So my good blog buddy Melissa recently emailed me the following:
I have a blog request for you: Teach me how you re-learned to run. I know my heel-striking is still going on, and I don’t know how to fix it without injuring myself (that’s what I was trying to do when I got injured last year!!!)
Well. If there’s a few things I’m sure of it’s this:
1. I adore Melissa, so I want to do anything I can to help her. I mean, I even run with her on occasion.
This picture was not edited at all.
2. I am an amazing heel striker when running. Um, just look at the above picture. Or here:
This is like a best of for terrible race photos of me. NBD.
3. Re-learning to run is intimidating as hell, but it’s really not that bad once you get going.
The truth is, when I started running I had no clue that heel striking was bad. I trained for my entire marathon doing the heel striking thing while running, without any sort of inkling that I was doing myself a major disservice and prepping myself for what would be a season-ending, year-long battle with my knee . While I don’t think heel striking led entirely to my knee injury, I have no doubt that it definitely coaxed things along. Mainly because I was given very strict instructions per my favorite sports doctor to STOP HEEL STRIKING.
Oh ok, let me just get right on that. Except re-learning how to run is not that easy.
1. I started running in very short increments. This was two-fold: one because I had been out of running for five months and had to build back up my base from the very beginning [not fun. not fun at all.], and two because I had to train myself to run on the forefront of my foot, not the heel. I ran for one minute at a time, focusing on my form the entire time. I literally ran watching my feet strike the treadmill and purposefully took how I was running into consideration for the minute(s) that I was running.
2. I ran only on the treadmill. Because I was able to control my speed and there were no other variable factors, running on the treadmill made the most sense. I didn’t have to worry about the wind, uneven terrain, being chased by a dog, bad weather – none of that. I only had to worry about the boredom that eventually sets in when you’re running on the treadmill. And since I was so focused on my form, that was a very good thing.
3. I had Sean watch me run. When I felt like I was getting used to running without heel striking, I picked up my cell phone [yes, while I was running] and called Sean and told him to watch me run RIGHT NOW. I had been running for about 15ish minutes, which at that time meant that I was starting to get tired and that my form was more likely to start slipping, which I felt was the perfect time for him to come check out my running. He watched me for a few minutes and told me that I wasn’t heel striking, which was good because it reassured me that I was getting used to the feeling of running the right way.
4. I switched to minimalist shoes. And I’m never looking back. Because they have less cushioning on the foot it forces your foot to run more correctly. There’s a lot of fancy schmancy science stuff behind it, I’m sure, but I’m no doctor or expert, so suffice it to say, I can tell that it’s made a difference in how efficiently I run.
5. I continue to really focus on my form. I will be 100% honest when I say that I do fall back into heel striking when I’m racing and I start getting tired. I can tell when my body starts to make the switch and I have to actively focus on running the right way. I’m usually good until I hit about 11 miles, and then I can start to feel myself falling off and I have to work to run without heel striking.
Changing your running form is not easy. It takes work. But it is worth it if you’re currently heel striking to invest the time into changing how you run. If you do decide to try and change the way you run, be prepared to have all sorts of leg muscles get sore that were never sore before – because they were never being worked before. Being sore because you’re running the right way, however, beats the hell out of being injured because you were running the wrong way.