As this site is called “Hundred-Up” (or “100-up” if you prefer) and wouldn’t exist but for this article, it’s only fitting to post first on Christopher McDougall’s (Author of Born to Run) N.Y.Times article The Once and Future Way to Run, which introduced me (and a lot of us) to a century old running drill invented by Walter (W.) G. George called the 100-Up exercise.
How did McDougall get to talking about an old running drill from the 19th century? Well, it was in trying to find a “one best way” to re-learn how to run. I emphasize “re-” because children seem to learn how to run with excellent form naturally, that is until something (What could that be?) degrades their form completely. Yes, you could make the bold claim that most of us do not know how to run, including most of the folks pounding the pavement around their neighborhoods, committing to their routine running grind.
Anyway, here’s how McDougall got to W.G. George’s 100-Up:
The only way to halt the running-injury epidemic, it seems, is to find a simple, foolproof method to relearn what the Tarahumara never forgot. A one best way to the one best way.
Earlier this year, I may have found it. I was leafing through the back of an out-of-print book, a collection of runners’ biographies called “The Five Kings of Distance,” when I came across a three-page essay from 1908 titled “W. G. George’s Own Account From the 100-Up Exercise.” According to legend, this single drill turned a 16-year-old with almost no running experience into the foremost racer of his day.
I read George’s words: “By its constant practice and regular use alone, I have myself established many records on the running path and won more amateur track-championships than any other individual.” And it was safe, George said: the 100-Up is “incapable of harm when practiced discreetly.”
Could it be that simple? That day, I began experimenting on myself.
Last fall, at the end of a local 10-mile trail race, I surprised myself by finishing five minutes faster than I had four years ago, when I was in much better shape. I figured the result was a fluke — until it happened again. No special prep, awful travel schedule and yet a personal best in a six-mile race.
“I don’t get it,” I told Cucuzzella this past June when we went for a run together through the Shepherd University campus in Shepherdstown. “I’m four years older. I’m pretty sure I’m heavier. I’m not doing real workouts, just whatever I feel like each day. The only difference is I’ve been 100-Upping.”
It was five months since I discovered W.S. George’s “100-Up,” and I’d been doing the exercise regularly. In George’s essay, he says he invented the 100-Up in 1874, when he was an 16-year-old chemist’s apprentice in England and could train only during his lunch hour. By Year 2 of his experiment, the overworked lab assistant was the fastest amateur miler in England. By Year 5, he held world records in everything from the half-mile to 10 miles.
If you’re not familiar with George (I wasn’t up until this article), W. G. George set a record for the mile back in 1886 that wasn’t beaten for three decades, running the mile in a blazingly fast 4 minutes 12.75 seconds.
So what exactly is W.G. George’s 100-up exercise? Here’s McDougall describing it to Mark Cucuzella, a super fast runner, M.D., and exceedingly humble man hailing from West Virginia, where he runs a store dedicated to minimalist footwear:
Mark Cucuzzella was just as eager [to learn about the 100-Up]. “All right,” he said in the middle of our run. “Let’s get a look at this.” I snapped a twig and dropped the halves on the ground about eight inches apart to form targets for my landings. The 100-Up consists of two parts. For the “Minor,” you stand with both feet on the targets and your arms cocked in running position. “Now raise one knee to the height of the hip,” George writes, “bring the foot back and down again to its original position, touching the line lightly with the ball of the foot, and repeat with the other leg.”
That’s all there is to it. But it’s not so easy to hit your marks 100 times in a row while maintaining balance and proper knee height. Once you can, it’s on to the Major: “The body must be balanced on the ball of the foot, the heels being clear of the ground and the head and body being tilted very slightly forward. . . . Now, spring from the toe, bringing the knee to the level of the hip. . . . Repeat with the other leg and continue raising and lowering the legs alternately. This action is exactly that of running.”
That’s it? Basically, yes. And since George did us a favor and committed to writing his full account of the drill (he believed in it’s power that much), I’ll be posting it later. For now, let’s take one more look at Chris McDougall’s article.
Specifically, let’s take a look at the video included in the article on how to do the Hundred-Up as you might have missed it (I did on first pass). Below McDougall and Peter Sarsgaard (the actor, director, and wait for it, minimalist/barefoot/natural running enthusiast) demo the 100-Up. Check it out: