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Perfect Strike- how should your foot strike the ground when running an Obstacle Course Race?

Perfect Strike- how should your foot strike the ground when running an Obstacle Course Race?

December 9, 2017

Nike did a horrible disservice to the running world when they came out with their “Air Max” running shoes in the 90’s.

For those of you who don’t know, those were the shoes with the big see-through air bubble designed into the heel.

By beefing up the cushion in the heel, Nike created the perception in people’s minds that their heel should hit the ground first when running. Not true! So, what’s the correct impact position for your foot when running and why should you care? Let’s start with why you should care. First and foremost, an obstacle course race is primarily a running activity.

In a Spartan Super, Spartan Beast or full Tough Mudder, running nine or more miles is a requirement of finishing the race. One of the most common mistakes I see people make is to focus their training plan exclusively on how to overcome obstacles and not consider the running aspect- even though that’s a majority of the race!

The second reason you should care about your foot hitting the ground properly is that it makes you a more efficient runner, which means you can run faster and have more energy for completing the obstacles.

The correct impact position for your foot to hit the ground depends a lot on the ground itself. The way your foot hits the ground varies if the surface on which you’re running is flat, inclined or declined.

Flat Ground:

When running on flat ground, a mid-foot strike is ideal.

  Mid-foot itself might be a bit of a misnomer because I think most people equate mid-foot to the arch of their foot.

Your arches aren’t going to touch the ground because they’re, well, arched. A mid-foot strike means that the first thing to hit the ground will be the space between the arch and ball of your foot. Specifically, the space on the outside of your foot between the arch and ball.

This type of foot strike allows your foot to naturally pronate, or roll from the outside to the inside of the ball of your foot which is where your foot is going to leave the ground again as you propel yourself forward.

Incline: Every obstacle course designer loves to incorporate hills on the path to the obstacles.

When you’re faced with these, the ideal impact position moves up to the ball of your foot. You can help yourself achieve this impact position by leaning your body forward a little more than usual, which you almost need to do naturally to maintain balance on an incline.

Keeping your torso tilted forward also forces you to take short, choppy steps which will naturally cause you to land on the balls of your feet.

Decline: For every uphill, there is a downhill.

This is where I see a lot of obstacle course runners strike the ground with their heels first. I understand that they’re trying to put on the brakes, but why would you?

Trying to slow yourself on a decline zaps energy almost as much as running up a hill because you’re fighting gravity either way.

When faced with a downhill, a mid-foot strike is still ideal. It will make you go faster and save your energy because you’ll have to fight less to maintain your pace.

Happy racing!

By Jodie Wood, Bad Ass Runner Chick

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