I know what you're thinking, "Oh jeez, yet another take on barefoot running". Not yet. I'm going to break these ramblings up into two parts. The first will chronicle my own experience adjusting my mechanics and the second will examine why changes in your form can be good…..or bad.
Let me preface this by saying two things: First, I am not an expert in biomechanics, running form, or anything else for that matter. The second is that forefoot striking/barefoot running is not for everyone. Believe it or not, you don't have to shell out $100 for a pair of Vibram Five Fingers to make some beneficial changes to your running form. Let's rewind to January 1, 2007.
On New Year's Day of 2007, I ran four miles. I laced up the same pair of Asics Nimbus 7s that I had been wearing for over a year (multiple pairs, obviously) and set out for an easy run in my beloved hometown (Go Phillies!). But this run was different. I purposefully landed not on my heels, but on the balls of my feet for the entire run. It was pretty awkward. Since November of 2005, I had run three marathons: New York, Boston and Chicago, all on my heels. Over that time I had a nonstop string of very minor injuries. None were severe enough to prevent me from running, but there was always a quad, hipflexor, or knee that didn't feel quite right. I had done a bit of research about forefoot striking (this was before Chi and Pose running were really popular) and decided to give it a go. Running on the balls of my feet (and the accompanying mechanical changes necessary to sustain that form) just made sense to me. I was able to use my arches, ankles, knees and hips to absorb the shock of every stride. Comparitively, running wasn't nearly as jarring when I landed on my toes, although my calves were under much more stress. Overall, I felt the changes were a good thing, so I continued throughout the month.
With a bit of patience, I was able to run those 4 miles with more ease and less soreness as the weeks progressed. And then I realized that I was signed up for Boston in April, increased my mileage way too quickly, and as a result of that bonehead mistake ended up with a calf strain. While mssing Boston was tough, I was determined to learn from my mistake and be patient with the transition from heel to forefoot. That November, I ran New York City again, entirely on my toes.
Since adjusting my form, I've finished an Ironman, gotten a promotion at work, landed a great girlfriend and found inner peace. Uh okay, it's really not that life-changing. The most noticeable difference has been a lower frequency of those minor annoying injuries, although I still battle occasional achilles tendonitis. While it has worked for me, significantly changing your form may not work for you. No, it didn't make me faster (smarter training has), but the fact that I'm able to run without those nagging injuries sure has helped.