot becomes weaker and less able to deal with the stress of running by wearing over-padded shoes. (Sounds like a no-brainer for some of us, but hey! He's a scientist and he needed empirical proof!).

In all, the testing lasted approximately 3 hours. When finished, Dr. Lieberman walked me down to Harvard Square where I caught a cab to head back to the airport. We said our adieus and I was off to Logan for the trip back. Drinking and partying came up in conversation with the cab driver on the way to the airport. I mentioned that I was a recovering alcoholic and that the Lord Jesus had set me free not only from alcohol addiction but also from the bondage of sin. I shared my faith with him as he confided in me about his gambling addiction and how he wanted to be free. When we arrived at the airport, he asked me to pray with him. I prayed that Jesus would set him free from sin and give him the power to walk in freedom from his addiction. He thanked me heartily as we said goodbye.

I had prayed before I left on this trip that God would have His way with me and that I would be the witness He would desire. While the Lord allowed some Harvard academics to study my soles, I believe that God Almighty was studying the soul of a certain cabbie in Cambridge on that Saturday morning, December 1 2007. I pray that God had his way with this man's soul and that he will walk according to the prayer that we prayed together on his behalf.

Your Barefoot Ambassador,

Barefoot Rick


Nature Magazine - January 2010
Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners

Daniel E. Lieberman, Madhusudhan Venkadesan, William A. Werbel, Adam I. Daoud, Susan D’Andrea, Irene S. Davis, Robert Ojiambo Mang’Eni, & Yannis Pitsiladis


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