Chris McDougall at Dr. Mark's Cucuzzella’s free barefoot running clinic last May in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Photo by

The timing is perfect. And intentional. The New York City marathon is taking place this weekend. And in the New York Times Sunday magazine, Chris McDougall has written a wonderful article on natural, injury-free running with this rather emphatic headline: “The Once and Future Way to Run.” It’s available online here. It begins with an anecdote about Peter Larson aka Runblogger:

When you’re stalking barefoot runners, camouflage helps. “Some of them get kind of prancy when they notice you filming,” Peter Larson says. “They put on this notion of what they think barefoot running should be. It looks weird.” Larson, an evolutionary biologist at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire who has been on the barefoot beat for two years now, is also a stickler about his timing. “You don’t want to catch them too early in a run, when they’re cold, or too late, when they’re tired.”

If everything comes together just right, you’ll be exactly where Larson was one Sunday morning in September: peeking out from behind a tree on Governors Island in New York Harbor, his digital video camera nearly invisible on an ankle-high tripod, as the Second Annual New York City Barefoot Run got under way about a quarter-mile up the road. Hundreds of runners — men and women, young and old, athletic and not so much so, natives from 11 different countries — came pattering down the asphalt straight toward his viewfinder.

About half of them were actually barefoot. The rest wore Vibram FiveFingers — a rubber foot glove with no heel cushion or arch support — or Spartacus-style sandals, or other superlight “minimalist” running shoes. Larson surreptitiously recorded them all, wondering how many (if any) had what he was looking for: the lost secret of perfect running.

McDougall then goes onto explain how humans went from being “the greatest endurance runners” to limping, injury-prone weekend warriors.  Somehow we lost the ability to use our legs as natural springs or shock absorbers; instead we pampered our feet and legs in thickly cushioned running shoes that only ended up injuring that we felt needed protecting. Of course, this phenomenon is of recent vintage, created in large part by the running boom of the early 1980s, when footwear companies  began to engage in an escalating battle of who could make the biggest, baddest shoe. It was the footwear version of the arms race. Instead of ICBMs, it was monster-heel crash pads.

But all that is changing. And the catalyst was McDougall himself who learned how to run in Mexico’s Copper Canyon. “After getting rid of my cushioned shoes and adopting the Tarahumaras’ whisper-soft stride, I was able to join them for a 50-mile race through the canyons. I haven’t lost a day of running to injury since.”

He then writes that while “barefoot-style” shoes are now a $1.7 billion industry,”it’s not always the footwear that makes a profound impact on whether a runner gets injured.”It’s about form. Learn to run gently, and you can wear anything. Fail to do so, and no shoe — or lack of shoe — will make a difference.”

Later in the article, McDougall brings up the name Mark Cucuzzella, who as readers of this website know is the Natural Running Center’s co-founder and executive director. Mark also owns a shoe store, and not just any run-of-the-mill running store.  McDougall writes, “Two Rivers Treads {is} a “natural” shoe store sandwiched between Maria’s Taqueria and German Street Coffee & Candlery in Shepherdstown, W.Va., which, against all odds, Cucuzzella has turned into possibly the country’s top learning center for the reinvention of running.”

McDougall visited Mark and the store twice and the article explains what he found out about barefoot running in this small town. I won’t spoil the fun and tell you here because the New York Times piece is worth reading in its entirety. But I will end matters with this quote by Pete Larson from the article: “{Mark}  has turned a small town in an obese state into a running-crazed bastion of health.{His} effort in transforming Shepherdstown is a testament to what a single person can accomplish.” — Bill Katovsky

Final note: The new online Two Rivers Treads store launched today. Go here. Timing is everything!