Is There Really Just One Best Way to Run?

There’s a great post today on The New Yorker magazine’s blog about a pair of running books, one that’s been out for a while and another that’s new — 14 Minutes, by the legendary runner and running coach Alberto Salazar.

The book traces the arc of Salazar’s life from his legendary battle with Dick Beardsley at the 1982 Boston Marathon (which Salazar won in dramatic fashion) to his later disillusionment with running and training, and an addiction to painkillers that lasted for years.

Salazar was able to kick his addiction, however, and become one of the most highly-regarded running coaches in the sport. What really interested me, though, is how he’s drawn to finding and perfecting the best running form — how you move your body, where your feet land, what’s the most efficient way to do those things?

“There has to be one best way of running. It’s got to be like a law of physics. And if you deviate too much from that — the way I did in my career — it can be a big handicap… You show me someone with bad form, and I’ll show you someone who’s going to have a lot of injuries and a short career.”

Chris McDougall, who’s also profiled in the piece and is best known for his 2009 book Born to Run, might argue that the shoes we wear prevent us from achieving the right form for running. The running shoe industry is one of his chief targets, and he basically is convinced that if we all ran barefoot (or something close to that) then we’d all see many fewer injuries and pain from running.

Something tells me, though, that’s a luxury only a tiny minority of runners can really enjoy. How many of us live in areas with spaces where it’s safe to run without the thick padding and protection that most modern running shoes provide?

As the New Yorker post adds:

…there’s a danger. Our ancestors may have run barefoot, but they didn’t do it on asphalt and concrete. They didn’t do it on roads caked with broken glass. They also didn’t have potato chips and soda, or bodies shaped by days spent in offices.

Ever tried “barefoot” running, or using one of the barefoot-style running shoes on the market? What are your thoughts?

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