Monday, October 12, 2009

Some Thoughts on Foot Landing While Running a Half Marathon

While I was running the Staten Island Half Marathon yesterday I found myself continually thinking back to a blog I read the night before posted by NCRunnerDude. It was about barefoot running which seems to be all the rage at the moment. You can't get on the running blogosphere or twittersphere without hearing about who just tried out a new pair of Vibram Five Fingers. I am definitely not ready to jump on the barefoot running bandwagon just yet but as usual I am obsessed with thinking about running biomechanics. The subject of footfall in particular is something that I've been thinking about a lot.

I have been told I am a heel striker. When I was given this diagnosis it was before I knew that was a "bad thing" because I had become a heel striker on purpose. A few years ago I went to a podiatrist who took x-rays of my feet and told me I was putting too much pressure on my forefoot which could eventually cause a bunion as well as my obnoxiously thick calluses. He wanted to fit me with some expensive orthotics which would put more padding on my heels. I said thanks but no thanks. Before I had even heard anyone talk about barefoot running I was already thinking I wanted to be able to run with less padding and not more. So I asked him if I should just try striking more on my heels when I ran. He actually laughed at me and told me you can't consciously change your natural running stride. A year later I am told I am a heel striker by shoe salesman and that I should read ChiRunning to fix my form.

Basically, the problem with heel striking is that it is unnatural to the way we were built to run. It can cause problems because it sets your alignment off. You tend impact the ground ahead of your center of gravity. Also it is essentially putting the breaks on with every step slowing you down and causing that annoying up and down bounce. So I get it, heel striking is only possible because of the padding in our running shoes. The consequences tend to be more long term and chronic. On the other hand too much toe running is painful in a much more immediate way. It causes me way more calluses, blisters and pain in my big toe joint, as well as achilles/calf soreness. Some one recently told me that you "get used to it." I'm sorry but I can tell the difference between exercise soreness and pain and I'm not going to get used to the pain. If that's not the path to injury I don't know what is. Chances are I'm doing something wrong when I'm trying to get "off my heels." So it's something I continue to work with and tweak.

The best tip on this subject that I got from ChiRunning was to practice by running on the sand and analyzing the footprints. It is possible to make a flat footprint while running. This past summer I practiced it barefoot on the beach and tried to memorize the feeling for when wearing shoes on the road. I don't want to take my heels completely out of the equation, I just don't want to impact with them.

I found this description of barefoot running biomechanics by Josh Sutcliffe on NCRunnerDude's blog to be really helpful. Understanding natural running biomechanics can be useful even if you are trying to apply it in shoes. There are a ton of great images and tips in here so I'm sharing it:


southofthecliff said...

Hey Southpaw. How did the half marathon go? I'd hate it if you tripped over something while thinking about running barefoot. I'd feel responsible.

Re barefooting, it's all about the lifting, not the landing.

If you're ever in Williamsburg, and are familiar with BARC (Brooklyn Animal Resource Coalition) on N1st by the river, say hey to Tony and Vinny for me.


southofthecliff said...

Woops - should always look before commenting.

Congrats on a speedy half!

Lady Southpaw said...

Haha Thanks Josh!

Yes, I originally had a concluding paragraph where I said thinking about lifting really helped, but then I deleted because I felt like I was just paraphrasing all the stuff you said in the video ;)

The half was awesome, I felt pretty good until the last mile or so where I had some cramping. Although I think that had more to do with race hydration. I did think about how it was probably dangerous to mess with my form in the middle of a half, but worry not I was only making very gentle adjustments here and there.

I think I've heard of BARC. I'll definitely say hi if I run across any of those guys. Thanks for checking out the blog!

PunkRockRunner said...

I'm wearing the Vibram Five Fingers for walking and on short trail runs and find it interesting that some people are big fans of barefoot running whereas others say it's a big no-no.

Nice post.

Lady Southpaw said...

Yea I guess it's really all about listening to your body and trying to figure out what's right for you. Also it's probably best to transition gradually. I'm thinking about trying a more minimalist shoe and seeing how that goes... not sure which one yet...