Monday, May 14, 2012

Stride Overhaul ... Ying & Yang

When I decided to completely change my running stride last year, it wasn't because all the cool kids were doing it - or because minimalist shoes are awesome - or even because "Born To Run" is a really compelling and convincing book.  But rather for three simple reasons ...

1 - Prevent future injury and fatigue to my aging body
2 - Improve speed
3 - Improve endurance

And after about six months of everything from dabbling in the POSE technique to full-court press break down & rebuild, the whole evolution from heel-striker to forefoot/mid foot striker has resulted in mixed reviews.  Plain and simple ... it's been frustrating.   And I'm not completely ready to give it a ringing endorsement or highly recommend it.  But there have been some solid principles that I've taken from it that have made my running better.

1. My legs feel better than they have in 3 years!
Usually by May, I'm praying for warmer weather because winter has left me a little dinged up.  But this year, despite the ongoing minor case of tendinitis that seems to continually plague my right upper hamstring & lower butt - I feel pretty good.  My ankles are stronger and healthier.  My balance is noticeably better.  And I just don't have the overall dull leg ache that typically sets in after long runs.  The more "bouncy", "cushiony" style of the forefoot/mid foot strike has definitely reduced the jarring on my body and improved my overall running health.

2. Hills are easier!
If you're a heel striker, take note of your stride the next time you take on a steep hill.  Your body will naturally lean forward a little more than normal, and your forefoot and mid foot will absorb quite a bit more of the strike.  When you begin training your foot to strike like this all the time, hills naturally become a lot more manageable.  Since I've changed strides, instead of "swinging" my legs through from front to back, I lift them a little more from my butt and hamstrings.  It can be thought of as slightly simulating more of a "running up hill" motion at all times.  Like most runners, I still don't relish the thought of giant hills during a run, but they are definitely more manageable than ever.

3. My overall form is better!
You can learn a lot from a race photo.  And I am the word's biggest race photo cyber-stalker.  I always look up the race photos of folks who win these races or finish ahead of me to try to pick up tips from their form or running style.  And there has always been a huge difference in their running style and mine.  But it's becoming a little more evident in my recent race photos that I'm beginning to look like a "real runner" - like maybe I know what I'm doing.  Most notably, my front landing leg was usually straight & stiff, with toe up, ready for my heel to take 100% of the impact.  But in recent photos, I've noticed that my front leg is slightly bent, absorbing the shock of the strike, and I've been landing more mid foot.  And although I'm bent a little too much at the waist in the two photos on the right, the overall leg position is getting better. (I breathing pretty hard in those photos at about a 6:15/mile pace in both - a little too fast for me and my form was starting to break down a little) I obviously still have a lot to learn, but it's encouraging that I'm seeing results.
Photos on left: Heel striking in previous races with rigid, non-flexible front landing leg with toe up and heel absorbing all of the 
impact of the strike - shoe tread showed wear completely on the heel
Photos on right: Recent race photos with with slightly bent front leg creating more cushioned landing and forefoot/mid foot  

absorbing the impact of the strike - shoe tread shows wear on forefoot & slight mid foot & heel
(the black lines represent the angle of the landing leg, and the relationship to the foot)
1. I'm slower!
Regular readers of this blog know that this fact alone has made me really question the whole change.  I've second guessed this transition over and over and over.  I just feel like I've changed to a completely slower style.  After all, I don't remember ever being passed in a race by a barefoot runner or someone wearing the glove shoes. (It might have happened, I just don't remember it)  I'm too competitive, too concerned with the clock, and frankly too arrogant to run at a slower pace in every race.  I know this will be lost on some people, but if there's a timer and they're tracking where people finish, I'm gonna run it hard.  Sorry - it's just the way I'm wired.  For shorter races it seems like I've built back up some of my speed, but sustaining it has been the issue - which leads to the next point ...

2. I hit the wall!
Over the past couple of years, I felt like I could run for days.  75-85 mile weeks were not at all uncommon.  But since the change, I seem to really get fatigued and hit a wall at about 7 or 8 miles into a run.  Now, I'm not overly concerned with this issue.  I'm sure it won't last forever, and this summer I'll build my mileage again.  But is it frustrating?  Heck yes!  It's most likely because I'm using slightly different muscles than in the past that just aren't as strong as they need to be yet. Plus, when you make this change, you have to start slow.  You can't just jump right in with the same mileage base as you're used to.  You'll flat out kill yourself or severely screw up your legs.  So the reduction in miles during the winter has probably had an effect too.  But to tell you the truth, I'm tired of being tired so early in a run.

3. I don't enjoy running!
This is by far and away the toughest thing to deal with.  Changing to this new style was supposed to be a more efficient & enjoyable way of running - but it has been nothing but flat out work every time I  lace up my shoes.  I frequently dread runs, and I've never done that before.  I think about my stride literally every single step of the way, instead of just relaxing and enjoying it.  And usually by mid-run, I'm ready to be done.  I frequently have the "runner who just changed everything's" version of buyer's remorse.  Most of the time I wish I could change it back.  But I've come this far so I'm just gonna stay with it.  Most of me believes the change was best.  But when I don't meet a personal expectation in a race, or training is simply not enjoyable, a ton of doubts race through my mind - almost daily.

So there it is - an honest evaluation of how the change in running form has gone for me so far.  There have been some really great positives.  But to be truthful, would I recommend it to anyone?  Probably not!  I think it has some great benefits, especially if you're someone who's injured all the time.  But I really just never struggled with serious injury, so changing something that was working relatively well has been frustrating.  I'm in no way an expert in forefoot striking,  and certainly not the POSE technique - so I'm probably doing a lot of the training incorrectly.  But all in all, the whole experience has probably been a little more negative than positive for me.  But hopefully with more work and consistency, I'll turn those negatives into positieves and be back to my old running self in no time.  Hope your running is going well!
... be great today!


  1. That's sad, the "hate" running part. I hope things start looking up of you and your stride.

  2. I will give you credit for sticking with it. I don't know as I would have the patience.

    I also understand the hard-wired's personal and either people get it or they don't.

    Hope you start enjoying running sooner than later....

  3. I tried Chi running once for about a week and I felt just the way you do. I didn't enjoy it, it slowed me down, and it seemed very inefficient. My normal stride doesn't reach much, but I do land on my heel. When I land forefoot I bounce up, wasting vertical motion. I realized that I'd never had a problem running the way I had been so I dropped it and went back to how I felt the best!

  4. Impressive that despite all your analysis you've stuck with the transformation. I've been trying the same thing, but I'm much less strict about it, and thus much less successful with the changes. My race pics for the first half of marathons look great, but the second half pictures I'm right back to driving nails with my heels. I wasn't anywhere near your speed, so I don't notice a big change in pacing or finish times.

    Have you changed your shoe/shoe-type along with the change in form? I'm contemplating a reduced heel-toe drop shoe to maybe help keep me striking correctly, but have concerns about fasciitis based on a nasty bout in the past. Wondering if the shoes help the form, or if the form necessitates a change in the shoes.

  5. Interesting to hear both the ups and the downs of this for you. I have found that it has been transformational for me in terms of fatigue levels to my legs. So much less than before and I love that. I have yet to test my speed out b/c Boston didn't count this year, but I have a 1/2 this weekend. But my sense is that any slowdown in speed is temporary as you adjust--it will come back and I'd guess back better than before.

    Final note--you've made the transition, so now try to not think of it so much when you're out there. It probably comes naturally to you by now. Go get your love back for the run!

  6. I give you credit to for sticking with it even after not enjoying it right now. I think that's what happened to me. I used to just go out and run but with to many injuries I worry to much and I am not enjoying it. I hope things change for you.

  7. I personally would never change my form but I am a mid/forefoot striker naturally so it is easy for me to say that. I just believe you should run as your body naturally does and not force it in any other way. I believe in the long run this is best and will have less injuries as a result.

  8. Hum....lots to say, such little space to say it! :)

    For me, as you know, I had no choice but to change to a mid-foot strike; my PF and AT had me literally unable to walk because I was a severe overstrider. I'm convinced that for runners with high mileage and huge races, like us, heel striking will come to haunt you at one time or another if you keep at it long enough. There is nothing worse than a major setback so adjusting what you can early on to prevent such a fiasco is key. Sure, there is no crystal ball to say you WILL get this or that if you continue to heel strike, but odds are stacked against you if you do.

    I fully get the frustration with the speed and being slower. I think every post I make I'm referencing my pre-feel times and how far from them I am. It doesn't have to do with ego or the likes, it has to do with our internal competitiveness within ourselves; we know what we're capable of achieving and know we're so far off and it plays with our psyche and I think, in turn, is causing you to not enjoy the running anymore.

    The slowness could be a number of factors (including the new foot strike). Is your training at the same intensity as before? Are you doing lots of longer intervals? Long runs at race pace? Etc., etc. I also hate to say this but age can also starting to play a factor here (I know *gasp*). For every year after age x (x is a different variable for each of us) we slow considerably. As we age (hate that word - ha), we have to change our training up and give our bodies more rest. To get the mileage I was used to, I have found it works better for me to up my daily mileage, even doing two-a-days, but give myself an extra day of rest (2 vs. 1). Also doing more bootcamp type classes has helped.

    It's been about a year since I started to change my foot strike, the first 4-5 months were absolutely frustrating, but eventually I got to the point where I don't even think about it anymore, my legs just know what to do and I even tried to do a heel strike recently and just don't know how to do it. I think if you'd just put on the iPod and enjoy the sights around you and don't think about the foot planting, you'll stop obsessing about each step you take and will once again enjoy the run again. Part of the demise could also just be that annual blahs we all tend to get and when you add that to the frustration with your speed, it's making matters worse.

    I don't know, these are just my thoughts as I read....I'm far from the expert here, but I do think removing the heel strike will soon pay off for you. I was so down when I returned to running and saw my crapola times, but slowly I am making some progress and I think you will, too. Heck, look at the marathon you ran recently...there was no wall and you ran a LOT better than you thought without putting in the proper training for it. If you hit the training hard head-on and give it your all, I bet you're going to see vast improvements by the end of the summer. Just my 2 cents. :)

  9. Very interesting Jim and I am glad you shared this. I quite frankly haven't ever put too much thought into how I land. The less my brain has to work while running the better. haha That said I think if you keep the "bigger picture" in mind this is probably for the best. I realize how hard it is to see that now but just keep working hard and things will start to click.

  10. I think you will get to a point where you don't even think about it. Until then, keep it up - and you may be slower but you're still much faster than most of us. I used to think I was a mid foot striker but the pictures of races show otherwise. I think I am at first then I get tired and go back to heel striking.

  11. this is very interesting. I had mild PF and mama Jill came to my rescue and suggested changing my form. I tried and I still try. I tried the Pure Flow shoes and that was a disaster so for the shoes I went back to my Ravenna (guidance shoes). I do think about my landing at every step and it drives me nuts. I am slower. that drives me nuts also. I have been really bad at landing mid foot during races until the end and I have the race pics to remind me of it. I try to have my stride shorter during training and that does help. I think my PF problems came with wearing the wrong shoes and now I found some that are OK. For now.

  12. This made me very sad :-( I don't like hearing you say you are not in love with running right now. I hope Jill is right and you just need to give it a little more time and the love will return and you won't be thinking about every single step you take!

  13. Wow, I'm really sorry that you have started to dread your runs. That just doesn't seem right to me. I would just try to forget about your stride and just run so that it is enjoyable to you. You are "Mr Running" to me, so it is just weird that you have started to dread running.

    I don't have a huge understanding of heel vs midfoot striking, but my basic understanding is that heel striking is caused a lot of the time by wearing higher heel height shoes. By wearing lower heel shoes (Newtons, Brooks Pure Flow, Brooks Pure Connect, etc) - it forces your body to land with a midfoot strike because it feels natural this way. Trying to midfoot strike in a regular heel height shoe seems like a recipe for injury. The only other midfoot running thing I try to concentrate on is having a higher turnover to prevent over-striding. Maybe I'm keeping it too basic, but that is the main things I think about when running.

    That's why I eventually want to buy a Newton shoe, so my stride will hopefully naturally become more midfoot because it will feel natural.

    Awesome that you have Cespedes on your fantasy team, that guy is a monster! I'm in a homerun derby league, and I have him on my team too. Unfortunately I don't have Hamilton or Kemp though, haha. I do have Hosmer of the Royals though, hopefully he has a good year.

    Anyways, I hope you do whatever it takes to make running fun again, because if something isn't fun (besides your job), then it isn't worth doing.

  14. The pictures really show the changes. You look lighter when you're hitting the ground mid-foot. It's fascinating reading about what you're doing and seeing the evolution.

  15. Hey Jim--I loved this honest analysis of the pros and cons of trying to change something as personal to you as the way you run. It's refreshing to read something on this topic that's more like science and less like religion. It sounds to me like you've done a good job with the transformation (the lack of leg ache speaks well of the decision) and that as others have said you can start to let go of thinking about it so much now--and just run!

  16. I've been trying this during my runs. It's hard physically and mentally. Yes, you do get tired sooner and it feels like I am constantly thinking about how my feet land.

    I give you props for sticking with it.

  17. Maybe it's the black shirt throwing everything off balance ;-D

    Seriously though....either way, you are one bada$$ speed demon no matter how you are striking! I may have thrown a little party in the Ragnar van for going sub-10 on one are speedy Dude.

  18. I can only imagine how you run if you are 'hating' it at the moment. I've gone through times when running has felt like a chore, but i've never hated it. I hope that the feeling passes soon.

  19. This is a post I did about a Newton presentation that I went to, I would be curious if you had any feedback on it on how it relates to Chi Running.

  20. I switched to Chi running after numerous injuries. The injuries are gone. The times are better. The distances are longer. The most beneficial part is learning how to relax. Of course, I was slow when I started, so I really didn't have a whole lot to lose.

    I understand the obsessing over form aspect, but as long as you progress slowly through the changes, it's not as annoying.

    If you don't enjoy running, do something else.

  21. I hope you start loving it again soon!!!

  22. thanks for the honest insight... I'm kinda in the same conundrum.... I'm just going to try running very short distances for a while... I look forward to hearing more about your progress.


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