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Running History: Is This 1885 Article On Shoes and Running the Original Born to Run?

Posted on April 16 2014

Every once in awhile I like to poke around Google Books for old articles on running. I recently found the article below by W. Mattieu Williams in an 1885 issue of the publication Knowledge – it reads as if it could be an outline for Christopher McDougall’s book Born to Run.

In the article, Williams discusses footwear design in general, pointing out that “the demand for thick-soled boots by occasional pedestrians is due to a tenderness or weakness of the foot induced by habitual sedentary life and swaddling of the foot.”

He discusses running shoe design in particular, pointing out that contrary to pedestrian shoes, running shoes of the time have “no raised heels, are as light, soft, and thin as possible in affording the requires protection and grip. The foot is nearly free as if bared.”

He discusses running for general health, pointing out that “I profoundly regret that I did not make this discovery thirty years earlier. Had I done so my present girth would be very different.” He feels that “all civilised European nations are going wrong in their habits of locomotion. We walk too much and run too little.” He advocates covering long distances via a mix of trotting and walking.

He even discusses his “small invention” of elasticized laces for shoes, and rants on the “ridiculous high heels” worn by fashionable women of his time (to no great benefit as evidenced by their popularity to this day nearly 130 years later).

You can read the full article below – I enjoy finding stuff like this that reminds me that many of the discussions and debates we have today are far from new.

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