Monday, April 22, 2013

Evolution Of A Foot Strike

Although in a sprint to the finish line,
very noticeable heel strike in 2011
I'm in pretty decent shape right now, for me anyway.  And when I start getting fit, I become reeeeeeeally annoying to my wife.  I'll get out the shower ... ya know ... water glistening on my chiseled chest ... slowly dripping off of my rock hard abs...  and I'll offer to her, "You wanna touch this don't cha?" ... or "Got any laundry you need to scrub on my stomach?"  Fortunately she doesn't fight back nausea like many of you right now, but I DO usually get an eye roll or she'll act like she didn't hear me and keep talking.  But she notices ... oh yeah, she notices! Ha.

As far as my running form, I've spent a lot of time and energy over the past two years analyzing and changing it completely too.  And I can honestly say, I think it's never been better.   I was a heel striker.  I had always been a heel striker.  High school sports photos were evidence of this way back before I had any idea what a "foot strike" meant.  It was just natural.

But when I started running, the high volume of miles that were piling up year after year induced a lot of little nagging injuries and I needed to make a change.  I needed to find something that cushioned the blow of thousands of foot steps I was taking each year ... 2,500 miles in 2010, and over 3,000 miles in both 2011 & 2012.

So I did a lot of research on forefoot and midfoot striking. Basically finding out how to hit the ground with the front or middle of my foot first, instead of the heel, with each stride.  And honestly, I thought most of the things I read were flawed theories, and compensatory cobbled-up running styles that were half-baked from injury-prone runners who just couldn't hack it.  I thought it was a passing fad trumped up to sell stupid looking flat running shoes (I'm still not convinced that's not part of it).  And I thought trying to change someone's natural running style was stupid, ineffective, and would only lead to new injuries.  Boy ... was I wrong!

The evolution of a foot strike.  Transitioning from a straight and rigid-legged heel strike on the left,
to a gentler and more cushioned midfoot strike on the right ... this took about 12 months to feel totally comfortable

I began slowly.  Too slowly for my taste in fact.  But with each run, I started trying to make my initial contact with the ground with the front part of my foot, as opposed to my heel.  It felt like I was running on my tip-toes ... and it sucked!  My calves were on fire.  My hip flexors hurt like never before.  I had slowed to a friggin' way slower pace than normal.  My mileage was at an all-time low and I knew there was no way I would be ready for upcoming races.  I wanted to quit and honestly thought about it several times.  But I kept going.

Mile 9 of Rock The Parkway Half-Marathon,
My fastest 1:28:58, but maybe my best race form ever
After quite a bit of time, about 6 months in fact, this crazy new way of running started feeling a little more natural.  I still fought it from time to time, wanting revert back to my old habits.  But I began noticing that my legs felt better than ever and I seemed to be evolving into a stronger runner.

Fast forward to my half-marathon a few weeks ago.  It was probably the overall best race of my life, and also one of the first race I've ran where I maintained the foot strike and pretty good form the entire way.  The picture on the right is at mile 9 of the race.  I was running under 6:30/pace at this point ... which is fast for me ... but I'm still upright, my shoulders are back, my heads up, I'm leaning slightly forward, and I'm striking the ground with my mid foot, not over-striding.  Regarding form, it was about as good as I can get.

Now granted, being in good shape has a lot to do with this. I was only half kidding earlier ... I really am about the best conditioned I've been ... maybe ever.  Which of course helps maintain good form for a longer period in a race.  But more than that, it's the fruit of many hours focusing on form, stride, and efficiency in running.

It's not like I discovered electricity here.  I mean many runners experienced success by modifying their form and improving the little things.  I'll never be a world class runner, but I just finally decided that if I wanted to improve myself, I needed to focus on the form that the world class runners use.  It was a long road, and I'm still working on it everyday.  But for now, I can tell you that I'm evolving into the best runner I can be ... and between you and me, I don't think I'm done yet.
... be great today!


  1. I'm sorry - I couldn't read any of your post after that first paragraph. I was just laughing too hard. Not at your rock hard abs and the water glistening on them. More at the interplay between married couples. Eye rolling is such an effective way of saying something derogatory without having to make the effort of opening up your mouth. And if you get caught out you can just pretend you had a speck of dust in your eye.

  2. I don't have any laundry right now...but you could take out the garbage or clean the toilets.

  3. LOL! After this tendinosis diagnosis, I have concentrated on my foot strike. Recently, I've been jumping rope. I feel it has made me more aware (in a proprioception sort of way) of my foot strike.

  4. Oh dear. I'M rolling my eyes at you, and I've never even met you!!!! hahahahahahaha

  5. High five to Michael! Take out the trash running minion.

    I concur with you Dr. Forestrike. I made the switch too to the front of my foot and although sometimes while I run and feel myself leaning back, I kindly remind myself to lean forward.

  6. What's impressive to me is that I know how long you worked on this and how much effort you put into improvement. Well done!

  7. Michael's comment is too dang funny.

    On your behalf -- GREAT work.


  8. Nice one, Michael!

    Glad to hear the transition to forefoot striking is going well. I keep trying, but it's so frustrating and easy to fall back into bad habits.

  9. I remember when you started and your paces dropped and you were crushed. Look at those paces now! Incredible!

  10. Now I know someone who will be happy to read this..her name starts with J and rhymes with HILL.

    This is impressive. Me I gave up after the pure flow fiasco I am almost sure that was a mistake.....

  11. nice comparision photos, you really did improve. I am trying to work on that too and like to think I am improving.
    btw the whole first part had me laughing pretty hard, sounds just like a man, trying to get some attention


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