I have been borderline obsessed with the ‘correct running form’ for quite some time now. It actually sparks quite a heated debate (I’ve witnessed it) between those that I would consider advanced runners and those who run very little. The argument, of course, is about running posture and, in particular, which part of the foot should strike the ground first. The heel strike, the mid-foot strike or the fore-foot strike.
Having read a lot about this online, there certainly isn’t a definitive answer as to which is better or which is more efficient, which is why it interests me really. Research has been carried out, but it has never proven one over the other. If you take a runner who naturally heel strikes and ask them to land on their mid-foot, their running economy falls through the floor. Similar results are found when asking a mid-foot striker to land on their heel.
I recently read the book The Art of Running Faster which advises that the correct running form can in fact make you run faster. The argument that the author (Julian Goater) makes, is that you would not expect someone to jump into the deep end of a swimming pool, expecting them to be able to swim, so why should someone expect to know how to run correctly just because they know how to walk? Fair argument I would say.
Goater promotes the ‘correct running form’ which seems to be suggested by many other running specific websites and books. This is the practice of landing under your centre of gravity, which naturally puts you on your mid-foot. This allows you to distribute your weight evenly whilst running, as opposed to over-striding with your leg out in front, sending your body weight through the knee joint. As well as this, landing on your mid-foot provides you with the momentum to push off and into your next stride, whereas hitting the ground with your heel “puts the brakes on” as you immediately halt any forward momentum that you have built up. I forget where it was now, but I recently read another well put example that stated you should push rather than pull. The push being pushing off from your mid-foot whereas the pull is pulling yourself forward from the outstretched leg as the heel hits the floor.
Although there seems to be no proof that any of the three styles is better than the other, I do see the sense in the argument for the mid-foot. And if the reading wasn’t enough, just take a look at how the professionals land. None of them land on their heel. Similar can be said of the quicker amateur runners. I take a look around at how the others at my running club land on a Tuesday night and I come away almost embarrassed that I am the only one that heel strikes. That really says it all for me as to how I should be landing when running. Another tell-tale, is how we run without the support of footwear. Take your trainers off and run 100 metres without them. Your heel will not touch the floor at all, and you will automatically assume the advised correct running form. Even try it on a treadmill.
So to changing then, and transitioning from the heel and onto the mid-foot. It is not proving as easy as you would think. First of all, with a mid-foot strike, your calf muscles are being utilised far more than they ever have done, so they can become tender after trying it. So much so in my experience, that I was unable to run for a number of days afterwards. Also, I find that, because I have been heel striking for so long, I get more tired by landing in a different way. This is because it is being forced, rather than the body cycling along doing something in the same natural way that it always has done.
Just over a year ago I began trying to transition from the heel to the ball of my foot, but eventually ended up injured. Although it was never confirmed, I believe I contracted shin splints, which put me out of action for longer than a couple of months. I put this down to worn out trainers and overtraining. Changing the footwear and easing my way back into it got me running well again at the beginning of 2017 and I have barely looked back since. Recently, in the past month or so, I have started trying again to change my running style. The shin splints are back, although not yet as painful as they were last year. This could of course be a coincidence, I have after all been upping my mileage considerably in recent weeks in preparation for the Three Peaks Challenge. I have also been doing so on a fresh pair of trainers, which may not quite have been bedded in before the 15 and 16 milers that I have been running. Hopefully it is a coincidence and, after a couple of lower mileage weeks, I will be pain free and getting back into it in time for September’s Half Marathon.
As for the running style, I am still determined to change it. I think I often try to do too much too soon. Mileage should be ramped up gradually, and any transition in running style should be the same. I must admit, I am not expecting minutes to come off my split times, but I do believe it will make me more efficient and faster in the process. I firmly believe that it will also help prolong my running career, by not putting as much stress on the knee joints.