Sockless, Sore, & Satisfied: Form Work At Its Finest

When I began my running career, I went into it just assuming my legs would do great things. The right things. The textbook things. I mean…they’re legs. They had one job: to run. I didn’t think there was a way to screw it up, until someone mentioned the almighty “form” word.

I thought to myself, “Form? You mean there’s a right way to run?” So many who saw me in photos and watched me run said, “Oh man – you’re really heel striking. You should try to fix that.” My Milestone Pod produced the same data: heel striking 100% of the time.

I did my own research, and as a now-certified running coach, the jury is still out on the absolute best way to foot strike. Some researchers say that if you heel strike, just go with it, man – that’s your natural way of striking the ground. Others say that it’s an early death sentence for both speed and knees.

So, the answer is clear: there is no answer!

However, most researchers suggest that heel striking leads to knee and other types of injuries, will slow you down by quite a bit, and will essentially causes you to stop – rather than propel yourself forward – each time you take a step. Evidence also suggests that heel striking is a tell-tale sign of over-striding, which can absolutely lead to injuries.

As a former academic, I should clarify that I am basing the information in this entry on my personal experience. There are other variables that may contribute to all of the issues and improvements I discuss below.

When I started learning more about running, I discovered that the way I was striking the ground may have caused some problems. I experienced a torn hamstring, ITBS in both legs, and other random pains below my knees. I was injured in both of my half mrarthons Some is likely related to foot strike; some may not be. I also stepped down very “hard.” I was an elephant stepper. Running is an high impact sport and most of us are injured at some point, but I found it strange that I was injured in both half marathons (nine months apart).

I wanted to change my form. I started reading up on some tips and tricks to help develop my forefoot strike, but none of them worked. The most popular piece of advice I found was “shorten your stride.” I found music that was 180 beats/minute which seems to be ideal for optimal striding, but…I continued heel striking. Our RRCA teacher told us about elbow and arm placement for foot placement…but low and behold, still heel striking. I understood WHAT to do, but I struggled with HOW to do it.

I want to start coaching other runners, and while I do not expect my form to be perfect, I hold myself to a high standard and want my form to be better. I can’t tell someone how to improve his/her form until I start getting control of my own.

Yesterday, I went out for my long run of 8 miles while wearing my compression socks. I’m not sure why, but the sock on my right leg felt like it was strangling me to the point that my foot felt numb (guess it were too tight, probably because I didn’t put it on correctly…). I decided I had to run without my sock on, so I paused my app to plop in the grass and take my right compression sock off.

When I hopped back on the running path, barefoot in Asics, I noticed I was landing mid-foot. So THIS is what it feels like!

I was so surprised and I decided to take off the other compression sock, and yep, same result – no long striking on my heel. I knew running without socks wasn’t probably the smartest method to use for foot-strike analysis and improvement (and that proved to be true when I bandaged my feet afterwards thanks to blisters), but I was so intrigued and excited that I kept going.

Eventually, the blisters were too much to handle, and I put the socks back on. The good news is that I continued to strike mid-foot! Now that I know what it feels like to strike the ground with something other than my heel, I will be able to tell when I’m not striking the ground with the form I desire.

The result of of this is that I ran miles that were about 20-25 seconds quicker than usual. I noticed that what experts say about propelling forward is probably accurate. My feet hit the ground in a way that kept moving me rather than stopping me.

With that, I noticed a difference in my breathing and how hard I had to work to keep pushing myself (note: I’m also slightly more conditioned at this point, so that may also contribute to this). Even at my conversational pace, things got hard before. The word I am looking for is “swift.” I felt a lot more swift when striking mid-foot. I tried to pay attention to my shadow a bit, too, and everything just looked more fluid.

Trust me, though – there’s a price to pay when you begin to alter your foot-strike. I had trouble walking down the steps this morning because the infamous DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) found a new place to live: my calves. I’ve done strength work on my calves before, but they’re not used to this! Eight miles was probably not the best distance for me to decide to change my foot-strike…but, oh well. Nothing is perfect!

I don’t think I will recommend sockless running to my future athletes, but I’m very happy that it’s helped me. I didn’t expect that losing socks would have said effect (I’ve heard barefoot running is great for learning to strike mid-foot, but not running without socks). I’m so looking forward to my next tempo run to see how I perform trying to pick up the speed with the mid-foot strike!

Have you done anything a little goofy to help yourself learn something about running?

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