How many runners who think they don’t heel strike actually do?

In the context of a previous post on foot strike pattern in a marathon…

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.

…there was an intriguing presentation at the International Running Symposium by Martin Shorten last month. This meeting was to celebrate the retirement of Beno Nigg and featured a who’s who when it came to running research. I did a live blog from the event here and Blaise Dubois commented on the mtg here.

Martin covered several topics, but here are some snippets that I found interesting:

  • In an online survey via Runners World that got 2,169,282 responses, the self reported foot strike was 15.7% forefoot strikers; 40.9% heel strikers; 43.4% midfoot strikers
  • BUT; observed in slow motion videos of 11000 runners at the 2013 Boston Marathon: 95.6% heel strikers; 2.4% midfoot strikers; 2.1% forefoot strikers
  • BUT, in the lab: of 17 runners that said they were heel strikers, only 14 really were; of the 20 that said they were midfoot strikers, not one them actually really were; of the 7 that said they were forefoot strikers, only 2 of them really were; ie 93% of those who said they were non-heel strikers were actually heel strikers

Conclusion: runners are pretty poor at self identifying their own foot strike pattern. We know from a previous study that only about 50% of runners got it right when identifying their own arch type.

Also of interest was that Martin has proposed a new gait that has not previously been described or documented in the literature based on his observation of Boston marathon. He called this “Grounded Running”. It’s a gait that is at a speed almost immediately above the walk/run transition and there is NO flight phase (which is part of the definition of typical “running”); it is more of a bouncy gait; it is a gait used by slower runners; it is possibly a more economical gait solution at the walk-run transition speed.

As always, I go where the evidence takes me until convinced otherwise…..and, of course, this is all based on the premise that foot strike pattern is actually even important.

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4 Responses to How many runners who think they don’t heel strike actually do?

  1. Kyle Kranz September 1, 2014 at 7:12 pm #

    Grounded Running = Glorified Walking.

    Certainly difficult to not heel strike at that speed.

  2. Kevin A. Kirby, DPM September 5, 2014 at 4:28 pm #

    The funny thing is, Craig, if over 90% of runners were midfoot and forefoot strikers, then the people that make their money off of telling runners they are running wrong (i.e. Pose, Chi, Alexander) would need to base their business on making everyone become a heel striker, not base their business on making heel striking runners (now 90+% of runners) become midfoot and forefoot strikers.

    If this were the case, in other words, if over 90% of runners were midfoot and forefoot strikers, then I would bet that many more of those midfoot striking runners would guess they were heel-striking runners since they could then claim “they were running correctly”, instead of the heel-striking runners guessing they were midfoot strikers, which is currently the case.

    Only the most objective runners truly know their own footstrike pattern. The rest are always swayed by what the running shoe salespeople, running coaches and their running buddies all tell them.

    Cheers,

    Kevin

  3. emmbee September 7, 2014 at 3:21 pm #

    I joked a while back that it was really curious that 90% of runners heel strike, but on the Internet, everyone is a midfoot or forefoot striker. You know, because heel striking is bad, right?

    But I wonder if this is a matter of differing definitions. One study I read defined heel striking as initial contact anywhere on the back third of the shoe, which strikes me as different than the layman’s definition of feel-striking as incorporating the toes-sky-high stance.

    • Kevin A. Kirby, DPM September 8, 2014 at 2:53 am #

      Here is an excerpt from an audio lecture on running footstrike patterns I just completed:

      “To answer the question of what defines a rearfoot, midfoot and forefoot strike pattern, we must go back 34 years, to 1980, to find the first modern scientific study on footstrike patterns in running. This study, published by Peter Cavanagh and Mario Lafortune of the Penn State Biomechanics Lab, took 17 experienced runners, running at a velocity of 4.5 m/sec, or a 5:58 mile pace, and had these athletes run over a force plate in their preferred footstrike pattern. The anterior-posterior length of the shoe sole was then divided into equal thirds with those runners who first contacted the ground with the proximal third, or 33%, of the shoe being labelled as rearfoot strikers, those contacting in the middle third being midfoot strikers and those contacting in the distal third of the shoe sole being forefoot strikers. Cavanagh and Lafortune found that 12 of the 17 study participants were rearfoot strikers and five were midfoot strikers, with none of the runners being forefoot strikers.
      Seven years later, in 1987, in research conducted by Keith Williams and Peter Cavanagh, the term “strike index” was first used within the scientific literature to describe the percentage of the running shoe sole length, from anterior to posterior, where the runner first contacted the ground at footstrike. The term “strike index” is now standardly used within the running biomechanics literature to describe where, on the shoe sole, footstrike first occurs with a low strike index indicating a rearfoot strike pattern and a high strike index indicating a forefoot strike pattern.”

      Hope this helps.

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