Diary of a Heel Striker – Part 1: in the starting blocks

Hi. My name is Jen & I am a heel striker-holic. It has been so long, I don’t recall when my relationship with heel striking began. But I still remember the school athletics carnival when all the other kids with their graceful midfoot action disappeared into the distance as I plodded along in all my (slow) heel striking glory…

Ok, so perhaps I exaggerate slightly. But watch any race from a local 5km fun run through to an Ironman triathlon & you can’t help but notice the extent to which heel striking is common amongst runners.

I don’t know whether it is just me. But, as a heel striker, I watch people who run with beautiful technique (almost always with a forefoot or midfoot strike) entranced by their grace & (apparent) effortlessness. Not to mention their speed. Heel strikers, especially those in the middle to the back of the pack with me, are rarely any of those things 😉

So despite the number of articles written about the benefits of midfoot running & the (overwhelming) amount of research which shows that heel strikers are more likely to suffer running-related injuries than their forefoot kin, it seems that few people commit to the process of changing their run technique, fewer actually succeed in doing so & even less document their progress

Until now 🙂

My journey towards releasing the runner within..

In recent months I have spoken with numerous fellow heel strikers who tell me they are frustrated by the injuries they have suffered, that they would like to change their running technique yet are daunted by the prospect of doing so. Many don’t know where to start or how to implement it into their training regime. So I thought I would document my journey via this series (including publishing highly embarrassing photos of myself) in the hope it might educate and/or inspire others to do the same.

Now I am not writing this series to debate the virtues (or otherwise) of heel striking vs forefoot running vs midfoot running vs barefoot running. This series is about my journey to an improved & more efficient running form with a little less heel striking & a little more speed.

Broken.…

They say that to understand where you are going, you need to understand where you have been. So here is my story.

My relationship with heel striking & running injuries is long & varied.

I started running in about 2005, aged 30, after not having run – except for the bus – since high school. Every photo taken of me since shows that I am – and probably have always been – a heel striker.   

And then there were the injuries. You name it, I have probably had it. My injuries were so common & so varied that in the 7 years since I set out on my first post-high school run, I haven’t been able to string together more than a month or two of consistent training before being struck down by another injury.

Then in 2008, I had a nasty fall down a flight of stairs whilst carrying a 16kg (35lbs) pack & badly twisted my ankle. After the fall, I carried my pack on the 40 minute walk to my car. I appreciate that it probably wasn’t the best idea. But I was alone by myself in the bush at the time so but it was my only option.

10 days after my fall, I boarded a Qantas plane for the flight to Singapore for the start of a 3 month overseas adventure, most of which time was spent trekking or climbing. So I basically had no (ongoing) treatment or rehabilitation. And my ankle spent much of the time confined to heavy trekking or mountaineering boots. That photo below is my poor friend & tent buddy (who just happens to be a physiotherapist) somewhere in Nepal strapping my ankle ahead of another long day’s hike. Needless to say, such restricted movement of my ankle didn’t help. 

I arrived home in 2009. And I haven’t really run since then.

Any attempts I did make were plagued by continual injury, either from the same weaknesses which had caused my previous injuries – for some reason they didn’t miraculously disappear whilst I was overseas 😉 – or from imbalances in my body caused by my ankle injury.

I have since become a personal trainer. And now I truly understand the demands which running places on, and through, your body & as well as my previous weaknesses & imbalances. Over the last 2 years, I have been working extensively on improving my core stability, the ability of glutes (my butt!) to function properly, my other weakness & imbalances as well as on regaining full range of movement, & stability, in my ankle.

So while I have been putting my body back together, the one thing I have never addressed was my running technique or form.

A new approach..

I now believe that has been the problem with my approach over the years. The research shows that the biomechanics & forces associated with heel striking increase the chances of injury. I have always tried to fix the biomechanical issues (the weaknesses & imbalances in my body) without also working on my technique & form. So that is where this little experiment is headed.

In the next part in this series I will outline my first steps on the road (pun intended) towards releasing the runner within.

In the meantime, I would love to hear from you. Have you ever tried to change your running form or technique? How did you implement it? Was it successful? Do you have any advice or suggestions for me?