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Relationship of Foot Strike Pattern and Landing Impacts during a Marathon


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: October 2019 - Volume 51 - Issue 10 - p 2073–2079
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000002032

Purpose Foot strike patterns (FSP) influence landing mechanics, with rearfoot strike (RFS) runners exhibiting higher impact loading than forefoot strike (FFS) runners. The few studies that included midfoot strike (MFS) runners have typically grouped them together with FFS. In addition, most running studies have been conducted in laboratories. Advances in wearable technology now allow the measurement of runners’ mechanics in their natural environment. The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between FSP and impacts across a marathon race.

Methods A total of 222 healthy runners (119 males, 103 females; age, 44.1 ± 10.8 yr) running a marathon race were included. A treadmill assessment was undertaken to determine FSP. An ankle-mounted accelerometer recorded tibial shock (TS) over the course of the marathon. TS was compared between RFS, MFS, and FFS. Correlations between speed and impacts were examined between FSP. TS was also compared at the 10- and 40-km race points.

Results RFS and MFS runners exhibited similar TS (12.24g ± 3.59g vs 11.82g ± 2.68g, P = 0.46) that was significantly higher (P < 0.001 and P < 0.01, respectively) than FFS runners (9.88g ± 2.51g). In addition, TS increased with speed for both RFS (r = 0.54, P = 0.01) and MFS (r = 0.42, P = 0.02) runners, but not FFS (r = 0.05, P = 0.83). Finally, both speed (P < 0.001) and TS (P < 0.001) were reduced between the 10- and the 40-km race points. However, when normalized for speed, TS was not different (P = 0.84).

Conclusions RFS and MFS exhibit higher TS than FFS. In addition, RFS and MFS increase TS with speed, whereas FFS do not. These results suggest that the impact loading of MFS is more like RFS than FFS. Finally, TS, when normalized for speed, is similar between the beginning and the end of the race.

1Spaulding National Running Center, Cambridge, MA

2Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA

3School of Sport and Exercise Science, University of Lincoln, Lincoln, UNITED KINGDOM

Address for correspondence: Matthew Ruder, M.S., 3933 Trumbull Ave. #6, Detroit, MI 48208; E-mail:

Submitted for publication March 2018.

Accepted for publication April 2019.

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Online date: May 4, 2019

© 2019 American College of Sports Medicine