We received the following email and photos from Jacob Edwards, a youngish distance runner who definitely has the speed gene and a rekindled love of barefoot running, a passion first nurtured by his legendary grandfather John J Kelley.– NRC

Jacob Edwards' grandfather, John J Kelley, at the finish of the Boston Marathon in the late 1950s. That's Jock Semple on his left; John's wife on the right. Notice the "running" shoes!


Dear Natural Running Center,

For the past 13 years I have been a competitive runner which even writing makes me feel old. I am 25 years young. Running was something that I thought would come “natural” as my grandfather is John J Kelley, two-time Olympian, eight-time AAU national marathon champion, and maybe, most notably, the 1957 Boston Marathon winner. As you would expect, he played an enormous roll in my early development as a runner but not in the way you might think. To me he was a life guide and he taught me that running could transcend your being, combat stress and could be one road, of many, to happiness. As I saw him running with little to no shoes into his 70s, with no injuries, I ‘naturally’ followed suit.

Through middle school and high school I did a fair amount of barefoot running as growing up in a low-populated area of New England made this easy. I ran in shoes most of the time but once or twice a week I would run around a half-mile grass field without shoes for an hour. I was not aware of any health benefits I just liked the feeling of my foot to the Earth, and being able to run similarly to my grandfather was an added endorphin rush. I went to college in New Haven, Connecticut and decided that running barefoot was too dangerous in the city so I just stopped all together. I graduated in 2009, battered and broken from the four year of abusive running.

Shoes in hand, Jacob getting in some barefoot mileage.

For the last few years, I was trying to reconnect with the love I had for running but things just seemed different. I started reading the Natural Running Center more frequently and meeting Dr. Mark Cucuzzella really inspired me to rethink barefoot running. For parts of last summer and since February, I have revisited the idea of shoeless running. Since I now live in Northern New Jersey,  barefoot running has brought me onto the roads.

I have been doing my last 30-40 minutes of most runs with my shoes in hand, just running till my feet get tender. I had to build up, first starting at 20 minutes, but I find myself now able to run low 6 minutes per mile fairly comfortably with no shoes. The results of this training have led to two things. First, a greater running experience as my feet feel more connected with the surroundings. Every step tells a story of the texture and temperature of the ground. It also brings out a new sense of focus and awareness of every stride. The second is an almost four- minute Personal Best in the half marathon, as I just ran 1:08:41.

I was uncomfortable at first running barefoot on the streets but by doing so I have become a much more relaxed runner which I now believe translates to faster running. I feel like being able to push myself beyond the monotony of the track is the most beneficial thing I have done for my running in years.

P.S. I had my friend take a photo of me at the end of my run today. The photo of my grandfather is a mystery to the family but I found it in a book I took after his passing this past year. It is personally my favorite photo that I have. My grandmother, Jessie is the little woman and Jock Semple (infamous for his attempted tackle of Kathrine Switzer) is the other man. My grandfather is with Jock, so it is after one of his Boston marathon finishes.