Everywhere I look today, I see information on "the perfect running form." Articles on how to move from an ungainly heelstrike to a beautiful stride where your midfoot gently kisses the ground. How you should ditch your heavy foamboat foot coffin trainers with their high wedge heels and go to a minimalist zero-drop shoe that promotes good form. How this will all help you run faster, more efficiently, and injury-free. I can hardly go to a running website or forum anymore without being bombarded with information overload on form and shoes! And people are eating this information up too, to the point that I see more questions about running form and shoes than about training!
I know a lot of runners. There's a lot of variation as far as form goes, and as far as what shoes they wear. There are a lot of heel strikers, some midfoot strikers, and even a few forefoot strikers. And their shoe choices run the gamut from traditional trainers with a high level of cushioning and stability to completely barefoot. And it's not like the slow ones are the heel strikers who wear heavy trainers...my fastest friend is a heel striker who primarily wears the Brooks Defyance, a neutral trainer with a 12mm heel-toe differential and a high level of inherent stability for a shoe of its class (yes, neutral shoes have support built in). However, there is one thing that all of the fast ones have in common...they all work their effin' asses off.
Now, before we go any further, let me answer the question that several angry people are ready to pose: am I insinuating that people who are concerned with form are not training hard? Of course not. You can play around with form and still train hard. AlSal had Dathan doing it, and he's working pretty darn hard. That's not what I'm talking about at all. The catch is Dathan is not more concerned about his form than with the rest of his training (I'm assuming so anyway, since I don't actually know Dathan, but I think it's a reasonable conclusion). My concern is the people who are trying to change their natural heelstrike to a midfoot strike or transition from their Brooks Glycerin to the Somnio Nada in hopes of getting faster, and convincing themselves that that's more important than say...hard 800 repeats on the track.
Not every person has the same structure. We all have the same big structures, and we all run basically the same way. However, there are small structural differences from person to person. Small differences in the angles of our bones, or the laxity of our ligaments. All of this means that different strides are most efficient for different people. Amby Burfoot just wrote about how generalizations about foot strike and shoe choices are stupid. It just doesn't work. Not everyone will run best as a midfoot striker who wears minimalist shoes, and for many people, those two conditions will increase their risk of injury. The idea that everyone should transition to minimalist shoes is every bit as ludicrous as the idea that everyone needs orthotics.
But enough preaching about that. I do enough of that in other posts. What I want to discuss is the fact that many people are trying so hard to attain that perfect form that they are losing sight of what actually needs to be done to make them a better runner. That's hard, quality training. Depending on where you are in your running career, it could be high mileage, it could be fast track work, it could be long tempo runs, or it could be, and most likely is, some combination of those (and more). Hard work is sometimes unpleasant. I'm not going to sit here and lie and say it's all fun and games, because it's not. But it's what makes you faster. We all like to try to find the easiest, least painful way to attain our goals. That's just human nature. And working on moving to a midfoot strike or running low mileage because you're transitioning to less shoe sure sounds easier and less painful than 10x1600 at tempo pace. But the easiest and least painful way isn't always the best way (and sometimes, it's the completely wrong way). Most of the time, shortcuts don't work. Changing your natural footstrike or transitioning to a more minimalist shoe is not a substitute for real work.
Similarly, there are a lot of people who get injured and automatically blame their shoes or their "poor form." However, assuming you're not in a radically wrong pair of shoes for your biomechanics, most injuries are training related. Simply put, you went faster or longer than what your tendons and ligaments are currently able to handle. Structural changes happen slowly (much slower than cardiovascular changes, for example), making it easy to push too hard and injure the structures of your body that are taking longer to adapt than your cardiovascular system. (Gotta be honest here, I'm guilty of this too sometimes.)
In general, I'd encourage people to stick with what kind of stride comes naturally to them, and to figure out their most efficient stride through training. When you're putting in high mileage weeks or running Daniels' style repetition work, your body is going to figure out what's most efficient for your personal structure on its own. You'll be too tired or trying to run too fast to run with anything but efficient form. Your body will have no choice but to to run in a manner than conserves energy (the definition of efficiency). But if you really want to play around with your stride, nothing I say is going to stop you. So instead, I'll just give you a friendly reminder to keep in mind that it won't make you faster the way quality work will, so please don't lose sight of what it actually takes to make you a better runner.