You were born to run, but you weren't born to heel-strike. Do you land on your heels? If you do, then we'll bet that you're wearing a running shoe that has a big, fat chunk of cushion under the heel. This cushion prevents the bone jarring shock-waves of your pavement-pounding from rippling up through your heel to your knees and spine correct? WRONG.
Patrick: Believe me I know.
As a wild teenager, driving fast cars and motorcycles, I thought I was invincible… until I wasn't. A horrific accident in which I met a truck head-on with my motorcycle left me and my bike a crumpled mess. Shattered left knee, compound fracture of my right fibula and tibia, and a cracked vertebrae in my lower back forced me to find a healthier outlet for my youthful energy.
So after 12 months of rehab, I got back in the saddle - but instead of it being on top of a motorcycle, it was on top of a shiny new Trek bicycle! Soon I started cycling competitively and I absolutely loved it. However, after a few years, I wanted to take on a new challenge: triathlons. I knew with my former injuries, that it would NOT be easy. So I went out to the store and dropped a fat wad on the best running shoe I could find. I didn't get a half mile before my knee, ankle and back were screaming… I didn't know it at the time, but that great running shoe was forcing me to heel-strike.
Being the stubborn Taurus that I am, instead of giving up, I joined a local triathlon group - Go Team Z! - and was able to tap into the collective knowledge of this awesome community led by Ed Zerkle. I learned that the traditional running shoe was preventing me from utilizing my body's natural shock-absorbing abilities. I worked with Ken Mierke, @KenMierke & www.evolutionrunning.com - an awesome running coach - to not only correct my running form but also get into shoes that promote landing on my forefoot. I have since competed in a half dozen 70.3 Ironman's and have a goal to compete in a 140.6 Ironman before the age of 50!
Ken taught me that when I landed on my forefoot, the metatarsals (the bones leading to your toes) are activated to provide shock absorption. The fat-heeled shoe I chose not only prevented me from landing on my forefoot, but it also prevented me from having natural toe-splay to enhance the shock absorption. In a nutshell… I learned that no matter how much cushion is stuffed in your heels, it cannot come close to the human body's natural mechanisms for shock-absorption - in fact, it will just jack up your running form and make your feet weak.
If you're heel-striking when you run, you have to stop. You are absolutely doing your body more harm than good. Make running fun again by following these steps:
- Start by performing feet and calf strengthening exercises - you'll feel silly, but do not skip this step!
- Next, get a pair of zero-drop shoes - these shoes have no difference between the height of the heel and the toe
- Finally, gradually work on fixing your running form while in your zero-drop shoes
It will be a slow transition, but it's worth it, and your body will thank you for it - especially when you're a "advanced-age" runner (like me). Word of caution: do NOT expect to make the transition overnight!
In follow-up posts, we'll cover steps 2 & 3. But for now, let's focus on strengthening our feet. It's not complicated - walk barefoot. Yep, walking barefoot re-engages all the tiny muscles in your feet that have gone dormant from years of walking/running in higher heeled shoes.
Our challenge to you is to go barefoot (as much as possible) every Sunday for the next four weeks. We know it's winter, but let's make this a habit now and we won't think twice about walking around barefoot while we're doing yard work and other outdoor stuff this spring. We'll be wearing our Vibram Five Fingers while we're out and about today.
While you're walking barefoot around the house today, sneak in some foot strengthening exercises whenever you can - walking up the stairs, doing chores, or relaxing on the couch.
A good place to start for some ideas on exercises:
Hope this helps! Please comment on this post if you have any questions or need recommendations on running form or shoes that promote it.
Keep on Running!
Julia, Patrick & Jo-Jo
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