Posted by: runsinthefamily | May 27, 2010

Running form: Heels vs. Forefoot, and more

I’ve been doing a lot of reading this week on how to improve  running form.  One of my favorite bloggers (GIM) started posting on how she is working to improve her form, and that started me thinking about my own.  Plus the whole barefoot running/ Vibram Five-Finger/Forefoot vs. heel running trend that has been popping up all over lately, has kick-started the topic in my mind.  (disclaimer:  I have not read Born to Run yet, it is on my summer reading list, never fear! )

Like GIM , my legs come down straight.  She has posted an awesome video on her blog that shows a runner both before and after having been coached on her stride.  Seeing this has really brought home for me the fact that I need to improve my stride!  And, what’s more, if this runner was able to improve so much in just 2 weeks ( albeit with hands on coaching) I should be able to improve also.

Notice how the woman in the right video (after coaching) looks more “bouncy”.  Her legs kick up higher behind her, her foot comes down just about parallel to the ground, rather than up and out.  She is not heel striking ( the up and out) but rather running on her midfoot.  I have never been able to tell if I heel strike, I just assume I do.  I know it “feels” like I am just quickly on my heel, which is probably why I have such a hard time figuring out the correct clues to tell my body to change.

One “clue” GIM talks about on her blog is to think about striking your foot behind you.  ( see her post on Pawback:  A Lightbulb Moment).  This makes sense to me – I tried it on a quick run this week ( trying to keep up with Coach E and the girls – their easy pace is my tempo pace!) and I did feel quicker and lighter.  I will have to ask them to watch me sometime, to see if it just “feels” that way, or if it really looks different.  It does take a lot of concentration to keep the change going – I would quickly slip back to my usual stride if I wasn’t careful.  Edited to say – tried it again this afternoon, and it seems to work, but I think I overdid it a bit, because now my PF foot feels tired and sore.  Good thing tomorrow is the Regional track meet – I will take the day off !

The other clue that GIM talks about is “pawback”.  I need help with this one – I think I get it, but I don’t know how to put it to work for me.  So if anyone has any ideas or a different way to explain it, let me know, because I have a feeling I really don’t understand it after all.

The interesting thing is that tonight I have seen posts to the Ultralist about an epidemic of foot injuries relating to barefoot running, as pointed out in this article:
.  I’ve also been looking at a post on The Science of Sport blog, which provides an interesting counter point to the forefoot vs. heel strike argument, although if you read the comments, the scientists agree that overstriding (basically your foot coming down in front of your body, instead of under it) is counterproductive to running fast ( almost like putting on the brakes.)

The traditional way to work on improving running stride is to do drills.  Every coach I’ve ever known has used drills, but I’m beginning to wonder how much it helps!  I did find this video by Pete Magill, on the Running Times website.  ( by the way, it looks like Running Times is coming out with web exclusives.  RT is hands down my favorite running mag, so this is definitely worth checking out).   The interesting idea in his video – besides a couple of drills I haven’t seen before – is he advocates doing a stride out after each drill, to “hardwire” the technique into your brain/body/legs.  I have not done that – I have always just done one drill after the other.  It will be interesting to see what Coach E and the other coaches I know think about this.

I’ve also discovered a great new blog by a former Second sole runner who has since moved to New York!  The thing I love about Shelby’s blog is all her food recipes.  Awesome.  I don’t know if she remembers me from the Second Sole track workouts long ago, Coach E was the coach then, ( and hey, even back then he told me I was overstriding. Go figure.)  and I was always trying to keep up with her on the track.

Another awesome website/blog I found today is about women Olympic trial hopefuls.  This awesome website has a profile on Jaymee Marty ( see her blog, Runaway Fast Jaymee, on the right) and is authored by Julie of Races Like a Girl , also on the blogroll at the right.  Check them out.


  1. You got me all blushy, girl! Thanks for the shoutout and I’m really glad it’s got you thinking about how to apply this yourself.

    About pawback (or my use of it which I think in retrospect was a bit off…I think it actually refers to the time in the air before contact, so forget about it as a term) instead notice how long your foot sticks to the pavement before picking up again, that ground contact time was what I was calling pawback. Overstriding makes that contact perceptibly longer compared to when you strike farther back. So basically, just think of spending less time on the pavement per step, that “running on hot coals” feeling I described. Hope that helps!

    • Thanks Flo! That makes more sense to me – and I’ve heard the running on hot coals – or quick steps – idea before. I was thinking it meant the foot was “pawing” at the ground – ( ok, that doesn’t sound right, but rubbing on the ground maybe?) I’ve always linked the quick step idea with the 180 strides per minute, so I’ll have to try it with this instead. I did notice today that even though I was thinking of striking behind me, I was really almost falling forward, which is sort of the Pose theory, right? I read through that book too long ago, and never quite figured out how to make it work.

      • I’ve heard pawing described 2 ways and the way you were thinking of it was the one I was using, it feels very much to me like a dog pawing the ground when I notice the overstride and the long time pulling through (the alternate definition has to do with pawing the air before the foot comes down). I should have titled the blog post was “Not Pawing” because that was my lightbulb, to stop being a dog. 🙂

        Good point about the 180bpm being the “hot coals”. It’s all connected! Taking faster steps means smaller steps means less overstriding so cadence goes hand-in-hand.

        I could see that you’d get that feeling of falling forward. That’s a Chi Running thing, too.

      • Chi Running – that’s what I meant! That was the book I read, not Pose. I didn’t get it at the time, but I’m thinking I should take a look again – it’s starting to make more sense now. Thanks!

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