Boston 2011 Fighting Back the Tide


Barefoot Running Style Video Presented at American Medical Athletic Association Boston Marathon Sports Medicine Symposium

Boston Marathon 2011- Fighting Back the Tide

Over 28,000 runners from around the world challenged the rolling hills through Boston on April 18th.  In its 115th  running Boston has become the temple for runners. It is the oldest marathon and the only one in which you must qualify.  Thousands of volunteers and over a million loud citizens support the celebration of movement.  Those of us who wear a military jersey feel the home team advantage on Patriots Day.  I represent the US Air Force.

As the lead in an initiative to create healthier running in soldiers I must challenge myself every day as we compel others to do the same.   As we age and have more added responsibility in our work and home lives, we constantly fight the tide of declining fitness and so called “normal aging”. 

Modern medicine is supreme in treatment of acute illness.  We fail in combating normal aging.  Technology, laboratory, and wonder drugs have little use here.  We must teach the patient to get the most out of themselves and join them in a continuous struggle with a dogged enemy…the aging process.

Dr George Sheehan understood that each of us is “an athlete”.  He wrote in 1983: “Man is a whole, a unity of mind-body-spirit.  And the whole is greater then the sum of its parts.  Holistic medicine has been accepted by those who believe that two plus two can equal five.  Those individuals who are trying to get the most out of themselves are …the athletes. Now people with chronic disease want to test their limits and act like healthy human beings.”

 As physicians we must embrace the original meaning of holism: the connection of mind, body and environment, the treatment of the whole person.  We must teach patients that health is not a factor of the quantity or quality of the medical care, but on each of us embracing holism. 

The approach teaches the physician to view every patient as an athlete.  Nowhere is this more urgent than in our care of the aging patient.  Rest promotes rust and deterioration.  We must teach patients that normal is not optimal.  We need to teach the finer points of exercise physiology and nutrition in aging, their effects on prevention and treatment of disease, and the limits and risks of exercise.

George Sheehan observed “Most people live nowhere near their physical limits.  They settle for accelerated aging, an early and precipitous fall.  They give aging a bad name.  Too many people entering their forties are performing at physiological levels more appropriate to somebody sixty years old.”

I had the privilege of having an amazing discussion with Stanford Professor and one of the leading Geriatricians in the world Dr. Walter Bortz and his wife Ruth Ann.  He is an 80 plus year old marathoner as is his wife who was the oldest female runner at age 81 with a knee replacement.  He coined a term called the “Disuse Syndrome” 30 years ago and just published a book exploring the factors of healthy aging, most which are in your control.  Walter has written prolifically in his long career on the perils of our new fascination with technology in medicine.  He and his wife took a pilgrimage to Calcutta to visit Mother Teresa and the Home for the Dying.  Mother Teresa’s advice : “Just love them.” 

Human performance declines 5 percent per decade after the 30th birthday.   It does not take extreme amounts of time or effort for our patients to stay on the slow 5 percent slope- four good hours of whole body movement a week will achieve it.

We must teach our patients not to be happy with the precipitous fall.  Normal should be viewed as the best one can be at any age.  Our aging citizens have discarded what is not useful and what is trivial in their lives.  They are enjoying the fruits of many years of work.   We owe it to them to give them the opportunity to live these years in the spirit of their childhood, to play, to exercise, and live these years as peak experience.

Frank Buckles who just passed peacefully at 110 embodied these principles.  “You must stress the body” Frank would say.  At 103 he disregarded his physician’s advice to rest and not get on his tractor to farm.  He also exercised without a shirt in the freezing cold after sojourns to the Martinsburg Spa back in the 50’s.  As a survivor of a POW camp, he understood this at an unconscious level.

I also had the honor of speaking with Harvard Professors and leading scientists Dr. Daniel Lieberman and Irene Davis on the topic of barefoot running at the American Medical Athletic Association Annual Conference.  Our 2 hour session was followed by over an hour of questions with an intrigued audience. Dr. Lieberman is an evolutionary biologist who has now become the world’s leader in healthy running. Why?  He quotes in his talk “nothing in biology makes sense  except in the light of evolution”.  He had amazing slides and stories from his trips around the world connecting healthy eating, living, running, and aging to how we evolved as the supreme long distance traveler on the planet.

 Dr Bortz found me after the talk and relayed a story of how he coined the term “Disuse Syndrome” after a short period where his leg was casted and quickly atrophied.  None of the medical specialist could explain this phenomena.  Dr. Bortz has spent the last 30 years researching , writing, and explaining why this occured. He applauded our mission of trying to get humans to unbrace their feet on a daily basis. 

We showed our spiritual video on Barefoot Running Style now posted on which brought applause from an audience who started the day skeptics but I sense now believed they were part of a growing re-evolution.

How did the race go?  Still staying on the 5% slope.  I’m 44 now and ran 2.37:00  for 165th place overall, and 15th in the 40 plus group.  Our Air Force team finished second by a hair.

My friend Chi Running author Danny Dreyer also fighting this tide.  After 3 days on his feet at the Expo and teaching running mechanics, he raced to a 3.36:51 at age 61. My Barefoot Professor friend Dr. Lieberman also set a personal best of 3.49:21 at age 46 (in shoes).

Learn. Evolve. Run!


Congrats on strong finishers by local runners:

Tim Schuler, Chambersburg 2.45:59  380 place

Andy Mason, Hagerstown 2.47:53  466 place

Jared Matlick, Shepherdstown  2:59:04  1381 place

***Neil Cucuzzella, Ellicott City Md 2:59:14 1407 place – Jared dug deep to hold off my brother at the finish!

Rick Meyers, Chambersburg 3.04:54  2144 place

Bill Bondurant, Charles Town 3.15:44  4086 place

Missy Price, Harpers Ferry 3.36:27  9512 place

Jen Burkhardt, Charles Town 3.40:37  10732 place

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6 Responses to Boston 2011 Fighting Back the Tide

  1. Nathan Matthews says:

    Great video Mark and Two Rivers Treads! Great form by both runners. I try to view all the videos available online and I still learn something each time.

  2. Charlotte Moriarty says:

    Dr. Mark it was an honor to meet you at AMAA. I thoroughly enjoyed the discussion on barefoot running, and after spending many months thinking about barefoot running and practicing ChiRunning, I was finally inspired to embark on a slowly-progressive barefoot running program. Congrats on your Boston finish. I look forward to seeing you at future AMAA events and perhaps even working together as I begin my own path into the field of sports medicine!
    Charlotte Moriarty
    MD/PhD Candidate
    UMass Medical School

  3. Carolyn says:

    Mark – I loved your quote “running is not a battle between you and your body.” Thank you for your optimism and inspiration.

  4. Pingback: Perfect thoughts on Barefoot Running « Track to Trail: Running, anywhere

  5. Craig says:

    Great video on barefoot running. I linked to this from my blog: Hope that’s ok. Not that I have any followers yet, but hoping to get some soon. I think this captures Barefoot Running’s best points perfectly.

  6. Jim Stanton says:

    Thanks for the great video, it’s an inspiration watched it multiple times.
    I’m a 72 year-old and been running for 35 years. A couple of years ago I got interested in Chi running technique as a way to continue my running for another 30 years.
    Bought the book and the DVD. Attended a workshop with Danny last March and have been practicing ever since. It’s really slow going,you know “old dogs and new tricks” but I and am really encouraged by the results. Running is a lot more enjoyable and I feel more coordinated and fluid.
    Being a physicist I’m really glad to see some attention being paid to the mechanics and dynamics of running rather than only focusing on VdotO2Max
    Keep up the good work and if I can be of any help to your efforts let me know.

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