Foot Strike Photos from the NYC Barefoot Run

As part of my whirlwind trip to New York City, on Sunday morning I attended the NYC Barefoot Run. Rather than starting the race with the other runners, I opted to set up shop about a quarter mile from the starting line with my trusty high-speed video camera in tow. Managed to film all of the runners as they passed by, and got some great footage. Lot’s of interesting observations should come of this. Anyway, my messages for the day:

1. Just because you take your shoes off and run barefoot does not necessarily mean your form footstrike (updated: form may have changed in other ways, such as the degree of overstride or angle of the heelstrike) will change immediately. Perhaps it might never adapt without conscious effort.

Barefoot heel strike

2. Just because you wear Vibram Fivefingers, does not necessarily mean your form footstrike will change immediately. Perhaps it might never adapt without conscious effort.

Vibram Heel Strike

3. If you run barefoot in a costume that looks like a giant human foot, you’re probably good to go.

Barefoot Foot

In all seriousness, I find this all fascinating. Why do some people switch immediately to a forefoot strike when barefoot, but others do not? How much does wearing any form of shoe influence whether a change in form occurs? These are the things churning in my head right now – you can expect more on this as I wade through these videos.

About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a recovering academic who currently works as an exercise physiologist, running coach, and writer. He's also a father of three and a fanatical runner with a bit of a shoe obsession. In addition to writing and editing this site, he is co-author of the book Tread Lightly, and writes a personal blog called The Blogologist. Follow Pete on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and via email.



Comments

  1. Runningman72 says:

    I think it is a learned gait process from wearing shoes and running in correctly.  They individually need to reprogram body kinesthetics to change old habits.

  2. Another great post on your blog.

    I really like your detailed observation, and more importantly, that they are recorded for all to see.  It’s good to see some sort of raw footage from arguably a very wide sample of runners.

    The more I watch these videos, the more I think that I am an anomally when I re-tooled my running form to a) not over-stride and b) land on my forefoot/midfoot.  As I commented on your earlier, mid-foot post, I am quite surprised that it has taken me less than 8 weeks to get, what I have had several coaches now verify, is a very efficient and “natural” running form.

    Now, alongside the “landing your foot under your C.O.G.” post, I would like you to see if it is indeed possible to run without “pushing” off with your rear leg/foot (sprinting, of course, is excluded in this exercise).

    Would love to have a dialogue about this key component to Pose, Chi, Natural Running, etc…

    Maybe a future blog topic?!

    Cheers and keep up the great work.

    • Pete Larson says:

      Thanks for the comment! The push off post is a good idea, hope to get to it someday. I think that is another of those suggestions that is impossible in practice, more a cue than reality.

      On Wednesday, September 28, 2011, Disqus <

    • David Patterson says:

      Hi RGN,

      I think pose method is great. Your right with the lack of push off! weel done on an 8 week transition! are you using pose method and who assessed your “natural” form?

      dave

  3. I think Semajdunn hit the nail on the head with his summary of how many runners landing strike pattern changes both with by the type of shoe they’re wearing and the surface that they are landing on. I’m also convinced that as with many observations the Hawthorne effect is highly applicable. In other words the runner’s knowledge of being observed (especially by a high-speed camera or someone perceived as knowledgeable) has a profound *short-term* impact on their running style.

    • Pete Larson says:

      I have ways of trying to avoid the Hawthorne effect – camera was behind a tree and fire hydrant, I was standing up along the roadside away up the rosd from the camera holding my iPhone toward the oncoming runners as if I was taking still shots. My sense was that very few noticed the high speed camera on the ground. I also told only a few people about what I was doing in advance.

  4. Brandon Marshall says:

    Is it me or do the first two images look like it’s the exact same runner, with different running gear photoshopped on or something?! Crazy how the leg and foot position is so similar.

  5. Robert Osfield says:

    Hi Pete, is there any chance you can track down some of the various runners you have video of and find out their case histories i.e how long have they run barefoot/minimalist, what shoes do they wear during the day, what is their previous history of foot strike, injury history etc. 

    • Pete Larson says:

      I wish! Maybe a few I know personally, but that’s it.

      • Chris Van Dyke says:

        If your video happens to have a 6’1″, 32 year old male with no shoes and an orange and yellow tutu on, that’s me : )  I’d be glad to see a video of myself, and glad to tell you anything you’d like to know about my history of running, transitioning to barefoot and minimalist shoes, etc.

        • Pete Larson says:

          Chris,

          i’ll keep an eye out for it – should be easy to find.

          Send me an email from the contact tab above and I’ll see if I can get you the footage.
          Sent from my iPad

  6. Hi Pete, I think it has alot to do with what we do growing up as our bodies develop. I had never owned a pair of running shoes growing up, I did all my running barefoot without a thought, as I guess many kids did down here in New Zealand did in the 70′s. I bought my first pair of running shoes at 25 yrs and had nothing but trouble with shin splints to the point that a well meaning podiatrist made me a pair orthotics to slip into my already heavily supported Asics. This only served to make everything 10 times worse.
    After stupidly perservering on and of for another 10 years, I saw the light again after reading Chi Running 4 years ago and was immediately back to forefoot striking in my still chunky shoes. It came naturally, I guess as Chris McD puts it, I was born to do it and it certainly felt that way!
    I have never looked back and can only wear minimalist shoes now. I suppose there is a lesson for all parents, let your kids be kids and run the way they were born to, barefoot, at least until their bones and muscoskeletal system have matured.

    Thanks for putting up with my rant, I am a big fan, Keep up the good work.

    Kiwi Steve

    • Pete Larson says:

      Steve,

      Thanks so much for chiming in – I think you’ve really hit the nail on the head here. When I was in NYC last weekend I made the comment that we wouldn’t need “form coaches” if kids grew up spending more time barefoot or in more sensible shoes. Interestingly enough, the head of marketing for Merrell shoes is a New Zealander, and he made the same point that you just made – barefoot is normal for kids in some parts of the world. If we want to make lasting change, we really need to focus on the kids. Let them be barefoot as much as possible, and if they wear shoes, don’t put them in overstructured, overcushioned monstrosities!
      Pete

      Sent from my iPad

  7. A bit off topic here, but did you see McMillan’s recent piece where he describe converting to a heel strike (he was previously a mid/forefoot striker) to avoid injury?

    - rovatti

  8. Neilrosenthal says:

    Early clinical trials are suggesting that if a runner builds up their mileage too quickly while wearing a costume of a giant foot have a greater risk of chafing.

  9. May have something to do with how much pain you can endure??

  10. how do we know that those particular heel strikes (photo 1&2) are actually a bad thing?  

    their knees are somewhat bent, the 2nd guy’s tibia isn’t that far off of vertical.  maybe these are improvements from them running in shoes.

    • Pete Larson says:

      I agree – I phrased things badly. Should have said “change footstrike” instead of “change form.” My guess is that their “form” has indeed changed from shod, they do not appear to be overstriders, and that there is probably less of a heel strike in terms of angle between the foot and ground. But, heel striking barefoot has been shown to dramatically increase the impact transient. What I would like to see is how the impact transient varies in heel strikers with foot contact angle, knee angle, distance of foot strike from COM, etc.

  11. Is that Barefoot Ted on the first photo?? It looks exactly like him!

  12. I can tell you that what they are landing on is fairly rough pavement.  The only really smooth part is close to the starting line. I am also baffled by the barefoot heel striker – not so much the vff guy because I see that all the time. How fast they were going will impact my opinion though, because if they are traveling at a good clip then they can touch their heel lightly down before putting their entire weight on their full foot.  Still though, I only heel strike when I’m tired or when the ground is really soft like grass. I think The Gait Guys might say  that the problem is not the foot, the problems are the hip and the knee – even for the forefoot landing costume wearing dude. The angle measured at the back of the knee is too large and the angle measured at the hip flex-or is too large – is what I get from their instructions and it has worked for me.  Once I got lower down, I was actually able to lean a bit.  Before when I was upright like the costume dude if I leaned into the run I would get blisters.  Now I’m faster, smoother, lighter.  I don’t bounce etc etc.
    I’m gonna do a video for Patton in barefoot and in my Merrells and I’ll send it to you too.  I would be interested in your feedback.

  13. I am glad that Governor’s Island is being used for something productive (I’m serious).  I am 52 and have been a runner since I was 13. Spent 23 yrs in the Coast Guard and lived on Gov Island for two years. Ran hundreds of miles on that loop in thick, cushioned shoes – usually Asics 2100 series – broke 10 mintues whenever I raced it.  Now I’m in Sauconny Mirage and trying to improve form. I wish I knew my cadence and footstrike pattern when I was a pretty fast distance runner in college 1977-81. 

  14. Niki Lacoste says:

    I need to get me a giant human foot costume!   I see a review in the making!

  15. Very interesting. Thanks for posting this. Though I do the majority of my runs in VFFs, I can’t imagine heel striking in whatever I have on my feet (or not). It just looks painful.

  16. Michellejoy61 says:

    So interesting Pete.   I look forward to more of your thoughts.   

  17. The Kenyan who just ran a 2:03? I think he was wearing shoes!!!!

  18. Funruninthesun says:

    OMG. That first pic is mad! Seriously ouch. Third pic is how I run. Who the heck is the heal striker? :¬O

  19. Ha! That’s me in the second photo. It’s like stumbling across a year-old mug shot of myself that I never knew existed!

  20. Mark Cucuzzella says:

    Pete,
    It is easy to pick out the good form of the guy dressed like a foot…look familiar (see familiar leg warmers)
    link to youtube.com
    Good barefoot form rules in Shepherdstown WV.
    Mark

  21. I have no idea how anyone can possibly heal strike when running barefoot.  When I tried barefoot running for the first time, my body immediately switched to a forefoot strike and I found myself tiptoeing whenever I wasn’t running.  In fact, I had to make a concious effort to touch my heal to the ground on each strike.  It was something my body was afraid to do because of the sensitivity of my heals.  Is it possible that the images captured above are of barefoot runners who have been running barefoot (or minimalistic) for quite some time and there body has adapted to what’s comfortable?  Is it possible that they’ve been doing it for a long time and after time their body finds that the heal strike is just as comfortable…even with no protection.

    • Pete Larson says:

      Anything is possible I suppose. I think some people have a lot harder time adapting away from a heel strike than others, and for some it might not be necessary. Video can show us patterns of motion, but unfortunately it cannot reveal forces inside the leg, so we really have no idea if what each individual is doing is bad for their body.

  22. I love running shoes.  I have a different pair for each day of the week.  I also have a pair I race in.  My form changes to match each pair.  The pair I race in (Brooks Green Silence) allows me to run any way i want depending on speed, slope, and fatigue.  Adidas Altune heel strike, Adidas Rocket forefoot mostly, heel going downhill.  Puma street forefoot even going downhill, Mizuno Wave Rider 13 heel strike, Asics Hyper speed 4 forefoot uphill, flat on the flats, and heel downhill, Pearl streak forefoot when running fast, flat medium, and heel slow, Saucony Peregrine is like the Brooks Green Silence except I use them mainly off road. I guess my shoes dominate how I run.  I have heard from some people that they forefoot strike regardless of the shoe.  As you have shown it is obvious that some people heel strike regardless of what they are not wearing.  Even when I run barefoot the type of landing I have is determined by what I am landing on.

  23. 5 Speed Running says:

    An effective training plan focuses on both skill and
    energy.  Skill comes from proper form and
    efficiency training. Energy development comes from balancing out speed,
    strength, stamina, and threshold workouts. 

    For readers who want to know more about how better form can
    help improve their running, this video series will help you.

    Form Video Series>>>>   http://www.TransFORM-Your-Runn

    Ken Rickerman
    Running Coach

  24. Fully agree. I have been working on my form (barefoot runs, minimalist shoes, minimal drop shoes) for over a year and a half. Granted I am trying to overcome 25+ years of bad form, but it takes work. Obviously more for some than others.

  25. could it be this is why people end up injured when switching to barefoot/minimalist?

  26. Runningman72 says:

    I agree @Ericj076 heel strike is not always a bad thing, when you load under the CM midfoot, but with some mindful gait (or foot angle) changes do you think an initial midfoot contact would be more efficient for that individual runner?

  27. lots of dirty feet…!

Speak Your Mind

*