Spotlight on Barefoot Running

Neal J Meyer

It seems obvious that while Harvard students love their fancy footwear, your average ancestral hunter-gatherer would not be sporting a pair of Adidas on his morning hunt. In fact, despite our contemporary obsession with shoes, Daniel E. Lieberman, Department Chair of Human and Evolutionary Biology, recently discovered that humans have actually evolved to run long distances barefoot.

“Running shoes are a fairly recent invention,” said Lieberman, who traveled across the world to study the differences between shod runners and barefoot runners and has published his work in Nature magazine.

In fact, he also found that shoes change the way we run—most barefoot runners have a mid-foot to forefoot strike, whereas most shod runners have a heel strike that creates a larger collision. “There’s this big thump, a force that’s about one to three times your body weight,” said Lieberman.

Yet, it is unknown whether athletic shoes may be actually causing the injuries they claim to prevent. “The fact of the matter is that we’re not telling anyone what to do,” he said. “Runners just have more options than they’ve been told.”

“[Lieberman] is trying to bring it out of the limelight of being some weird pastime that strange people do to a normal activity that a lot of people do,” said Justin K. Banerdt ’13, one of the directors of the Harvard Foundation’s recent Indigenous Running seminar.

Christopher McDougall, author of the book “Born to Run,” was a bit more vocal about shoe companies while speaking at the seminar. “If you want to sell people shit, make them afraid,” he said, sporting his own “five finger” minimal shoes as an alternative.

So whether you’re running marathons or just trying to get brownie points in SLS 16, Lieberman said he is “delighted” to see students strolling into Science Center E barefoot.