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

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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About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a biology teacher, track/soccer coach, and dad (x3) with a passion for running, soccer, and science. If you'd like to learn a little bit more about who I am and what I do, click here, or visit


  1. Christian Eriksson says:

    “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”

    Or, in Swedish, “Inget nytt under solen” ;)

    Enjoying the belated Spring, Pete?

    • Indeed! Though woke up to a dusting of snow this morning…

    • I was thinking the same quote after reading the article, and saw Chris used it. Then I wanted to make a comment about the weather, which Pete did in the reply above. Everything is totally white here again in Minnesota. Thank God for Gore-Tex.

      Great article, Pete. Thanks for sharing!

      • Christian Eriksson says:

        Sorry to hear about the weather Aaron, you seem to have had a terrible winter over there. We’ve had a very warm winter in Scandinavia this year, but having a second winter – or a third – is rather usual most other years. Hard to take nevertheless!

  2. An intriguing article. I’ll have to check out Google Books for some vintage writing on running. I read an article last evening in the latest issue of Runner’s World by Peter Sagal about a biography on Teddy Roosevelt. Sagal pointed out that Teddy did a lot of running during his day too.

  3. This is awesome!It’s always amazing to me how relatively little running/racing was happening over a decade ago but how much people wrote about it.
    Great post.

  4. This is such a cool find!

  5. Running shoes should really be the reason of a runner’s success, not his downfall. I believe that’s the reason why designs of running shoes should be scrutinized.

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