I met Alberto Perusset while doing the photography for the Athens Authentic Marathon in 2019. Very personable and mild-mannered, he did most of his talking with a calming, reassuring smile and friendly eyes. Leading up to race day, we would cross paths in the hotel. I’d notice Alberto always in running gear, often in beast mode and keeping mostly to himself as he prepared for the big day. As a runner myself, I knew to disengage, understanding the importance of uninterrupted physical, mental and emotional preparedness one needs for such a race. Little did I know that for Alberto, there was an added twist to his equation of success. The Athens Authentic would be his 200th marathon... barefoot!
Argentinian-born, 63-year-old Alberto has been a resident of Malibu, California for over 30 years. Arguably the most interesting man in the world, he is a professional scuba diver, skydiver, pilot and co-founder of the Malibu Half Marathon and 5K. He ran his first marathon in 2004 and has since trained his mind, body and spirit to run marathons seemingly at the drop of a hat, completing 250 full marathons by 2020, 211 of which he’s run barefoot. If you’re doing the math, that’s nearly 17 runs per year, every year for 15 years between the ages of 47 and 62, of which 84.4 per cent were run with just the soles of his feet.
“The problem with shoes is that people run on their heels, causing knee and hip problems,” says Alberto. He adds, “by running barefoot, one learns to run with the centre of the feet for better protection.” Indeed, the world record holder for most marathons run barefoot would know a thing or two about mastering technique, which he credits for keeping him injury and relatively pain free over the years.
“We were born barefoot. Have you ever seen a baby born with Nikes?” says Alberto, who believes that grounding yourself with your soles does wonders for both body and soul. “If you have access to grass, even a little space, walk barefoot on it every day for a few minutes. Your energy channels will open and will allow for inflammation in the body to drop.”
Photo by Jim Bamboulis
For Alberto, the importance of being conscious and in the moment, combined with gratitude, meditation and proper diet are essential to optimal life balance. Having spent his childhood on a family ranch in Argentina, he witnessed firsthand the detrimental effects a high red meat diet had on several members of his family, including both his grandfather and father, who died of heart attacks at 42 and 53 years old respectfully. After moving to California, he became a vegan before many had even heard of the term, and replaced meat with quinoa and tofu, which he credits to his running accomplishments. After all, “if you want to be strong like a bull, don’t eat the bull, eat what the bull eats.”
Although he pushes his personal limits with every race he runs, Alberto is a passionate believer in listening to his body when it demands to be listened to. Pain is part of the process, but resting is integral for both short term training runs and long-term race finishes. He doesn’t run 20 miles a day; instead, he opts to maintain a schedule of moderate runs during the week with time for recovery. On marathon days, he doesn’t concern himself with how long it takes him to cross the finish line, focusing instead on finishing happy and healthy. “We could apply this to life too,” says Alberto who recalls his toughest barefoot marathon to date, number 100, at the Great Wall of China where he finished in more than nine hours in 100-degree heat.
Photo by Jim Bamboulis
Mind over matter is central for Alberto, who believes age is no obstacle. An inspiration for the next generation of runners, his plans include running a marathon in each of the 50 states, every continent and the six majors, including New York, Boston and Tokyo. He also aims to climb the seven tallest summits on Earth. It appears at age 63, “Barefoot Alberto” is only getting started.