Foot strike pattern and performance in a marathon

This study was recently published. It filmed runners at the 8.1km mark of the 2011 Milwaukee Marathon to determine the foot strike pattern and correlate that to performance. Here is the abstract

Foot-Strike Pattern and Performance in a Marathon
Mark E. Kasmer, Xue-cheng Liu, Kyle G. Roberts, Jason M. Valadao
IJSPP Volume 8, Issue 3, May 2013, 8, 286 – 292
Purpose: To determine prevalence of heel strike in a midsize city marathon, if there is an association between foot-strike classification and race performance, and if there is an association between foot-strike classification and gender.
Methods: Foot-strike classification (forefoot, midfoot, heel, or split strike), gender, and rank (position in race) were recorded at the 8.1-km mark for 2112 runners at the 2011 Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon.
Results: 1991 runners were classified by foot-strike pattern, revealing a heel-strike prevalence of 93.67% (n = 1865). A significant difference between foot-strike classification and performance was found using a Kruskal-Wallis test (P < .0001), with more elite performers being less likely to heel strike. No significant difference between foot-strike classification and gender was found using a Fisher exact test. In addition, subgroup analysis of the 126 non-heel strikers found no significant difference between shoe wear and performance using a Kruskal-Wallis test.
Conclusions: The high prevalence of heel striking observed in this study reflects the foot-strike pattern of most mid-distance to long-distance runners and, more important, may predict their injury profile based on the biomechanics of a heel-strike running pattern. This knowledge can help clinicians appropriately diagnose, manage, and train modifications of injured runners.

Not surprisingly, 94% were heel strikers and there was a statistically significant difference between the foot strike classification and race rank, with the forefoot strikers ranking ahead of the split strikers (asymmetry between left and right) who ranked ahead of the midfoot strikers who ranked ahead of the heel strikers. The 94% is similar to that reported by Larsen et al of 89% heel striking at the 10km mark and 93% at the 32km mark of a marathon. Larsen et al also reported no correlation between foot strike pattern and performance which the above study did find. The authors explanation for this difference was that in the Larsen et al study, the winning time was 2:55:16, compared to the above 2:22:17, so there were more runners running faster. Larsen et al had 266 heel strikers; 10 asymmetrical; 10 midfoot and no forefoot strikers; whereas the above study had 1865 heel strikers; 14 asymmetrical; 101 midfoot and 11 forefoot strikers so is powered more to find a significant difference.

This is a reasonably good descriptive study and that it all. It does not show that if you forefoot or midfoot strike that you will run faster, though I am sure some will find a way to interpret it that way. There are plenty of elite runners who run fast while heel striking (see the picture here).

As always, I go where the evidence takes me.

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5 Responses to Foot strike pattern and performance in a marathon

  1. billy bridle July 17, 2013 at 3:22 am #

    Gday mate

    Has there ever been a study showing the effects of different degress of rfs. It seems rfs just gets bundled together where in realality it could be quite minimal rfs or quite dramatic (over45°?)

    Also has rfs actually been proven to be a “braking” issue affecting performance or is it all here say?

    • Craig Payne July 17, 2013 at 3:30 am #

      No. …. and that is a problem. With ‘heel striking’, there are going to be variations in the ‘touch down’ angle. With ‘non-heel striking’, there is going to be the variation from the ‘light touch’ to the ground of the heel to running way up on the ball of the foot as their initial contact pattern – to add to that, after the non-heel strike initial contact, the heel may or may not drop …. lots of potential variability; no one has looked at it expect from a theoretical perspective.

  2. billy bridle July 17, 2013 at 5:04 am #

    thanks for the response craig

    Your blog certainly has me thinking and questioning a lot of so called “facts” i have been told since taking up running 4 years ago

    • Craig Payne July 17, 2013 at 5:50 am #

      Reminds me of a book I read a while ago: Counterknowledge by Damian Thompson.

      According to Thompson, we are experiencing a pandemic of counterknowledge: that is misinformation packaged to look like fact, but that is demonstrably false. Certainly applies here!

  3. John Aub June 1, 2015 at 3:02 am #

    I have found renewed ability to enjoy running wearing minimalist shoes (specifically Brooks Pure Project shoes). I started running in 8th grade in 1983 wearing traditional running shoes. Over many years of running competitively in high school and college and beyond, I developed metatarsalgia which includes swelling of my forefoot behind the toes. (the cross-foot arch has flattened) For me, a low “drop” alleviates much of the pain I had in the past. I had stopped running for a long period of time due to this. For me it is not the “heel strike” as much as it is the rolling transfer of weight onto the forefoot. I believe I am using the outer surface of the length of my foot more than I used to. Another aspect of the shoes I am using is the rounded heel–which may be just as or more important to how my foot feels when landing and pushing off. I wonder if a rounded heel on a traditional 10mm drop shoe would give me better results than the standard flat heel.

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