I used to hate running.
I would have a sore knee, sore hip, sore leg, sore foot... I'd feel heavy and clunky and couldn't run 3km/1.8mi without having to stop and walk along the way. Some of that was general fitness, yes. A lot of it I attribute, now, to how I run.
I remember one day Nic and I went for a run together, which was unusual because we rarely do this- he is faster than I am, and could run further than I could at the time. I suddenly had a sharp, unexpected pain in my hip. Frustrated, I looked over at Nic with his easy, bouncy gait and declared: "Fine! I'll just run like you!"
See, Nic is naturally a forefoot runner. Somehow, he has always run by striking the ground with the meaty front part of his foot first, before the ball of his foot very lightly brushes the ground. Sounds like running in reverse, right?
Strange thing was, after I'd said these words, I tried it - I was too far up on my toes and remember awkwardly hobbling along trying to jog on tip-toes... but the pain subsided. I thought this was strange- that doing something foreign could alleviate pain if I was meant to have trained and built fitness running the normal way. I took this as a sign and I started training.
I spent a lot of time doing short runs. I re-did the couch-to-5km-program, paying particular attention to how I landed on my feet. I became acutely aware (and I still am, now) of if I'm too far forward, or if I'm trying too hard. I came home with sore Achilles - tendons that were so rarely used before. Sore calves! I mean, isn't running meant to be about using your legs?!
But it felt better.
My running felt easier and I enjoyed it. It was hard work, it was constant conditioning of my legs, but I no longer felt heavy (and I'm not heavy, by the way, I just felt like I was when running), I felt light, and springy. I felt like my legs were elastic, long and sprightly. I'd never felt this way before and I'd been 'running' for years.
The interesting thing for me has been - I've not had any injuries since I changed my gait. I get sore muscles after I do a 10km run, but that's because that's the absolute limit to my fitness. A year ago I would have laughed at the thought of doing 10km. No way, too far. I can barely run for 15 minutes let alone over an hour. I have a little niggle above my foot, though I suspect that could be partially due to wearing ballet slipper-type shoes and having to keep them on my feet.
Here's what you mightn't know - modern shoes, with so much technology, have a huge heel to toe drop. That is to say that essentially you're wearing high-heels (well, maybe not that extreem) in your sneakers. Apparently there's been research done, and whether you wear a more 'flat' shoe or not doesn't necessarily 'force' you to run fore (or mid)foot (I think that has to be a conscious decision), but I think these high-heeled shoes do make new runners run heel first.
Have a look at these shoes and tell me if this looks 'natural':
These are the shoes I run in (below). They look like they have a heel, but when I stand in them, I don't feel like I'm tilted down hill like I do with most other shoes- they're flat.
And look, maybe there's nothing wrong with it, this is my personal experience, but I tell you what - every now and then I change to heel-strike just to see how it feels, and instantly, I feel like all the shock is absorbed through my bones. Now, my muscles can act as elastic bands- it's kinda what they're made for, but every time you hit the pavement, and shocks go up your bones, and you land heavily instead of springing off the ground, LIKE A GAZEL??? That's not for me.
I suppose I like it because, if you take off your shoes and go for a run, barefoot, around a grassy field, I am doubtful that many, if anybody, would heel-strike. Naturally, I don't think we're meant to run that way. So we loose condition in our legs, and in our feet (interesting fact: I used to have SEVERELY flat feet - they have nice smooth arches now. Nothing extreme, but certainly more than there used to be.), and expect our joints and our bones to take all the impact.
If you're a runner, maybe you should try it out- just a really short run. See if you feel better. If you're not a runner, if you've tried running and failed, if you'd like to run, it might be worthwhile giving it another try, but altering how you run. Using this gait is natural for me now, but at first it was a really conscious decision with each step, basically. But hey, I can run, and I couldn't say that before I changed. Have a look on youtube if you want to see the gait slowed down, or get some more information. Like everything, though, there's people for and against it - as there is for heel strike.
There's plenty of videos on Youtube analysing gaits... what always gets me is when people heel-strike and lock out their knee, then land heavily. Ouch.