The Harvard Track–gun lap

The Harvard Indoor Track Revisited (page 4 of 4, the gun lap)

For a shoe midsole to behave like the time tested Harvard Indoor Track, this midsole would have to measurably compress and release in perfect tune with the rise and fall of the peak body weight force. It would have to be a sole that remains stiff at impact but gradually, as the body weight force reaches it peak, compresses. Specifically, the slope of the amount of compression and release of the midsole would have to be equal and opposite to the rise and fall of the peak body weight force (when injury causing forces are at their peak). And just as important, there would have to be no cushioning at initial impact. The midsole couldn’t be made of foam, gel, or air bladders, which compress too early (at impact) and do not provide any substantial compression and release when the body weight force reaches its peak. And it couldn’t be a simple metal spring, which similarly begins compressing at the wrong time, adversely affecting feedback to the body.

Designing a shoe that could be definitively shown in a laboratory to work like the Harvard Indoor Track would take a comprehensive understanding of how the body weight forces are naturally transferred under the foot and how those forces relate to the position of the rest of the body. It would take combining motion data with body weight force data to understand where and when peak stresses occur. And it would take studying gait in many individuals with varying foot and gait types across a number of conditions to understand natural force and movement patterns and to know which patterns are consistent and which are not. Those comprehensive biomechanical studies were never done 30 years ago. Only recently have we been publishing data that is informing what are these natural and consistent patterns. Simultaneously we now have biomechanical standards that can be used to rigorously evaluate the effect of any new potential shoe design…hopefully before it is ever suggested to the public. The very same parameters used to evaluate the effectiveness of a plywood structure (before it was introduced into a running track), can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of a shoe – before it is introduced to people’s feet.

So you might have guessed by now that I’ve figured out such a shoe design – OESH – and this is what the Harvard Track looks like–24/7/365…on your foot:

As a footnote (badumdum…kish), my research pointing out the detriments of current athletic shoe design is often cited and is typically used to support that going barefoot is best. OESH is on board with this barefoot tidal wave–going barefoot is far better than wearing a standard athletic shoe design (even most all of these new minimalist shoe designs still incorporate major structural flaws). But all the meanwhile, I worked on bringing something new to the footwear party…the first shoe that actually works…like the Harvard Indoor Track.

I often wonder what Dr. McMahon would have to say about what we now know. He unfortunately passed away in 1999 and I never had a chance to talk to him about the new things we were just beginning to learn then about footwear. He was a brilliant scientist (and a novelist!). But it’s his success with the Harvard Indoor Track that is specifically noted in his obituary – that the track improved efficiency by 3% and reduced injuries by one-half. Powerful. And not forgotten.

10 Responses to The Harvard Track–gun lap

  1. Hope says:

    I’m loving reading your blog and about your work. I really want a pair of your shoes. (do you have sizing charts?) I jump rope for cardio fitness. Last fall I began to jump barefoot and put a lot of strain on my feet, ankles and knees – they got crackly and creaky. Too much too fast. I’m back to jumping now, in running shoes with extra cushioning insoles. My knees are starting to feel … tired … . How should I build up to jumping in OESH shoes?

    • Casey says:

      I think you’ll love jumping in OESH! it will feel a lot like jumping barefoot but the compliance in the midsole will reduce the stresses in your joints. It should be a very easy transition for you to make since you have already tried jumping barefoot. But still, go easy! As much as I can’t wait for you to ditch your current shoes, start off slowly for the first two weeks alternating between them and OESH. Since you are probably doing a little too much now, maybe start the first week jumping at just half the duration you are currently doing. A general rule of a safe workout is that you shouldn’t feel any soreness 24 hours after working out. Whatever duration you do start with, go gradual – resist the temptation to increase the duration from one week to the next by more than 10%.

      Oh, and re sizes… order your OESH shoes based on your current athletic shoe size. OESH has a bit more room in the forefoot and the toe box than the typical shoe but otherwise fits dead on to standard sizing (e.g. Zappo’s sizing chart).

      Enjoy your OESH!

  2. Hope says:

    Hi Dr. Casey! Thanks so much for replying to my questions. I just placed an order. (Yay!) Thanks for being gentle about my already overdoing it in my return to jumping. I think maybe my cardio capacity is ahead of my skeletal capacity at this point. I’ll take it easy.

    I still have a few more questions:

    There’s a lot I like about the idea of rope jumping (20ish minute workouts, at home with my young kids, physically intense), but I’m worried about wearing out my joints in the long run. Things I want to know about (personally and professionally):

    -building up my correct neuromuscular responses to jumping
    -what to feel for in myself that would indicate that I’m on the wrong track in my movements
    -what does proper gait look like – foot biomechanics
    -maybe I should build a piece of Harvard Track to jump on?

    Thank you for any suggestions, insights or references you can give me. And, good luck with your mission and great shoes. I can’t wait to get mine.

    • Casey says:

      Terrific… All your good questions have inspired me to create a full post. Watch for it tomorrow—in time for when you get your shoes!

  3. Hope says:

    I can’t wait. Thanks!!

  4. Joe Garland says:

    I come here via a link placed by Mark Cucuzzella on a LetsRun thread on Gina Kolata’s recent article. (Note, however, that the version of this article on to which Cucuzzella links does not include a link to the rest-of-the-story although it says it does.)

    One of the debates in the recent discussions of shoes, etc. concern appropriate foot-strike. I hosted a RunnersRoundTable with a number of people who know about these things, and the consensus was that the issue is not heel-striking but overstriding. The distinction being whether one lands with a fully-extended leg causing “braking”. Instead, what matters is where the body’s mass hits, even if initial contact is at the heel. And I see you say elsewhere, “In running, very little weight is borne through the heel. Even the most severe heel striker transmits very little of his or her weight through the heel. Most of the weight is borne through the forefoot.” But you also write in that post that a raised heel “increase[s] the stresses and strains not just at the knee and hip, but throughout the foot and entire lower extremity”. I’m confused.

    In all of the sturn und drang about proper footstrike and minimalist shoes and the inherent superiority of one method or another, I take it that your research (and that of others to whom you refer) leads you to conclude that what matters is how the foot acts when it is below the center-of-mass. I do, however, find it hard to square your development of a shoe with a significant bit of technology, albeit for what you consider the grossly-underserved midfoot, with your embrace of “natural running”.

    • Casey says:

      Much of the sturn und drang (I love it) comes from these new data… prior, no one had ever studied or at least reported, the integration of force plate with motion analysis data, which is what informs us about stresses and strains to various parts of the body. Impact, regardless of where you land (heel, mid or forefoot) is not when injuries occur. But we do know that interfering with impact via heel cushioning does have an indirect effect later in midstance, when your foot is directly below your center of mass (and yes, all the weight is borne onto your forefoot.)

      Peak stresses and strains which occur at midstance are the result of (1) your peak ground reaction force (at midstance) which is indirectly affected by stride length, (2) the positioning of that ground reaction force (the line joining your body’s center of mass (COM) to the center of pressure (COP) under your foot) in relationship to your joints and bones which also is affected by what occurs earlier on, and (3) whatever compliance your foot, shoe, and or ground surface can provide at midstance.

      The development of OESH comes from recognizing how these factors all interrelate. Granted, the relationships are complex. Which is why OESH is designed the way it is and why it involves the substantive technology that it has – carbon fiber. That might seem on the surface to be a contrast to what is “natural” but it’s actually very natural when you think about how its form completely follows function. Wearing OESH is the only shoe I’ve ever tested that measures up to what it is like to walk or run on a compliant surface – which makes OESH in a sense, the first truly natural shoe.

  5. Joe Garland says:

    The lady doth protest too much. Of course your shoe is no more “natural” than the Asics 1150s I am now wearing or the standard “stability” trainer out there. This is no criticism; as an M.D. I assume you bristle at the notion that because something is “natural” it is preferable, do-no-harm meaning something more than do-nothing.

    What you are trying to do is allow a runner to bring a compliant surface with her with each stride. If all surfaces were like the Harvard track, she wouldn’t need to carry it with her. But she does. The fallacy of the natural-running movement is that because our ancestors ran unshod so should we. It may well be that unshod is the way to go, but it is not because our ancestors did so since those ancestors did not run on the surfaces on which modern man runs and I doubt they did the types of running, the variety of extended stretches speed and distance, that modern man does. The issue is not what our no-longer-tree-dwelling forebears did but what we should do.

    My guess is that the so-called, self-proclaimed “natural-running” folks are captivated by your no-cushioning/zero-drop view and skip over your saying there is a better way, just not the one the major shoe companies have promoted these many years.

    For the record, I have been running for over 40 years. I am a heel-striker trying to increase my cadence to lessen it. I generally train in Asics 1150 (and trained in its predecessors) but have begun wearing New Balance Trail Minimi for my fairly frequent trail runs. (I do not notice much of a difference between running on trails and running on roads or tracks. I like the variety of surfaces.) I get twinges which force me to take a day or two off after which they disappear. I haven’t had a major injury (well, other than the shattered elbow in a fall while running) in a while, largely since I made some minor form adjustments with a PT. Since turning 50 I have a sub-5 mile and a sub-2:50 marathon.

  6. Casey says:


    Thank you for your comments. You are spot-on in noting that the compliance of OESH is entirely unique to the success of the shoe. And the way we developed OESH was for a much broader use than only running (though indeed, it was chronicling the performances on a running track that helped lead to the development). In turn, this allows the wearer to ‘bring the track’ as you put it, everywhere—not just on her/his runs – or walks.

    In a broader sense though, there is a holistic experience with OESH that is unlike any other footwear. That is, the carbon fiber architecture allows OESH to flex in a unique (to each wearer’s) way as the planted body weight rolls through the gait cycle. In this aspect, one could label OESH as profoundly customized for each wearer—and for that matter for each stride each wearer takes. Which is probably why those favoring barefoot/minimal footwear enjoy OESH so much—as this is similar to the unique way all of us adapt to our own feet.

    But back to the portable Harvard Track concept…even you would certainly benefit from OESH when not in your Asics, too!

    Again, thank-you for taking the time to appreciate the reason OESH is so unique…now you need to buy a pair for your wife!

    All best wishes,


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