Different Footrike Patterns in Running

Embracing Your Run: Insights from World Championship Marathoners' Footstrike Patterns

fatigue running running biomechanics running economy running efficiency running footstrike triathlon Mar 14, 2024


The world of marathon running, or just running in general, is rife with theories on how to achieve the ‘perfect’ stride. As amateur and professional runners alike strive for that competitive edge, a particular focus has often been placed on footstrike patterns — that is, whether one lands on the heel, midfoot, or forefoot when the foot hits the ground. However, in a first of it’s kind research paper, led by Brian Hanley and colleagues in 2020, challenges the significance of this aspect in overall marathon performance at elite levels. Let's delve into the study and see what it means for runners of all stripes.

Study Overview:

The research scrutinized the biometrics of elite runners during the  2017 World Championship marathons (via very high quality video analysis of the marathon runners in the last two laps of the race, when fatigued). Looking at athletes' performances, the researchers aimed to understand if different footstrike patterns influenced marathon outcomes, specifically in terms of efficiency and fatigue. This exhaustive evaluation involved comparing kinematic differences, essentially the study of motion, among runners using different footstrikes.

Key Findings:

Contrary to popular belief, the study revealed that a specific footstrike pattern was not a critical factor in the runners' performance or their endurance as fatigue set in. Heel strikers, midfoot strikers, forefoot strikers — none displayed a clear advantage over the others in terms of kinematics associated with either speed or the ability to maintain it when tired.

What Does This Mean for Runners - especially those of use that either aren’t elite, or are not running marathons?

For one thing, these findings can be quite empowering. Here's why:

1. Personal Comfort: This research suggests that it might be more beneficial for runners to focus on what feels natural to them rather than attempting to adopt a footstrike pattern that doesn’t come naturally. In a recent interview with Dr Benno Nigg, Professor Emeritus of Kinesiology and Human Performance, world leading Sports Podiatrist Simon Bartold asked the question: what’s your fundamental rule when prescribing running shoes? Answer: “light and comfortable”. So there’s a theme here. Comfort is more important than trying to adapt to something you think will make you more efficient.

2. Improved Focus: Instead of fixating on altering their running form in ‘potentially’ unnecessary ways (that’s not saying cadence, trunk angle etc are not unnecessary), runners can instead concentrate on other aspects of training that may have more tangible benefits — such as conditioning, nutrition, and mental fortitude.

3. Unique Biomechanics: Every runner has a different physical structure, and what works for a world-class marathoner might not suit a casual jogger. Recognizing the importance of individual biomechanics encourages a more personalized approach to training.

4. Reduced Pressure: There's a psychological advantage in understanding that optimal performance is multi-faceted and unique to the individual, which reduces the pressure to conform to a standardized running style.

5. Gender Variation: there are variations in gender movement patterns. And at a deeper level, especially when considering return to run programmes &/or post-natal strength training, “it all comes out in the wash” and the variations, for the ‘normal’ runner, are not worth sweating over.


The takeaway from Hanley et al.'s 2020 study is profound yet straightforward: embrace how you run. While it’s always vital to remain open to improvements in technique, relying on one's intuitive style appears to be compatible with both comfort and performance — even at the highest levels of competition. Thus, as you lace up your running shoes and chart out your next route, remember that your unique stride is more than just a personal trademark; it's a testament to the complex tapestry of what makes an effective runner. Keep exploring, keep learning, but above all, keep running true to you.


Men's and Women's World Championship Marathon Performances and Changes With Fatigue Are Not Explained by Kinematic Differences Between Footstrike Patterns. Brian Hanley, Athanassios Bissas, Stephane Merlino, Front. Sports Act. Living, 06 August 2020 Sec. Elite Sports and Performance Enhancement, Volume 2 - 2020 |


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