RW: “Heel Landing Beats Midfoot In Half-Marathon Study”

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This is a repost from The Motivated Runner website. I suggest you visit and subscribe over there, Jack shares a lot of great content.

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Yesterday there was an article that came from RunnersWorld.com concerning the almighty mid-foot vs. rearfoot debate. This debate has raged for the past 10 years with attempts to answer the question in a black and white fashion. Most of us have realized by now that nothing in life is black and white, including foot strike. I have my opinion on the topic, but also realize that different things work for different people.

I get really annoyed with Runner’s World because many posts are what I would consider ”hacky”. They have found ways to make viewers pay attention, click on their links, and read their articles all in the interest of ad money and readership of their flailing publication. This is nothing new or novel and somewhat the model of how every website and blog works, but I do believe there are more responsible ways to go about it.

Runner’s World loves to post the same articles over and over as well as articles with little to no information. Amby Burfoot’s most recent post on a study conducted by the University of Spain was one such article. The title stated: “Heel Landing Beats Midfoot in Half-Marathon Study”. So, of course, everyone clicked on it as Runner’s World would hope. I too, was sucked in thanks to FaceBook messages, emails, and tweets from friends. The article had little to no substance on an insufficient study, with no details of how the study was conducted. This of course created a firestorm of comments, likes, twitter conversations, and buzz. Exactly what Runner’s World needs to try to save a struggling publication of repeating material.

So enough Runner’s World bashing, on to issues with their post and what we don’t know about the study:

1. Efficiency is a whole body issue, not just foot strike. Runners have many inefficiencies in their posture, arm swing, breathing, and alignment. To say that the efficiency of running is completely based around a mid-foot or forefoot strike is incorrect.
2. All of the runners were able to run in whatever shoe they liked. We know that shoe choice can affect gait mechanics. A higher heeled shoe can catch and encourage a strike more out in front of the body (typically with heel first), whereas a level platform shoe allows for the foot to swing through more freely and land closer to the body (less drastic heel landing or mid-foot strike).
3.The study contained only 20 runners. 20 is a very small sample size and not one in which an accurate data set can be gathered. It’s hard to come to conclusions with only 20 people.
4. Treadmill running was the only form of measurement. With the exception of the winter months, runners are most typically outside hitting the roads. Treadmill running isn’t a direct comparison to road running. I do realize that gathering data outside is difficult.
5. The title of the article simply states that heel landing “beats” mid-foot striking at the half marathon distance. However, inside the article they state that mid-foot strikers are on average faster. Running faster leads to decreased running economy. Just like driving faster lowers MPG. The goal is to run as fast as you can and have nothing left at the finish, not to have the highest MPG. That being said, if you run out of gas, you go slower or stop. It’s a trade off. As far as I know, the faster time “beats” the slower time in races.

I have been really annoyed with the number of irresponsible articles in all forms of media lately. After doing a lot of research of what sells on my website, I have seen trends in many of the “hacky” websites. It’s quite disturbing to say the least and goes unnoticed to the typical consumer.

I want everyone to be more aware of what is going on and to question silly articles like these. They are misleading and focused on driving ad sales and magazine sales. Question the authenticity of all studies and try to go to the root of it, not the Runner’s World take on it. Although, Runner’s World made that impossible by not providing a link to the abstract of the study. Runner’s World, you receive a F.

Kyle

Kyle is a running coach who works with people all over the world to help them run more consistently & be resilient to injury.

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Cam - April 4, 2014

Thanks for posting this – you’ve summed up my irritations with this study (and subsequent flapping all over the internet) quite nicely.

I can just imagine the authors’ excitement when they happened upon a statistically significant result. Unfortunately they forgot to measure the power of the study as well. They do touch on the limitations of the study, but not nearly widely enough.

It would have been nice if this finding was replicated before it became the subject of worldwide discussion, and preferably in a variety of different theatres (as you point out, treadmill running is rather specific). As a supervisor of mine used to say: “Once is nunce, twice is nice, but thrice is best of all”!

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Allen - March 28, 2014

Stu Mittleman is a real heal-striker advocate… but he’s definitely a fuel-economy runner. Does he do anything under 100 miles? Had that article been discussing heal strikers having better fuel economy, it might have been worth something — but that’s a whole other article. 13 miles isn’t a distance that favors the tortoise.

Have you read Tread Lightly? It’s largely a discussion on the evolution of footwear and the impact that has (or hasn’t) had on injury rates. It cites a lot of interesting studies. Perhaps the most notable aspect of this book is the fact that it is altogether inconclusive. While it discusses the shoe and foot strike debates from cover to cover, it makes no attempt to absolutely resolve them.

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    Kyle - March 31, 2014

    Yeah I’ve read Tread Lightly. Heel striking is not so much where my issue lies, it’s heel striking with a straight leg, overstrided dorsiflexed ankle, and locked knee. No one would argue that that’s on OK running technique to have, unless you’re race walking.

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