Burning Runner: I Admit It, I’m A Chronic Heel Striker!

T.J thought he was a mid-foot striker...well, he thought wrong!

Heel hitting the ground first? No!
The picture doesn't lie. T.J. Murphy is not a mid-foot striker.
Shoes? Who needs shoes?
No shoes=no heel striking=no problems!

T.J thought he was a mid-foot striker…well, he thought wrong!

Written by: TJ Murphy

If you’d asked me about my running form back in October when I raced the Rock ‘n’ Roll Los Angeles Half Marathon, I would have told you I landed mid-foot. I was sure of it. But as the race photo on the left shows, my right foot is making contact with the lateral point of the heel. According to Dr. Nicholas Romanov, inventor of the Pose method, “in order to land on your heel your foot has to be out in front of your body. As you roll across the foot, your full body weight comes crashing down on your foot through a leg that is now straight and fully extended, with no ability to absorb shock. Then, as you toe off, you are literally trying to kick your body forward through your extended toes. No wonder you hurt all over.”

It was two weeks after this race that my right knee shut down. According to Kelly Starrett, the shutdown was the body’s protective mechanism, a last resort to stop me from grinding myself (through 60 miles a week) toward a knee replacement.

The interesting thing to me is that my perception was that I was a mid-foot or even a toe runner. A mistaken perception.

The other photo is of my girlfriend, Rachael Hoagland, who chucked her shoes at around the 9-mile point of a recent half marathon because they were bugging her toes. She ran the final four miles barefoot and, as Romanov and others explain, this is an immediate way to solve the heel striking problem.

The path toward achieving a better running form, via Brian MacKenzie’s coaching of the Pose method, is 2-3x weekly drills and also the strength, mobility and conditioning work is to prepare my body so that it can handle striking the ground in a different way. So far working with this approach my knee pain has vanished, I can feel more strength in my hamstrings and hips, but I clearly have a long way to go. The emphasis over the next 6 to 8 weeks will be to see how much change I can generate.


T.J. Murphy is the Editorial Director of Competitor Magazine. A 2:38 marathoner and five-time Ironman finisher, he is the former editorial director of Triathlete Magazine and Inside Triathlon. His writing has also appeared in Outside Magazine and Runner’s World.