Forefoot Running – How to Avoid Calf & Achilles Pain

By far one of the biggest mistakes made by distance runners and triathletes when transitioning from the typical heel striking running technique to a forefoot strike, is the tendency to run too far forwards ‘on their toes’, not allowing their heel to touch the ground AT ALL. While this kind of forefoot strike pattern feels wonderfully light and efficient in the short-term, it often this leads to injury as we increase the training load.

As described in the video below, sprinters need to be able to run with a truly forefoot contact pattern, with a super-short contact time. Their heels don’t touch the ground at any point during stance phase. Sprint spikes are designed with this in mind! However, while that is appropriate for sprinters, us endurance athletes are not sprinters!

Endurance runners and triathletes need to consider the demands of our sport. For us, effective running form is one that affords the best trade-off between efficiency (metabolic) and sustainability (injury resilience). Especially for those racing longer than Olympic distance tri, an effective forefoot strike (more like midfoot strike) can’t have you remaining ‘on your toes’ throughout stance phase, like a sprinter might. This loads the calf and achilles complex excessively it works hard to maintain a plantarflexed ankle position throughout stance phase.

Over time, the majority of runners and triathletes who find themselves doing this will, in my experience end up with some sort of lower leg injury.

Instead this is what you should be aiming for – Immediately after initial contact with the forefoot (ball of the foot), allow the foot to relax and allow the heel to come into contact with the ground as the foot loads maximally under your body.

Allowing the heel to lower briefly to the ground, secondary to the forefoot allows the calf and achilles complex to load eccentrically and store energy, doing what it mechanically does best!

This ‘feel the heel touch down’ has been the most important factor in successful transition to a forefoot / midfoot strike in the many triathletes and runners I’ve helped to develop a more sustainable and efficient running, both during face-to-face coaching and our Online Running Technique Course (limited 50% discount).

The take-home message is fairly simple this time: if you’re trying to change your running form to more of a forefoot/midfoot strike, make sure you feel for the heel ‘kissing’ the ground with each foot contact!