Run Like the Kenyans

Kenyan Geoffrey Mutai sets a course record in the 2011 Boston Marathon, crossing the finish line at 02:03:02.

Whether it’s a world record or just a course record, Kenyan Geoffrey Mutai pushed on by American Ryan Hall to run the world’s fastest marathon on Monday at the Boston Marathon.

While his time is jaw-dropping and astounding, at 2:03:02, he’s another in a long line of African distance running phenoms.

So why are they so good? Well, one reason is their training. They all grow up running and training barefoot. Traditionally in the western world we’ve thought of this as a disadvantage, but for the development of a healthy body and perfect running stride this is a huge advantage.  Just look at four-time Boston winner "Mwafrika“ Kipkoech Cheruiyot from Kenya, or Ethiopian Haile Gebresellasie, world-record holder in the marathon at 2:03:59. Haile grew up running barefoot six miles to and from school every day.

Growing up barefoot and training barefoot has several key advantages for any athlete, and for our health in general.

First off, musculoskeletal development.

Going barefoot promotes a stronger, healthier body

Studies show that children who grow up barefoot have stronger, healthier feet and arches. They also don’t struggle with the plantar fasciitis or shin-

The natural shape our feet are meant to be.

splits that often plague those in shoes.

If you think of the body as a tree, then going barefoot is like growing strength from the roots on up. It promotes a healthier development of the feet, legs, hips, and back. When we learn to support ourselves with our two bare feet we grow stronger feet, legs, abdominal muscles, a stronger back and more all while gaining great posture. In essence, it helps us grow the strongest, healthiest, most naturally aligned body we can, something that helps us for a lifetime whether in or out of sports.

Going barefoot develops a lighter, more efficient stride

Training barefoot and learning a barefoot running stride has another huge advantage. When you run barefoot, you naturally lean towards a forefoot strike. This has several key benefits over a traditional heel strike. First off, running on your forefoot you use your entire foot and leg as a two to three foot long shock-absorber and spring. This greatly reduces impact, protecting the entire body. And, not only does it reduce impact, it helps you run faster. When you run on your forefoot, you literally turn your foot and leg into a spring; pressing down and springing back with each step. In essence, compared to a mid-foot or heel-striker, you’re in second gear, while they’re still in first.

Additionally, by landing on your forefoot, you don’t have the braking action of hitting your heel down, which slows the leg, and then having to reaccelerate. This greatly increases efficiency or economy, you don’t

Four-time winner of the Boston Marathon, Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot at home in his bare feet with Run With Kenyans Director, Marco Peterson

have to work as hard to keep going.

Fourth, running barefoot promotes a shorter stride with faster leg turn-over (more like 180 strides per minute compared to the traditional 110), this faster leg turnover not only keeps the legs fresher, but keeps you from bouncing up and down as much (the shorter the stride, the less you leap up between landings). The average runner bounces up and down 3 inches per stride in a shoe, that’s a full vertical mile over a marathon, no wonder we’re so exhausted! Run with a barefoot stride and you cut that in half or by more, tremendously increasing your efficiency, or decreasing the effort you need to keep going.

As runners from Africa know growing up out of a shoe helps them find the lightest, most efficient stride, while growing the strongest musculoskeletal system possible. This helps them with racing, and with a

lifetime of great health.

Even if we didn’t grow up in Africa, or fully barefoot, we can experience many of the same benefits by starting barefoot today. Just start extra-slowly, follow the advice on our website and begin with only 100-200 yards), and let your skin be your guide.

And if you want to run with some of the best athletes in the world, visit Run With Kenyans. They have an amazing Running Safari program for both recreational and elite athletes alike.

Either way, give barefoot running a try. It can help you set your own PR’s, run like the wind, and run lighter, faster, and stronger than ever before!