Natural Running Center Opens in West Virginia

Two Rivers Treads is not your average running store. You probably won’t recognize most of the shoes on the wall, but owner Dr. Mark Cucuzzella insists they will make you a healthier, injury-free runner. He opened the small outpost in downtown Shepherdstown, W.Va., in May as a center for natural running and walking.

Two Rivers only sells shoes that facilitate anatomically correct running form. Cucuzzella is trying to bring people back to basic barefoot biomechanics, so they’re striding the way nature intended.

“Injuries in running are mostly degenerative,” he says. “Just like a car, if you’re not in alignment, you will eventually have a problem.”

The store is a passion project for the veteran marathoner and full-time family practitioner. It’s a first-time experiment in running retail—a store that refuses to carry traditional, well-marketed brands in exchange for lines that allow the foot’s natural mid-foot gait. Research has consistently shown the detriment of relying on thickly padded shoes, which causes most runners to land on their heels. The pounding impact gradually causes weaker muscles and degenerative wear and tear on bones, joints, and ligaments. According to Cucuzzella, who has researched running biomechanics since his own foot woes 10 years ago, it’s why half of all runners experience some kind of injury every year.

“Pushing cushion into your heel throws your foot into dysfunction,” he says.

During the peak of a running career that included a near Olympic-qualifying marathon personal record of 2:24, Cucuzzella was sidelined with debilitating arthritis. He had surgery, which included shaving part of his foot bone and fusing his toes, and was told not to run anymore. Refusing to give up a 30-year obsession, Cucuzzella started researching the foot resiliency of barefoot running cultures. He soon switched to a more efficient mid-foot strike, later incorporated the holistic methods of Danny Dreyer’s ChiRunning, and has been running pain-free ever since.

Barefoot benefits have since infiltrated the mainstream with the best-selling book Born to Run, Chris McDougall’s account of the elite-running Tarahumara in Mexico’s Copper Canyons. Dr. Daniel Lieberman, professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard University, also recently published a study on how footwear negatively affects gait, after extensive research in Africa.

Cucuzzella takes this educational approach to selling shoes. The store abounds with free literature on foot anatomy and running form, and he gutted several shoes as dissection models to intricately explain how soles affect foot strike. He also offers full consultations including gait analysis and the opportunity to wear-test minimal-resistance shoes from small companies like Newton, Terra Plana, and Inov-8 with lengthy runs around town.

Cucuzzella is optimistic about the shift toward natural running shoes, especially since mainstream companies like New Balance and Brooks have minimalist lines coming out.
“In five years this won’t be fringe stuff,” he says. “This is important for the whole fitness movement in general to keep people healthy.”