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No shoes, no problems for 59-year-old marathon runner

lberto Perusset, of Malibu, runs in the LA Marathon on March 19. This was his 14th consecutive time running the race, and this year’s event served as his 98th barefoot marathon. MarathonFoto
Malibu resident Alberto Perusset, 59, poses with his LA Marathon medal last month, when he ran the event barefoot. MarathonFoto
Ryan Flynn, Freelance Reporter
8:14 am PDT April 19, 2017

In 2007, marathon runner Alberto Perusset’s coach had a peculiar idea. He suggested that Perusset should try running barefoot.

Perusset was skeptical. Most marathons are held on city streets. What about rocks, broken glass and hot asphalt? These things, he learned, were minor distractions — not major roadblocks. Ten years and 98 barefoot marathons later, he’s never looked back.

“After all, we’re born barefoot,” the longtime Malibu resident said. “You don’t see any babies with Nikes.”

In May, he expects to compete in his 100th barefoot marathon. He plans to fly to China for the occasion and compete in a marathon hosted at the Great Wall.  

Perusset is a native of Buenos Aires in Argentina. Early on, the man who earned the nickname “barefoot” may as well have had webbed feet. His passion was scuba diving and long distance swimming. In 1983, alongside famous Olympic swimmer Daniel Carpio and his team, Perusset crossed the Rio de la Plata, swimming nonstop for 19 hours and covering 60 kilometers.

He came to the United States in 1988 to study deep diving and worked on oil platforms as his day job. Perusset settled in Malibu and is a professional scuba diver, who in addition to his most famous hobby, is also a skydiver and has his pilot’s license.

In 2004, he completed his first marathon: the LA Marathon. Almost immediately, he was hooked. Three years later, nearing his 50th birthday, Perusset shed his shoes and completed his first race without them. He learned what he calls “the technique” of running barefoot.

“When people run with shoes — which most people do — many are what I call heel-strikers. Which means they run with the heel,” Perusset said. “Barefoot, you run with the center of the feet, not the front or the back. The feet, the sole, has enough of a cushion. If you run with the center of the feet, you will never have any kind of problem.” 

In 98 marathons, Perusset has never sustained an injury. The technique he uses, he said, is the human body running in its most natural way. He said he makes sure to listen to his body and not over-train, either. On a non-race week, he’ll run every day, but only for an hour. For those who do run in conventional footwear, he suggested getting the right shoes, given that many people run differently and running shoes can be customized to each person’s foot and style.

Perusset said he sees people half his age who don’t run because their knees hurt.

“They think it’s normal, it’s natural that their knee hurts,” he said.

Perusset doesn’t push people to run barefoot, but if someone approaches him and asks the technique, he said he is happy to share. He suggested running on a high school track first before taking to the streets, to familiarize oneself with it.

“When you feel comfortable and confident, then you go to the street,” Perusset said.

As for rocks and glass: Perusset said he feels them, but they don’t bother him. Asphalt is a different story. He needs to keep moving when running in the summertime, or else he’ll burn his feet. He spends most of his life barefoot, which is made logistically possible by living in a beachside community, where there are less “no shirts, no shoe”’ signs or harsh conditions than elsewhere.

A barefoot running community has formed, and keeps in touch through Facebook and seeing each other on the California marathon circuit. In 2009, Perusset was one of the founders of the Malibu Half Marathon, which is now going into its ninth year.

“It’s a beautiful race. It’s growing. The idea of the race is to serve the community, because it has a good impact,” he said. The scenic race will be held on Sunday, Nov. 5, and now includes a 5K and Kids Run.

Perusset will turn 60 in February and shows no signs of slowing down. He lends this to the obvious, oft-repeated staples: training and diet. He’s been a vegan for 29 years, getting his protein from peanuts, quinoa and tofu. He only takes a single supplement: B12.

“Nature provides everything,” he said.

Perusset is far from the only long distance runner to be doing it six decades in. He’s inspired by runners like Fauja Singh, who completed a marathon at the age of 100, and Harriette Thompson, who completed the San Diego’s Rock n’ Roll Marathon at 92 years of age.  

“The human body is an incredible machine,” Perusset said. “If you take care of it and give it proper nutrition, you can achieve many, many things, you know?”

Perusset is a self-professed slow runner, taking over six hours to complete most marathons. It isn’t about breaking any speed records, but rather a love for the environment, the community and a pair of bare feet against the open road.

“The reason I do what I do is I want to inspire people to have a healthier, more active lifestyle,” he said.

After hitting that landmark 100th race at the Great Wall, Perusset’s next mountain to climb is a literal mountain: he plans to compete in the Mount Everest Marathon. The same company hosts races in Antarctica and at Kilimanjaro. Perusset plans to compete in a marathon on all seven continents, and also in all 50 states in the U.S. His last goal is to compete in all six of the marathon running “majors:” Boston, Chicago, New York, London, Berlin and Tokyo.

“I didn’t do any of them yet, but that’s my plan,” Perusset said.

In the meantime, he’ll be running locally. He just recently completed his 137th overall marathon by finishing the LA Marathon this past April for the 14th time. Perusset competes in local marathons almost once a week, anywhere from Long Beach to San Diego, San Francisco, Los Angeles and his home course: Malibu. 

“It’s a beautiful environment,” he said. “Happy people, healthy people. It’s a good energy.”