Over the past three years Running Times has reported on what is known as minimalist running, which is based on the concept that every human, regardless of weight or stature, actually runs a natural stride barefoot (ie. a midfoot strike), then why encourage a sloppy and injury prone style (heel-to-toe)?
Originally I dismissed this. After all, I have been running for over 25 years with the only serious injury being shin splints after competing too hard at age 18. My thinking was that “fixing” what wasn’t broke was an unnecessary risk.
Last October I was home for a family visit, and I went to my local running shop, Dave’s Running Shop, to purchase some need new running shoes. I got into a conversation about minimalist running. At one extreme you have the Vibram Five Fingers, which look like a contraption to me. But I accepted that at the other end you have so much cushioning around your foot that running felt like having pillows underneath your feet — perhaps comfortable but it wouldn’t be the most responsive experience.
I learned about a workshop on Good Form Running, organised by the shop and sponsored by New Balance. I met up with my cousin Chris at Dave’s Running Shop Perrysburg.
According to the instructor, there are “4 Simple Steps to Good Form”:
- Posture (keep arms and shoulders relaxed, avoid arms crossing the body’s centre line)
- Mid-Foot (contact ground midfoot first, run light and avoid pounding)
- Cadence (target = 180 steps/min)
- Lean (lean from ankles without bending at waist, use gravity to generate forward momentum)
For me, the first and fourth steps are true anyway, so no adaptation there.
Changing one’s foot’s point of contact is a big change, and it felt unnatural at first. That is, a mid-foot strike is a style I’m used to doing for shorter races, but to jog this way for an hour?
My original cadence was about 140 steps/min. Attempting 180 was ridiculous; it felt like running in place. I could barely get my wrists past my hips; my stride felt uncomfortably short.
Months on, I still can’t hit 180 steps/min cadence. I max out at about 170 (an improvement of 30 steps/min is not so bad!). Above that, my heart rate and breathing just get too uncontrollable.
A high cadence is useful though. And it’s important to remember that you can run a high cadence at a 12 min/mile as well as a 5 min/mile. The key element is the length of the kick of your trailing leg. Obviously, the longer the kick back the faster you go at any set cadence. But that takes strength and energy, so you don’t get something for nothing. But a higher cadence will encourage a midfoot strike—try reaching a high cadence with a heel-to-toe step!
Here’s one way of looking at Good Form Running. If you look more closely at all the lead runners in any road race, you’ll see them running in Good Form; most everyone after them are running with bad form (heel-to-toe). And I was one who thought, sure, but the lead runners weigh next to nothing. Then I saw my own video (and that of my cousin’s, who is slightly heavier than I) running Good Form, and I realised, damn, why has it taken decades for this knowledge to filter down to us plebes?
Duly convinced, I promptly purchased a pair of New Balance 890 Baddeley. Love them, mainly because of all the minimalist (or transition minimalist) shoes I tried, the Baddeley’s had good midfoot support without any bulk. Amazing how they achieved that, but I was so hooked on them that a few days later I went out and added the trail version, the MR10.
My training and racing splits improved 10-15 seconds/mile via Good Form Running. That is one hell of a satisfactory result. (To think what I may have been able to achieve had this been imparted to me as a young runner!)
And if you are intelligent about it, I am confident that it will keep you less injury prone.
I’m thoroughly converted to Good Form Running. I can’t imagine running the way I used to.
Tips by coach Jeff Taylor
- Run barefoot indoors or outside for 20 metres right before you start your run
- March in place prior to your run with your ankles flexed, landing on the midfoot to help reinforce proper foot strike
- Reset your posture throughout your run and also throughout the day
- Practice one new skill at a time; try cadence first; don’t try to put all the new skills you’ve learned into practice all at once
- Go to http://jogtunes.com [or http://www.cadenceapp.com]to find music to set your cadence to
- Listen to your footsteps and try to reduce the sound of contact with the ground; this will help you run “light”
- Video yourself (maybe on a treadmill) or come back to class; seeing yourself is the best way to learn
- Do strength-building exercises to help keep your feet and therefore your whole body healthy