This has been a subject of great debate lately, as the book; Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall has brought the concept of bare foot running sharply to the fore. There are also shoe companies designing footwear to force changes in foot strike & individual methodologies being marketed on how to run properly & a lot has to do with the nature of how the foot hits the surface/should hit the surface. Most runners who started running as a fitness activity simply extended their walking gait, which is a heel first strike, into running & were allowed to get away with this because of modern running footwear with well cushioned heels. “Natural” runners gravitated to the sport prior to the 1970's running boom & tended to be smaller, lighter, which is part of the self-selection process for running if NOT helped by footwear.
In running the foot should land as close to underneath the center of mass as possible, landing on the outside (lateral) edge of the bottom of the mid foot (just on & behind the pad behind the little toe). The heel will then roll down towards the surface & either lightly touch (load) as in distance running, or not, as in sprinting. The foot then rolls inward over the strong part of the outside edge, loads the arch (connective tissue/fascia & some muscle) as a spring & a shock absorber & then onto the ball of the foot before coming off the ground with the middle to big toe leaving last. Equally suitable is landing slightly further back with the “whole” outside ridge of the foot, i.e. mid foot proper – pad behind little toe, extending to just in front of the heel.
However, if you DON’T naturally run like this, be very careful & gradual with the process of doing so if you decide to change, as your plantar fascia & achilles tendon could no doubt become injured if you are too hasty, (as well as possible foot stress fractures). If you do strike heel 1st, try to have the forefoot follow VERY quickly & consider the sole of your shoe as curved like a partial car tire & rolling from the microsecond the outside of the heel hits the surface till the inside toes leave the ground. This is similar to the fore foot strike, but starts at the heel, rolls across the outside of the foot & then inwards (also loading the arch) towards & onto the ball of the foot & off the middle to big toe. Some elastic return is lost from the achilles & plantar fascia in this manner I suspect, but it is still an effective way to run & many top runners do so, albeit being more reliant on the footwear for some initial cushioning & not the achilles, plantar fascia & calf muscle complex.
More important currently in my mind is the angle of the shin – it should be vertical upon contact & not leaning rearward. This is a purer indication of not over striding & indicates well the relative position of the impact point to the dynamic center of mass (inside the pelvis) & is the point of least braking & friction.
©Bobby McGee – Bobby McGee Endurance Sports