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Go Bananas and Buy Your Runner Some Monkey Shoes in Huntington Village

By Rosey Mulderrig

Does YOUR family ridicule your shoes?  Do they ask if you have prehensile toes?  More importantly, are you an injury-prone runner?  For the past several months I’ve been running in a shoe without any support that was originally designed for rafting and other water sports.   People who notice my feet are constantly asking me about these odd-looking shoes and even stopping me mid-run (we runners LOVE that).

I’ve been a runner for about twenty years and have been fortunate enough not to have many injuries until last year.  I ran through my pregnancies all the way up until the day I gave birth.  During my last pregnancy I developed a pain running down the front of my right shin. I ran while I was in early labor and that afternoon after I had my baby my leg kept me up all night. I finally checked out my leg after I tried a few more runs where the pain caused me to stop.  The orthopedist told me that I had developed a six-inch stress fracture along my tibia and had to lay off running for two months. I was about as pleasant to be around for these two months as someone who just snorted up a spoonful of wasabi while a two year old screamed “MOM!” over and over again into my ear.  Needless to say, I needed my run.

For the following year I had to back off on my mileage and try to incorporate other forms of exercise. One of my brothers gave me the book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall and it transformed my running.  McDougall’s book hit home with me.  He says, “We treat running in the modern world the same way we treat childbirth – it’s going to hurt, and requires special exercises and equipment, and the best you can hope for is to get it over with quickly with minimal damage”.  Well, after my first child I knew that what my OBs had been feeding me was a load of road apples so I did some research, had a few babies in a tub in my living room and I decided that it’s good to question authority.  MacDougall sounded like a kindred soul, we are born to run and have babies and it shouldn’t be miserable to do what you were born to do. The book is awesome; anyone who is interested in running or walking should read it.

McDougal learns to run injury-free by emulating the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico’s Copper Canyon, who are some of the greatest endurance runners in the world today.  There is nary a running store in sight yet, the Tarahumara are hardly ever injured and will run fifty miles for the sheer joy of it. They run in flat homemade sandals put together out of a strip of rubber from old tires. Ninety year-olds will cover seventy-five miles along side a fifty-year old. MacDougal explains that barefoot running is the best for humans because it strengthens our feet and develops all of the muscles in the feet and lower legs that tend to atrophy due to the over-support of running shoes.  He presents statistics that show an increase in running injuries coinciding with the running shoe boom begun by Nike in the sixties.  Nike has actually apologized for promoting and selling shoes that had such negative impact on runner’s bodies. Their product line now revolves around shoes that provide less support.

I took a leap of faith and tried running barefoot but my feet were just a little too tender so I purchased the shoe that is closest to barefoot: Vibram Five Fingers.  They are like toe socks with a thin strip of rubber on the bottom.   They kind of make you look like you have monkey feet. You feel every stone and acorn, so you have to pay attention. In the beginning, I ran my regular mileage and had some pain in the tops of my feet so I backed off and tried a more gradual approach. I would run a mile and then switch into my Sauconys for the remainder.  Gradually I increased the time in my Five Fingers and now I never use my old-style running shoes.

The most interesting phenomenon I noticed after the switch (besides my children’s new aversion to being out in public with me and my monkey feet) is that my gastrocnemius muscles (calf muscles) were extremely tight after only three miles.  Obviously these muscles were working much harder when I ran nearly barefoot than when I was wearing running shoes.  This squares with MacDougal’s premise that running barefoot strengthens muscles in your feet and lower legs.  The other thing that happened is that my stride has changed.  As MacDougal points out in his book, your body automatically corrects itself as your foot flexes and rebounds off of the ground. Running now feels lighter and visions of my Hibernian ancestors flying over the hills of Ireland flash in my mind. The shoes feel especially great running off-road in places like Caumsett State Park but I spend plenty of time happily cruising over the paved hills of Long Island’s North Shore too.

As for a fashion statement, well I gave up on that long ago. I just had to let it go when I started appearing in King Kullen with a baseball cap on my rat’s nest and that ever-present pile of baby spit-up on my shoulder. Even if you are fortunate to have a little more time to groom yourself consider Sergey Brin’s recent fashion statement:

If you love a runner or walker, head down to Helisport at 308 New York Avenue in Huntington Village and pick up pair of Five Fingers. Ask for the socks that go with them for extra warmth and comfort (it is December, after all).  Then, cross the street and grab a copy of Christopher MacDougal’s book Born to Run and a cup of tea at Book Revue at 300 New York Avenue.

Run free my monkey footed friends!

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