Monday, February 4, 2013

Some Barefoot Runners Heel Strike. So What?

I was recently asked to comment on a study that indicates that some barefoot runners naturally heel strike.  My reaction is basically, "So what?" That's not really news. The problem is that this study is feeding into a pattern of people asking the wrong questions, and then drawing dubious conclusions. A lot of people read about this study, and then conclude, on some level, that technique doesn't matter.

Okay, so some barefoot runners heel foot strike. The question isn't can they heel strike, but what is the most optimal technique for running. In reality the answer is more nuanced than heel strike vs. forefoot/midfoot strike. The foot strike is usually an extension of the quality of  one's technique. However, a forefoot strike doesn't necessarily mean a runner has good technique, nor does a heel strike necessarily mean the runner has horrible technique. However, in general, heel strikers do have poor technique, and forefoot strikers have technique that is somewhat better. In any case, the underlying premise is flawed.

Okay, let's assume that all there is to the quality of running technique is foot strike. Let me use a couple of analogies to help illustrate my point. Some people can smoke without any apparent ill effects well into old age. Does that mean they wouldn't have better health by not smoking, or that all people can smoke with impunity? Probably not. Okay then,  personally I'm in very good health. However, I drink a lot of beer. Just because I can drink beer, and maintain good health, that doesn't mean that there is no damage to my health from drinking beer, nor does it mean that everyone can drink as much beer as I do, and remain healthy. For that matter, it doesn't mean that my beer drinking won't eventually cost me my good health. Also, is my health optimal? I doubt it.

What's my point? It's that there is a difference between "good enough" and optimal. This concept is lost on a culture that wants to believe that because everybody is unique, each individual has his or her own best way to do everything.  Unfortunately, the laws of physics are the same for everyone, and running, as an activity, is not exempt from this fact.

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