My Forefoot Running Story

“I believe the forefoot strike is the engine of endurance running” ~Bretta Riches

I created Run Forefoot to educate why proper foot strike is important in running and to show that running is not injurious as commonly perceived, if you adopt a proper forefoot strike. Here’s why and here’s my story about how forefoot running was a game-changer for me and why it can be for you too!

Best Running Form: Heel Strike vs Forefoot Strike
After years of grappling with injury as a heel strike runner, I read Born to Run and sifted through oceans of publications on barefoot running and realized that forefoot running learned via barefoot running would put me on and keep me on a safer mechanical path!  Running doesn’t have to be hard on the body and its been well-reported that landing with a forefoot strike during running is a small but vital mechanical action that can keep you rolling along injury-free!

When I started running, I knew little about running biomechanics, or proper footwear. I wore high-heeled, heavily cushioned running shoes and was a heel striker.

I fell in love with running, but was injured frequently. I figured my body needed time to adjust being a ‘newbie’ runner.  However, as time went on, my injuries became chronic, even though I was getting stronger as a runner. I was sore and stiff too frequently, but giving up running was NOT an option. I knew there was more in it for me, so I did what I do best = research!

Research that Changed the Running Community, Forever

Best Running Form: Heel Strike vs Forefoot Strike
Switching from a heel strike to a forefoot strike running style allowed me to train more consistently, without interruption of injury. My results are better and consistent and I participate in more races, more often. Most important, running feels good and easier, not labor-intensive and complicated. You truly stand to gain a lot more from forefoot running!

I researched proper running mechanics incessantly and found a compelling study by Dr. Daniel Lieberman, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University. 

The study mentioned that before modern weapons, our ancestors most likely ran barefoot to hunt food, a hunting method coined as persistent hunting.

Earlier work suggested our ancestors were excellent endurance runners, running 10 km to 14 km per day. Essentially, to run meant to eat, and survive. Running was a way of life. But, things are different today as many strongly believe running is highly injurious. Why?

Running-related injuries are consistently high, even though athletic footwear is deemed as safe, helping us run better to protect us from injury. But, again, runners continue o injure.

So, these are the fundamental questions about running: if our ancestors relied on running to survive, they must have run in a way that would have been economical and more importantly safe, right? Remember, our ancestors ran barefoot, not only on grassy areas, but hard tundra. 

Big Data Shows us There’s a Right & Wrong Way to Run

Many experts believe that for our ancestors to run long distances injury-free, there’s a good chance they were forefoot strikers, not heel strikers. Why were they most likely forefoot strikers and not heel strikers? Aren’t most joggers heel strikers? It turns out that the structure (elevated cushioned heel) of most conventional running shoes positions the foot to easily encourage heel striking during running, whereas in barefoot running, the body tends to default to landing on the forefoot to effectively reduce jolting and impact on the body. It’s the less impact factor thanks to the forefoot strike that enables barefoot running to feel comfortable, on any surface! 

It turns out that running forefoot while barefoot is less forceful and possibly less energy-taxing than heel striking. Why would running barefoot with a forefoot strike be less energetically taxing? The sensory energy that flows from the foot when you run barefoot prompts more widespread activation of withdrawal reflexes in the legs and feet, foot strike awareness gets enhanced and you have tighter controls on balance, all of which adds up to less reckless, less intensive, more controlled footfalls that project less impact on the body and therefore, the muscles invest less energy to absorb impact. That is just one of the MANY ways in which forefoot striking during running may be more economical than heel striking.

This is also why its so essential to recognize the important role barefoot running can play in accelerating progress in stride correction, reversing your heel strike to a forefoot strike and may make it easier for you to avoid overuse and impact-related injuries.
Why Run Forefoot Barefoot

Barefoot running protects what makes the body’s reflexive and sensory system great, whereas ongoing use of conventional running shoes may diminish key reflexive motor outputs that goes into landing lightly. As a result, you may mistakenly land with greater downward forces in thick cushioned running shoes. Moreover, barefoot running and walking keeps the feet functionally strong by keeping them independently engaged in an ongoing capacity and in this way, the feet are more likely to be healthier for years to come!

So, does this mean humans are hardwired to run forefoot, not rearfoot? Maybe, especially since most elite distance runners from East Africa, who are currently the best in the world, ran barefoot for many years and are also mostly forefoot strikers, not heel strikers, suggesting that natural selection may favor certain mechanical defenses against high impacts during barefoot running –the forefoot strike being one of them.

Heel Strikers Are Not Breaking World Records

I analyzed the foot strikes of elite Ethiopian runners, namely because they look smoother and more efficient than many American and Canadian elite runners.  No offense.

My favorite runner is Tirunesh Dibaba from Ethiopia. I learned that she, like most Ethiopian runners, ran barefoot until adolescence and to me, she is the perfect example of a forefoot striker.

The top distance runners in the world, Tirunesh Dibaba, Mo Farah, Galen Rupp, Kenenisa Bekele, Paula Radcliffe, Enda Kipligat are ALL forefoot strikers, not heel strikers, whereas most recreational runners are heel strikers. 

Heavily Cushioned Running Shoes Blamed for Altering Biomechanics

Runners who wear heavily cushioned running shoes present a different foot strike compared with barefoot runners. Most barefoot runners present a flatter foot strike, making initial contact with the ground on the balls of the foot, just under the toes. 

Landing on the heel while running barefoot is painful since the heel pad is of bone and minimal soft tissue.  Studies also show the heel pad is sufficient in absorbing impact from walking, but may lack the durability to absorb the collision forces generated in heel running.

Moreover, 80% of recreational runners sustain at least one major running injury each year and numerous studies show running in a raised heel shoe facilitates a heel strike -most recreational runners are heel strikers.

Comparatively, East African runners may have better biomechanics having ran barefoot, allowing for earlier adaptations to a forefoot strike running style and may suffer less lower leg injuries than runners who habitually wear shoes. This may be a good reason that East African runners typically compete in more races, including marathons, per year than many elite American and Canadian runners.

However, that is not to say East African runners never get injured, they push beyond their limits too and may encounter over-use injuries; but the frequency, severity, and the nature of their injuries may be considerably LESS than the injuries of heel strikers.

The Harvard study along with fixated on Tirunesh Dibaba’s forefoot running style, changed my life as a runner and my running form! I switched to forefoot running, although, it took time to adjust, but in weeks, I was running pain and injury free.  My joints feel more relaxed and springy than when I was heel striking.  I now run longer and train harder without interruption from injuries.

Though I may not be an elite runner, or a coach,  I am a runner who learned to run with the same forefoot running style as the elite runners, and I feel that I am able to reap the full health benefits of running. 

I hope you enjoy my blog and YouTube channel (here) and get inspired and motivated to learn forefoot running. Please contact me if you have any questions, if you’d like to share your input, business inquires, or to chat about running in general.

road racing medals after learning forefoot running
My medal tree after switching to forefoot running.

Runforefoot.com is fully owned and operated by Bretta Riches.

Bretta Riches Abbreviated CV:

Education

MSc Biomechanics graduate candidate 2014-

BSc (Hons) Neurobiology – Brock University 2012, St Catharines,ON.

Experience

RUNFOREFOOT.COM – Founder, December 2013 – Current

More From Run Forefoot:

Run Right with a Forefoot Strike !

~B

Bretta Riches

Bretta Riches

"I believe the forefoot strike is the engine of endurance running..."

BSc Neurobiology; MSc Biomechanics candidate, ultra minimalist runner & founder of RunForefoot. I was a heel striker, always injured. I was inspired by the great Tirunesh Dibaba to try forefoot running. Now, I'm injury free. This is why I launched Run Forefoot, to advocate the health & performance benefits of forefoot running and to raise awareness on the dangers of heel striking, because the world needs to know.
Bretta Riches

3 Comments

  1. I’m glad I found you and your website. I’m going to try and become a runner again!
    Your awesome! Keep up the great work!

  2. I bought an altra superior and after finding out It was hard as a rock I was disappointed. I accidently found out I was landing better with less pain. After seeing your web sight Im waiting for my merrell barefoot shoes to arrive.

  3. Hi Bretta,
    thanks for sharing all if these absolutely useful information about running!
    I started running about two years ago without knowing what I was doing. A couple of months later I started noticing a sharp pain in my shins.
    As I finally was unable to run due to the pain I decided to visit the doctor. I was diagnosed with MTSS or periostitis at the shin bone so the doctor ordered to stop running and prescribed a series of hysiotherapy sessions for a couple of months. The pain and other symptoms totally disappeared after the therapy however they made their presence again as soon as I attempted to run.
    No one could help me on the cause of the problem until a friend of mine recorded my movement as I was running in a video clip.
    I was running heel strike very heavily!!!
    My shin muscles where fighting all of the braking force at each step which I assume it should be 3 – 5 times my body weight depending on the running speed.
    The shin muscles were oversized trying to cope this load and continuously injured.
    Since then I’m trying to switch to forefoot running and I managed to increase my running pace and distance dramatically!
    However, I noticed again that when I’m running fast I get shin splints and via a new video I concluded that I’m heel-striking as soon as I increase my running speed.
    Anyway I will fight it and I hope to completely eliminate heel-striking out of my running!
    Thanks again for all the information on your website and videos on your YouTube channel!!!

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