"Why are you running in flip flops?" is a comment that Nelson man Mike Moreu is used to hearing as he hurtles through the Maitai Valley, up Fringed Hill, or along the Dun Mountain range.
A converted cross-country runner, it is a rare thing for Mr Moreu not to hit one of Nelson trails every day of the week, wearing a unique pair of Tarahumara Huarache running sandals that he has made himself.
Made up of a thin polyurethane Birkenstock base with a flat suede layer between the foot and the sole, the sandals are intricately attached to the foot and ankle through a 1cm-wide, 1.5m-long leather strap that wraps through three holes on the sole before securely wrapping around the ankle.
In time, the leather moulds to fit the shape of the wearer's foot.
The strapping technique that Mike uses is a traditional method developed by the Mexican Tarahumara Native American tribe, a method that Mr Moreu swears by, describing it as "elegant and durable".
Mr Moreu's two-year transformation from wearing "overly-padded" commercial trainers that were giving his feet grief to becoming a barefoot runner started with reading Christopher McDougall's 2009 bestselling book Born to Run.
"Training for marathons, I used to lose toenails and get blisters all over, but now my feet are completely unscathed, plus there is no chafing."
Born to Run profiles modern-day endurance athletes, historic barefoot runners in Central America, and what it says is the technically flawed evolution of running. It says that human beings are using the wrong technique by running in thick-soled shoes, which do more harm than good.
Barefoot running -also known as natural running - covers the practices of running in thin-soled shoes or "minimal" shoes, or no shoes at all.
It encourages what is referred to as a forefoot strike, where the balls of one's feet hit the ground first, not the heel.
Its devotees claim the method reduces injuries, allows them to train for longer and harder, and makes them enjoy running again.
"A year and a half ago I never thought that I would run again as I was having such bad pains across the top of my feet," Mr Moreu says.
He describes Born to Run as a "launchpad" for his running and after finishing it he wanted to throw away all his running shoes.
"Naturally, your foot is a beautiful arch, your muscles and bones are designed to absorb impact."
Nelson-based personal trainer and endurance coach Nigel Burgess has recommended the barefoot running method to numerous clients, all of them having only positive experiences, describing the technique as feeling "light and natural".
Mr Moreu started running in his youth and ran long distance competitively for 20 years. His personal bests are impressive, with a half marathon time just over one hour and a personal best marathon time of 2 hours, 21 minutes. "After I stopped running competitively and approached middle age, I started to get a few niggles, but I refused to resign myself to a decrepit state."
To date he has seen only one other runner running in shoes like his. But that hasn't stopped him making six pairs for himself and his family.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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