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Minimalist Shoe Runners: Stay Off Your Damn Heels!

Posted by on Dec 19, 2011 | 29 Comments

Shelly and I ran the Dallas White Rock Marathon a few weeks ago.  As I often do, I spent most of the time watching others’ running gait.  I saw some people that ran with great form.  I also saw a load of people that had horrid form.  So goes road racing.

One particular brand of bad gait stood out, though.  The vast majority of minimalist shoe runners (approximately 20) I saw were overstriding with a pretty heavy heel strike.  This occurred from about mile 2 until the end of the race.  There were only two that had good form- David, a RW/FB friend I ran with for a few miles and a Japanese dude.

This is significant because minimalist shoes aren’t designed for heel striking.  Most of us agree heel striking is bad enough in traditional foot coffins, but it’s downright stupid in minimalist shoes. The forces created WILL lead to injury.

The worst part- these people running with terrible form will probably blame the shoes when they get injured.

Pete Larson discussed this problem after shooting video of the NYC Barefoot Run this year.  It seems this is a chronic problem.  Unfortunately, most of the people don’t seem to realize they’re heel striking AND overstriding.

I like to think we’re doing a great job educating the public, but it looks like we have a long way to go.

New to barefoot running?  Start here!

How to Start Barefoot Running

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29 Comments

  1. Skye
    December 23, 2011

    I really do wonder how people can heel strike in minimalist shoes; it hurts! I have to consciously remind myself to let my heel *kiss* the ground when I run in my min-shoes…I cannot imagine hitting the ground heel first in them! In fact, once when I was running in my Vibrams, I had to run across the street and accidentally landed on my heel and, boy, did that send a shock wave up my leg!

  2. Barefoot Running University » The Raised Heel Shoe: Could Jessica Rabbit Run a Marathon?
    December 20, 2011

    [...] raised heel can also promote heel striking.  If you attempt to run with a midfoot strike, your foot (inside the shoe) will be parallel with [...]

  3. Kennyo
    December 19, 2011

    This is soo true, I made sure I learned to run properly before picking up my first pair of minimal shoes

  4. Paul Mastin
    December 19, 2011

    I just checked the race results, and I’m positive I passed you at some point, according to our start and finish times, probably sometime in the last few miles. So maybe I need you to come coach my form next time you’re in D/FW. I’ll tell you this: my heels don’t hurt! (Although I did get a pretty nasty bruise on my midfoot when I landed hard on a rock at a trail 50K 3 weeks before WR.)

    • Jason
      December 19, 2011

      If your heels don’t hurt, you’re probably okay Paul. If you passed me near the end, I was probably too busy cursing my wife for signing me up for a road marathon to notice. :-)

  5. Paul Mastin
    December 19, 2011

    OK, now you’ve got me paranoid! I’ve been running in VFFs for a while. This was my 3rd White Rock in VFFs. I’ve also run a number of trail races in VFFs, the longest being a 50M. I know I don’t have the best form, but now I wonder if you saw me in Dallas! I think I’m a mid-foot striker; I just can’t run with heels not hitting the ground at all.

    • Jason
      December 19, 2011

      The heels should hit the ground, but ideally after the ball of the foot touches. The real problem stems from overstriding- the foot hitting the ground well in front of your body. A good test- run through a mud puddle and watch where most of the water splashes. If most splashes forward, you’re probably heel striking. If it splashes all around the foot, you’re probably okay.

  6. Alex
    December 19, 2011

    This is why I’m less dogmatic about form and shoe choice during a race. When training, I want to enjoy myself, build fitness, and feel good the next day. When racing, I want to win. And at any appreciable distance, I’ve found that easier in slightly more substantial shoes (racing flats vs. barefoot/barefoot simulators). They allow my form to get sloppy, and probably “less efficient”. But they also allow me to run faster.

    • Jason
      December 19, 2011

      The price of sloppy form is increased risk of injury. In some race situations, I agree it’s an acceptable risk. ;-)

      • Alex
        December 19, 2011

        I don’t disagree. I frequently feel like crap the next day, if not sooner. And this strategy cost me in my first attempt at the 50 mile distance. Course record pace for the first half, then walked the last 16 miles. My right knee was done. It’s a difficult balance to strike, and one I don’t think anyone has totally locked down yet.

        • Jason
          December 19, 2011

          That’s part of the reason i like ultras- lots of shit can go wrong. It is a difficult balance. I think I’m getting closer to finding my own ideal, which is requiring closer tailoring of footwear to very specific conditions.

          • Alex
            December 20, 2011

            And I’m thinking (hoping?) that the upcoming zero drop minimus line will strike the right balance for me, so I can get a little more comfort and protection without a heel. I really wish New Balance would take my money already.

  7. Jamoosh
    December 19, 2011

    This is what happens when something new comes along (theoretically speaking of course since minimalism has been around forever). People jump right on the bandwagon with absolutely no clue.

    I am well aware that my stride does not allow for running in a minimalist shoe on the street yet, which is why am running in Newton’s.

    For trails it’s a different story, but then trail running actually takes more from the barefoot arts than street running.

  8. Brian
    December 19, 2011

    I don’t understand how one could stand the PAIN of heel striking in minimalist shoes!

    • Jason
      December 19, 2011

      I agree, Brian.

  9. Rob
    December 19, 2011

    You know what’s even more amazing? The fact that there are runners who make a career racing like this, over striding, heel striking in racing flats and don’t have issues… or at least the sorts of issues they end up having are probably attributed to many years and many miles of racing. Like I’ve said before, how we “race” isn’t necessarily how we “train”.

    Most of the time I know I’m running with mostly good form but in a race atmosphere, for example a 5km road race this past weekend, I know I was probably over striding at the end of the race. Why? Because I was tired BUT I was also trying to hit a goal time and out kick a guy I was racing. In this scenario it was easier to just maintain the leg turnover and over stride. No problem, just a bit more heel wear on my shoes is all.

    I think we all tend to over think a whole lot of this. As human beings we are amazingly adaptable creatures. You have to look no further than some of the prosthetic athletes who accomplish amazing feats of speed and endurance to realize that how we run or what we run with may not matter all that much in the grand scheme of things.

    I refuse to believe this any all encompassing and ONE proper way to run in all situations and terrains. The human body is not one dimensional.

  10. briderdt
    December 19, 2011

    Have any of the studies that compare heel strike to forefoot/midfoot strike ALSO normalizing for overstriding? One can heel strike and not overstride. Which causes that impact transient that is supposed to lead to injury: the overstriding, or the heel striking?

    • Jason
      December 19, 2011

      Jay Dicherry’s research indicates it’s overstriding that causes the issues, and I would tend to agree. Letting the heel touch under your center of gravity seems to register roughly the same force plate-measured impact as a midfoot strike. I don’t recommend it, but I also don’t go out of my way to eliminate it. The people in Dallas were definitely overstriding with the heel strike.

      • Wiglaf
        December 19, 2011

        Over-striding seems like it may be a misnomer or just a confusing term. I’ve found that if my posture is correct and how I use my center of gravity is correct, then it doesn’t matter how long my stride is, I cannot over-stride in the traditional “heel strike” sense. Does that make sense to you?

      • briderdt
        December 19, 2011

        So if it’s the overstriding, not the heel strike in particular, that’s causing the issue, why the dogmatic post?

        • Jason
          December 19, 2011

          Dogmatic posts are more impactful. The title wouldn’t have been nearly as provocative if it were titled “Minimalist Shoe Runners: Stay Off Your Damn Heels When Overstriding, But Research Indicates You May Be Okay As Long As Your Feet Are Toughing The Ground Under Your Center Of Gravity!”
          :-)

          • briderdt (David)
            December 19, 2011

            You should be writing for Fox News…

          • Jason
            December 20, 2011

            Fox News = more popular than NPR. If you don’t like NPR, you change the channel. If you don’t like Fox News, you watch just to yell at the idiots making outlandish statements.

            For the record, I think calling Fox News “News” is akin to calling Keanu Reeves an “actor.”

  11. Flint
    December 19, 2011

    I offer barefoot running clinics every once in a while in Montreal, and I’m always adamant about people starting the clinic in their bare feet, even if what they aim for is minimalist running.

    When they get the gist, I remind them that they now have two worst enemies :

    1- Habit. If they are already runners, the heel strike pattern WILL come back. In that case, I suggest 400M (2×200 being ideal) of barefoot running every week, just as a reminder of what the proper form is.

    2- Fatigue. That’s why being progressive is so important. I personally think you will get injured in your transition if you run too much BECAUSE fatigue will kick in and make you lose your form, one step at a time, until you create grave problems. That’s what happened to me.

    My two cents :)

    • Wiglaf
      December 19, 2011

      I remember reading at article that pointed out that elite midfoot strikers who wore regular running shoes (with cushioning) tended to start heel striking when they got tired. So, it didn’t matter that they’d been midfoot strikers all their life. The shoe allowed it. So they did it when they were tired.

      • Jason
        December 19, 2011

        I see this a lot, especially in marathon or longer races. A bunch of us did a 12 hour ultra earlier this year. There were quite a few minimalist runners. Only two or three weren’t heel striking by the end. That’s one of the problems with ANY shoe- they hide bad form.

  12. Wiglaf
    December 19, 2011

    Last year, I ran the Fifth Third Riverbank and saw a guy doing the opposite. He must have been about 6’4″ and 190 pounds and he was wearing vibrams running on his toes like some kind of ballerina. You could hear the shoes skid with every step. I was impressed that he could pull off a 25k doing that.

    • betsig250
      December 19, 2011

      I remember seeing that guy. And that was the only reason I could remember him. running on his damn toes for as long as I was around him.

      • TCGuy
        December 20, 2011

        This is too funny! I remember seeing him as well. I was wearing my Merrell Trail Gloves and we gave eachother the thumbs up as I passed him.