In the Army, I knew a guy who was an effortless runner. Sometimes on Saturday mornings, a small group of us would gather for a three-mile fun run through the town. In the dawn’s early light, we’d lope along sidewalks, down empty streets, and across small parks, enjoying the morning air.

I couldn’t figure out this guy’s running style. What was he doing that gave him such grace and speed? Finally, I asked.

“I raise my knees higher than you do,” he said. “Raising your knees waist-high gives more oomph to your stride with little extra effort. It forces you to have proper posture and helps prevent injuries. My high school cross-country coach taught me that.”

This was in the 1980s. In 2011, a fellow named Chris McDougall demonstrated a forgotten running technique to a small group of runners (including the actor Peter Sarsgaard). It was the same technique my army buddy had demonstrated a couple of decades earlier: high-knee running.

The technique was developed in the late 1800s by an English teenager, Walter George.

When he was 16, Walter was apprenticed to a chemist, or, as we would say in the United States, a pharmacist. His apprenticeship involved long hours, from seven in the morning until nine at night. Working this indoor schedule made him go a little stir-crazy, and Walter craved outdoor exercise and relaxation.


He played rugby and participated in bicycle and walking races on weekends. But that wasn’t enough. He needed to get some exercise during the week. But how? He developed a method of running in place—or running on the spot, as they would say in England. It was done with an exaggerated knee lift.

He called his exercise 100-Up. It had two parts: minor and major. The minor version involved doing the running motions slowly and precisely; the major, doing them up to speed. Whether slow or fast, each knee was raised to waist height while moving the arms in an appropriate running motion, elbows bent.

The minor focused on correct style of movement. The major focused on doing 100 of them up to speed. (One hundred, by the way, was the total for a left and right leg combination, so counting was done each time the left foot, say, hit the floor.)

At 19, Walter ran his first amateur race. He was so fast, officials thought he must be a professional runner pretending to be an amateur. For the next nine years as an amateur, Walter beat the socks off of most everyone.

In 1885, at age 27, he turned professional. In a race the following year, Walter ran a mile in 4:12.8, a record that would stand for 30 years.

If you want to see a demonstration of Walter George’s 100-Up exercise, I recommend a video on YouTube, three minutes in length, called The Lost Secret of Running. It was produced and shot by Will Croxton for The New York Times.

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