31/1/10 – Running to the limits & foot striking

I've been a fan of channel 4's coverage of 'fringe' sport early on weekend mornings for some time. This morning I watched an enjoyable documentary called Running to the Limits about a formally obese (now he's not) man who sets out to run a sub 2:20 marathon within two years. It was a pretty interesting look into the lengths high level athletes have to go to when training and inspired me to dig out my running shoes and go for a scoot around the block. It was quite handy as I've been meaning to go out for a few jogs to lay the foundations for some sprint work in the summer.

It also reminded me of an article I had read earlier in the week about the differences in the way your foot strikes the floor if you are wearing heavily engineered running shoes compared to barefoot or minimal shoes. Engineered shoes seem to encourage heel striking (lots of impact, bad for the knee) whereas running barefoot or in minimal shoes encourage forefoot striking (less impact, generally better).

My running shoes are pretty built up with support everywhere and initially it wasn't even easy to work out which bit of my foot was hitting the pavement first, clearly they are designed with heel striking in mind (when I bought them I thought all the cushioning and the fact I couldn't really FEEL the floor with my feet was a good thing, I now disagree). Anyway, after some experimentation with consciously striking with the heel or forefoot it seems I land mostly on my forefoot anyway. I think that is because I'm very aware of damaging my knees so try and land as softly as possible which generally means coming down on the front of the foot as it has more give. Forefoot striking would also explain why it my calves that are always most sore after a run – apparently forefoot striking puts extra strain on your calf muscle as it absorborbs a lot of the impact, acting a bit like a spring I guess.

This has reignited my interest in the whole barefoot/minimal thing. I always go barefoot around the house and don't wear any shoes when I workout out but I am still too scared of freezing cold feet and wearing weird looking shoes to go the whole way. Vibrams have a more shoe looking version coming out soon which are tempting but I think a pair of Nike Free are a more appealing first step for me right now – the wife wouldn't be seen outside with me in shoes with toes.

PS – Everything in the running article makes sense, reflects my experiences running and the different levels of impact I felt when experimenting today. The sceptic in me couldn't help but notice the study was part funded by Vibrams USA though.

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