Confessions of a barefoot failure

Me & Bobby McGee. Trying to solve the problem.

In early 2010, I drank the barefoot running Kool Aid. I’ve written about that part of the story before, but I’ll briefly review it for those of you who may not remember.

After reading the book Born to Run, I decided to start running barefoot on my treadmill. I felt good, so I bought some “Barefoot Shoes”. My knee pain went away, I started telling all of you to try it, blah, blah, blah. I tried to go from running as a heel striker to running as a mid-foot striker. It worked for about a year. And then some new injuries set in.

Last week (as I sit writing this) I spent Friday at my 1st grader’s field day. For those of you who don’t know, it’s like a kiddie Olympics held outside at school on a nice spring day. The kids do all sorts of things, like tug-of-war, throw the ball as far as you can, and a round-the–bases relay race.

The round-bases-race was interesting, because I got to watch kid after kid after kid run. As a student of running mechanics, it was quite enlightening.

After observing about 30 kids, I can tell you that only about 1 in thirty kids is a heel-striker. They’re almost all mid-foot strikers, and their feet are quick – touch down, pull up. They all looked smooth and efficient.

So why do the people who gather data on such matters say that about 75% of adult runners are heel strikers*? What happens? Should we all be mid-foot striking or do what comes naturally?(*reference- Foot Strike Patterns of Runners At the 15-Km Point During An Elite-Level Half Marathon HASEGAWA, HIROSHI; YAMAUCHI, TAKESHI; KRAEMER, WILLIAM J. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, August 2007 – Vol. 21 – Issue 3.)

The answer? I have no idea.

So I decided to go see expert running coach Bobby McGee for a 90 minute mechanics evaluation / lesson. Here’s what Bobby had to say (paraphrasing):

“For most runners, unless they want to be elite runners, it doesn’t make any sense at all to try to force a style of running. If you’re a heel striker, don’t try to force yourself to be a mid foot striker. If you are strong enough to run barefoot, great. But if you’re not, it’s a disaster waiting to happen.”

The conclusion – be who you are, and work to optimize the mechanics that you’re used to. So instead of forcing yourself out heel striking, work with it. Remember, we’re all individuals, and your unique running style is just that- yours. Don’t go changing for the sake of change. Like I did.

For the record, Bobby spent more time working on what my upper body was doing than he spent on my lower body. This made a huge difference. He also told me that my feet were not strong enough for running in so-called barefoot shoes. So there you go, I’m a barefoot failure. If you are serious about running, you might want to go spend 90 minutes with Bobby. He’s brilliant.