While the city’s been gearing up for tomorrow’s Boston Marathon, the Harvard Gazette has been pulling together a list of the University’s researchers who’ve made breakthroughs in learning how and why we run. Based on the idea that running is literally in our bones, teams have been striving to discover how humans are actually meant to move. Here’s a quick glance at what they’ve have found over the years.

Daniel Lieberman, professor and chair of human evolutionary biology and principal investigator in the department’s Skeletal Bio Lab, has found:

Humans have a number of adaptations that help stabilize the head during running, as well as a series of “springs” in their legs and feet that help them store and release energy efficiently when running.

And, good news for all who those fear they have a big caboose. Our gluteus maximus muscle is actually enlarged to help stabilize our backsides while running, keeping us from pitching forward.

Irene Davis, director of the Harvard-affiliated Spaulding National Running Center, is a proponent of barefoot running, telling the Harvard Gazette:

“We’ve gotten into a mindset that once a person needs a set of orthotics, they need them forever. But when you take the foot — which is an amazing structure — and put that into a shoe with arch support, cushioning, etc., the foot becomes lazy and likely more prone to injury.”

Davis says she wants to take her research “to the next level,” reminding everyone, “we came into the world barefoot.” What the problem could be is that shoes allows runners to hit the ground with their heels, rather than their mid- or forefoot. If you take your shoes off, you instantly run differently, and Davis has been studying the Harvard track team to find out how a runner’s strike correlates with injury rates.

Pierre D’Hemecourt, a Harvard Medical School lecturer on orthopedic surgery and director of primary care sports medicine at Children’s Hospital Boston, has also found there’s four major components of a runner’s gait that could lead to injury, including the heel strike. There’s also “overstriding,” or “extending your foot beyond your hip,” along with a slow cadence, which is an inefficient running pattern. D’Hemecourt suggests people run 170-180 steps per minute, but do so without leaning forward, because that can lead to injury, as well.

The tips are good ones to keep in mind during tomorrow’s race. And if you see anyone running barefoot, perhaps now you’ll know why.

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