PR81 Bretta Riches on Running Technique

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I talk with Bretta Riches of RunForefoot.com about proper running technique. Bretta was experiencing injuries as a heel striker, and made the transition to a more natural style of forefoot running. Since making the switch she’s had less injuries and runs faster with less effort.

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Links:

Pose Running

Puma H Street

Vibram FiveFingers

Injinji Socks

Magic Mile: 4:59


Quotes from the show:

“I don’t take a break, because I don’t feel sore when I run this way. I don’t stretch, I don’t do drills. Basically when I am running it’s one big drill to monitor my form.”

“I like speed, I do 15 x 400 meter repeats. I’m a big fan of intervals. To get faster you need to run faster. I’m not a fan of the long slow distance runs because I don’t want to get used to slowing down again. The goal for me is to adopt a quicker pace, which feels a lot different. The goal is to align my body to adopt a quicker pace.”

“My running feels much smoother when I run this way.”

“A lot of people make the mistake of pushing off too much with their toes and feet. The feet essentially should act as passive platforms that prevent you from falling down.”

Transcript:

Aaron: Welcome to another episode of Paleo Runner podcast. I’m your host, Aaron Olson. You can find more information by going to paleorunner.org or you can follow me facebook.com/runpaleo or on twitter @runpaleo.

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I just wanted to say thank you to everyone that’s been sending me messages on email and Facebook and twitter, asking about if I am going to be producing these shows anymore? It’s great to hear from you guys and I think I have been able to carve out some time, and it’s been a little difficult for me as a new dad trying to figure out when I am going to produce the shows and record and everything like that, but I think I’ve been able to carve out some time and still have time with her and do the show. So, I’m planning on producing these on a regular basis for everyone who is interested, and I look forward to connecting with you guys more.

The guest for today’s show is Bretta Riches and I am not exactly sure how I stumbled across her site Runforefoot.com but I saw some interesting stuff on there and I thought I would have her on the show to interview her and find out more about it. She is a biomechanist, and she talks a lot on her site about how to run with proper running technique using a more barefoot stride, and I thought it might be fun to pick her brain a little bit and see if she could give us any tips for running, so thanks again for tuning in, here is the interview.

Aaron: My guest today is Bretta Riches,. Bretta is the founder of runforefoot.com She is a biomechanist and she is specifically interested in how your mechanics of running help you prevent injury. So Bretta, thanks so much for being part of the show.

Bretta: Thank you for having me.

Aaron: So, Bretta, you run the website runforefoot.com Tell me a little bit about how you got interested and what started that up.

Bretta: Well what started me to run and to create runforefoot.com was basically, I was interested in foot street mechanics and I really wanted to talk about health benefits and performance benefits of forefoot running, and I also wanted to advocate the health harming effects of heel strike running. Also on ruinforefoot.com I discuss my journey to forefoot running because when I first started running I was a heel striker and I was battling injuries all the time, and as I researched the literature, I discovered that forefoot striking was associated with greater impact reducing mechanisms compared to heel strike running, and when I transitioned, I found that my injuries became a thing of the past.

However; my transition was quite rocky because I had a poor understanding of what a forefoot strike actually looked like and on my website, I define what the proper forefoot strike is because when I first transitioned, I thought that forefoot running was toe running and I think a lot of forefoot running transitioners make the mistake of being to high up on the toes instead of a much flatter foot placement, and I made that mistake so I really talk about in detail what a forefoot running looks like and the do’s and don’t of forefoot running, so that people don’t make the same mistakes I made during my transition process.

Aaron: I see, and how long of a process was that for you and when did you start transitioning?

Bretta: I’ve been running for about 4 years, and the first year, that’s when I was heel striking and I was suffering a lot of injuries, then my transition process began shortly after that, however; it took me about a good year to really figure it out because, at the time, chee running and pose running wasn’t around so I didn’t really have a good resource to learn, and I, like I said before, I was unsure of how I should be running, I thought forefoot running was toe running and so I actually dealt with achilles problems for a long time, but the big turning point for me was watching Ethiopian runners run primarily, Tirunesh Dibaba and I had noticed that the way they strike the ground is very possibly, not high up on the toes but a much flatter foot placement compared to how I was running and so watching Tirunesh Dibaba and her teammates really gave me a clear picture of how I really should be running and helped me tremendously, and that’s when my transition really accelerated and I became successful in learning forefoot running and injury free.

Aaron: You know I had that same problem too as I was transitioning to more natural or a more forefoot strike, I thought that I needed to land more on my toes and that caused a lot of achilles problems as well.

So, what kind of advice do you have for people transitioning as far as how can they know what their foof placement should be like?

Bretta: The biggest mistake forefoot running learners make is that they actually drive their foot into the ground, and you really need to remember is that the heel must contact the ground, but you don’t force your forefoot into the ground, or you don’t drive the balls of your feet into the ground. It’s actually a much flatter foot placement, and it literally, the movement pattern of the foot should go like that, not like toe, heel, and this type of passive movement really reduces landing on the achilles tendon, and a lot of it has to do with perceptual queues, so letting your feet just fall to the ground rather than hyper flexing your toes and landing prominently really high up and just sort of, almost aim for, like a midfoot strike, but making sure that your center pressure is just under your toes so more on the balls of your foot, and not to force the movements but to let the movements happen naturally, and you really want the foot to remain relaxed and, like I said, to fall to the ground instead of pushing hard forcefully on the ground, you don’t want to have that forceful interaction.

The feet, essentially in forefoot running are just platforms that prevent you from falling down, so I think a lot of transitioner’s make the mistake of pushing off with their toes too, so the feet actually have a much more passive role in forefoot running.The problem with heel strikers transitioning to forefoot running is that as a heel striker, we are so used to interacting aggressively with the ground with our foot, so, that’s something that you need to kind of get rid of that habit of forcing your foot onto the ground when a foot in the forefoot strike landing is interacting with the ground much more passively.

Aaron: So, you mentioned that you were dealing with a lot of injuries before you started running this way, what sort of things were you dealing with and how did you know that okay, this transition is correct and proper and going to help me.

Bretta: My biggest injury was I partially ruptured my Achille’s tendon and there’s two reasons why I did that and it wasn’t because of forefoot running, because I transitioned improperly to forefoot running, and like I said before, I had a habit of running to high up onto my toes without letting my heel drop.

So, in the beginning, my calves were shredded, I had a lot of calve pain, then my soleus muscles were hurting and then that’s when you’ll have acute Achille’s problems because the Achille’s takes on greater load because the calve musculature is weak, and is torn, so that is exactly how I just overloaded my Achille’s tendon because I was running around on the balls of my feet, prominently almost on my toes, without relaxing my feet, and letting my heel drop. Another problem that contributed to my Achille’s rupture was the fact that I was, even though I was running in a minimal shoe, the shoe had, it was actually the Nike Free, they still have a little bit of a heel elevation and even though it’s a minimal shoe and it’s light, and it’s very flexible, the heel must drop to the ground and the problem with running in a shoe that has elevated heel is that the heel can’t fully drop down, and reduce the load on the Achille’s tendon, so it was a combination of running high up on the balls of my feet and wearing a heel running shoe, that prevented my heel from dropping and as a result that is what actually tore my Achille’s tendon, partially. Thank God it wasn’t a complete rupture because that would of been really bad.

Aaron: So, how long was that recovery?

Bretta: The recovery wasn’t that long, about a month actually and the swelling, it looked like my ankle had swallowed a softball, the swelling was this big. The best treatment method to combat Achille’s injury is to eccentric heel drops and basically that’s what forefoot running is, the action of lowering of the heel is an eccentric heel drop.I switched to a minimal shoe with like a 0 drop minimal shoe, and I actually ran, I did the run, walk thing until the pain subsided and I actually ran with the injury because it’s important to do heel drops because what happens is that when the Achille’s is torn, there is a recruitment of certain collagent fibers that actually create a very tight matrix of scar tissue what happens is that if you ice the Achille’s injury, and you completely immobilize is, what happens is that you lose the range of motion, so by doing eccentric heel drops, via forefoot running in a minimal shoe, that eccentric action of dropping the heel actually breaks off the scar tissue.

Aaron: So your website is devoted to helping people run faster and run with less injuries, but you’ve kind of been through it all and you know that transitioning can actually cause injuries as well, so what do you recommend that people do, do they need a coach to help watch them or, can they do this by feel?

Bretta: It’s actually by feel, and a lot of it is forgetting what style the conventional biomechanic’s tell you because really if you look at how Ethiopian runners run, especially the female runner’s, they run completely differently than non African elite distance runners, if they have higher arm carriage, they look at the ground when they run, they never look straight ahead, they don’t run upright, so their mechanic’s allows them to interact much safer with the ground and they have a more glide like stride, and a lot of it has to do with just letting your body do what it wants, but to focus more on foot strike, and you don’t need a coach to learn forefoot running, it’s just you have to understand that you can’t be interacting forcefully with your feet. As long as you can let go of the concept of it’s not toe running and just try to adopt a much flatter foot placement and by wearing a 0 drop minimal shoe so that it allows you to feel the ground. I recommend barefoot running as a transition tool like graded barefoot running, because that optimizes sensory feedback and that’s what I use to perfect my, I don’t say perfect, but that really helped me learn forefoot running a lot quicker, but like I said, I think the learner needs to understand exactly what a forefoot strike is, and that’s where it all starts. So, it’s, a lot of people say oh I ran on my toes and I got hurt, but that’s what they were doing is they were running on their toes, and if you watch a lot of the Ethiopian runners, like Tirunesh Dibaba, and _____ it almost looks like their midfoot striking because an actual forefoot strike is much more flatter than what many people think.

So, it’s having the right comprehension of the forefoot strike and when you understand it, then anyone can learn it but obviously you need to do so very gradually. So, too much to soon was my problem, and if people just sort of took their time, and a lot of runners don’t have moderation in their vocabularies, so it’s just a matter of when your learning a new running condition, you have to take it one step at a time, but you really have to focus on relaxing and you need to think about how the ground makes your legs feel, and that’s probably the best way to learn forefoot running, because despite surface hardness, the ground should feel soft regardless, and I think a lot of problems too is that forefoot running learners run to slow, because forefoot running is meant for faster running and I think that if you don’t plan on running faster than an 8 minute mile, then forefoot running is something that you have to run quicker with, it’s not for jogging, and I think a lot of people are a little too nervous to start at first forefoot running because they want to start slow, but really the faster you run, then the softer the ground actually feels.

Aaron: So, if your running at a slow pace, your just on an easy run, are you going to adjust your stride differently, does it matter where your contacting the ground with?

Bretta: Actually, no, the ground contact of the foot stays the same, it doesn’t change, but you find that when you are running slow, you will get the urge to lean a little bit more. I get a lot of emails saying it’s hard to run slow because forefoot runners, how they run, is they tend to have a forward lean and some learners hold back a little bit, they brake because you kind of let yourself go, you’ll run a lot quicker,and I think if you open up your stride too, that really helps.Sometimes if you think to much about your form like shortening your stride, or increasing your step rate, I think if you just let it happen naturally, it will release a lot of muscular tension and you won’t be as overwhelmed.

Aaron: Well I was just going to chime in there in that I think your saying that just listening to your body is really helpful and one of the premises of the show is that our body has evolved over millions of years and it knows what to do if you just let it, so for example, I think your advice to take off your shoes and try it barefoot is really good because you get a lot of that sensory feedback from your foot that you normally wouldn’t get if you were wearing something like say a Nike Free, even though it’s a minimal shoe supposedly, you still are able to run incorrectly because it has that extra cushioning under your foot.

Bretta: I actually ran in the Muzuno Wave Universe 3 which are very minimal and their designed for heel strikers but I didn’t know that, but I looked at the wear pattern of my shoe and I was landing on my heel, or I was making contact with my heel aggressively and I didn’t even know, and even though it is a minimal shoe, and it is a 0 drop shoe, there still a lot of material under the foot and it really inhibits the proverbial perception that you need to avail your correct forefoot strike, but I tend to be careful using the term barefoot running because it turns a lot of runners off because a lot of runners see my forefoot running when the barefoot running movement emerged, runners just dove into it and got injured and said oh that’s crazy, humans aren’t meant to run barefoot on pavement, but really we can run barefoot on pavement because if you run with a forefoot strike the impact transient isn’t produced.

Aaron: Do you run barefoot now or what source of shoes are you wearing?

Bretta: I actually wear the Vibram five fingers and it took me awhile to transition to them.

Before the Vibram five fingers I wore the Puma H Street’s which are great to begin forefoot running because their flat and their very cushiony. They really provide protection but now, I did use barefoot running to refine my technique, and so after about a good year of running in the Puma H Street’s, I was afraid of getting injured which is why I didn’t want to, I’ve always wanted to run in the Vibram FiveFingers and then that’s it, and now I at that point where I can run in the Vibram FiveFingers 13 to 15 kilometers a day and I don’t feel any pain because I’ve learned to listen to my body and make the appropriate adjustments on my own instead of letting the shoe work for me.

Aaron: So your up in Canada, how is that with the weather up there in the Vibram FiveFingers during the Winter?

Bretta: It’s cold! and we have where I live, luckily there is an indoor track, and it’s open to the public and it’s free so that’s where I usually go if the weather gets too cold, but it is pretty cold and I’m looking to get pair of Boosinigee socks, so hopefully, they might help with the cold a little bit.

Aaron: How’s the weather up there right now?

Bretta: Cold! {laughter} It’s cold and rainy, so it’s getting colder to everyday and the snow is going to come but this is my first year running in the Vibram FiveFingers, so I haven’t really, actually no, I just started running in the Spring, so I actually haven’t worn the Vibram FiveFingers in the Winter. So, hopefully, I’ll stay warm somehow.

Aaron: So you said that you started out with the Puma H Streets, and those were okay because they had some cushioning but they were a flat design. I think what you’re saying is that it’s good to have cushioning as long as it doesn’t alter your stride too much?

Bretta: Yeah, you want to feel everything you step on and in the Puma H Street’s, you can feel every pebble, and that is what you want, you want to be able to step something sharp and say ow! The Puma H Street’s has a nice balance of protection because some people just don’t like the way a hard road feels, and that’s why some people who wear the Vibram FiveFingers say oh I just want something that has a little more cushion, and I think the Puma H Street’s is the answer because you can feel all surface irregularities and you can still respond, but it provides just an extra layer of protection, but you don’t want to go anymore in terms of cushioning than the Puma H Street’s, because you don’t want to be making your landings too soft, because that actually hinders stability, you actually want the harder the surface the better and the harder the sole the better, because that will give you more dynamic stability.

Aaron: Have you noticed that your running improved since you switched to this style of running?

Bretta: Yes, a hundred percent because first off, I wasn’t sore and I’m not nursing injuries so I’m running consistently. When I was a heel striker, I was sore all the time, so I was taking a lot of time off to recover, and then I would suffer an injury and that really delayed my training, but with forefoot running, one thing that I noticed is that I’m not sore before and after and during my run, so the recovery time is much shorter and I’ve noticed huge performance gains because of the fact that I can train consistently, and the fact that forefoot running just enables you because there is less resistance, and you have more forward momentum that allows you to run faster, and that’s why a lot of feet runners have a lot of forefoot strength because there is no braking, and there is a lot less joint lows and torque.

Aaron: Okay, so I saw on your instagram profile that you’ve actually have had a few first place finishes. What are some of the times that you’ve been running?

Bretta: One of my times was 45 something, I forget, around 45 minutes but when I was a heel striker, that was for a 10k. When I was a heel striker for a 10k, I would run about 57 minutes, so I’ve come a long way, and for a 8k, I set a PR for 35 minutes, so from I think from 47 minutes, so I’m improving significantly, and that’s just within the last year, and that’s after transitioning to forefoot running so I noticed huge improvements and during the races I don’t feel like I’m working any harder, so it’s not as if oh I was dying. I was actually surprised when I saw my time because to me, I just feel much smoother when I run, and I feel more effortless.

Aaron: How about your training? What kind of training are you doing to achieve those times?

Bretta: I don’t stretch, I don’t do drills or anything like that, I just run, and what works for me is speed and training volume in terms of like distance, so I run everyday, and I don’t take a break, because I’m never sore, and I don’t feel it, and everyday, my legs feel fresh, and that’s pretty much what I do, and I listen to my body. Basically when I’m running, it’s one big drill to monitor my form because I’m still learning even though I think that I’ve done quite well but there are still things that I would like to work on to improve my form and help me relax because the faster you run, you have to get used to a new pace, so you need to make the neuromuscular adaptations to run at that new pace,that’s when you need to work harder to monitor your mechanics, and make sure your landing softly, and not overdoing it.

Aaron: You mentioned speed work, what are you doing for speed work?

Bretta: Basically, I do a lot of 400 meter repeats, they are my favorite because I like going all out, but not sprinting, but I like speed, so I do, maybe, roughly, 15 by 400 meter repeats, that’s my favorite, or 10 by 100 meter repeats. I’m a big fan of the intervals, and I know that’s what I benefit from, I know everyone has their own learning curve with respects to training but that is just something that I benefited from and to get faster, you need to run faster, so I’m not a fan of the long, slow distance runs because I don’t want to get used to slowing down again, like I want to try to adopt a quicker pace, which feels a lot different, like in a race, you tend to run faster, and you know your running faster, and you’re not used to it so the goal for me is just to align my body to adopt a new pace, a quicker pace, so that’s why I’m a big fan of the speed work.

Aaron: Okay, Okay, so you know we’ve talked a lot about forefoot strike, what about other parts of your body, what should you be doing with your arms?

Bretta: Your arms, and I’ve researched the heck out of this, your arms actually don’t play a big role in running, what they really are is an effective mass for balance. What I was told, many coaches will say your arms should be kept down at your sides, and should swing from your shoulders and you should have an elbow go out at a 90 degree angle, but if you look at a lot of, again, Ethiopian runners, they all have much higher arm carriage, and they don’t really have an arm swing, they have more of a shoulder swing, they have a lot more upper body rotation and for me, when I forget, or when I stop thinking about arm swing, because when you run you can only think about one thing at a time. It’s really difficult to think about 5 different things, although your mechanic’s when your running. it gets very overwhelming and frustrating, so for me, I just focus on my foot strike, and my arms counter balance my legs, because that’s what they do, When you think about your arms, your mind diverts away from focusing on your foot strike, so when you move your arms and you force a movement in your arms, what’s going to happen is that your legs are going to follow the movement and path of your arms, so it’s best to focus on your foot strike and let your arms kind of work in the background as effective mass, and I learned to carry my arms in what felt comparable to me, instead of going by what the standard biomecanics suggest, running kind of robotic, but to me that never worked for me, it felt very awkward, so, like I said I learned a lot from Turnish Dubaba and _____ and other Ethiopian female distance runners because they all run with really high arm carriage and that worked for me, and so I think arm carriage is kind of a things that’s overrated and it’s not that big of a deal. I think if you focus to much on your arm swing, you’ll forget about what the rest of your body is doing, particularly your feet, which is what you should be focusing on, that’s the most important thing because that’s where all the problems start, so, on your arms, don’t pump them because that just wastes energy, and it’s best just to keep your arm swing, just do what feels natural, just let your body flow and that’s what has worked for me, and that’s when all of my problems went right away. As soon as I just forgot about everything and just focused on my foot strike, and relaxing, and forgot about my arm swing, about what my arms were doing, and that let my body move, I felt my own flow, I moved naturally and that’s when I noticed big improvements.

Aaron: Okay, so let’s say people are listening to this and they are thinking this sounds great, I want to give this a try, how much can they start out with, do you have any recommendations, should they start out with a mile, or what about distance, do you have any recommendations there?

Bretta: It depends on where you are, like if your a midfoot striker, then it depends on like your fitness level too, it depends on your running experience. If your a heel striker, that’s something they might need a little bit more time so they would have to ease into it because you need to let go of all your heel strike habits. So it’s best if they start with drills first, and I recommend even reading Pose Running and T running, that’s how what kind of got me started, and you want to start off with doing barefoot drills first, and then, just learning to relax, and there’s really no limit, like just with anything when you start something new, you want to ease into it, but definitely the run, walk thing thing is very important, its fundamental, you don’t want to be maintaining the same training volume as your old style of running when your running a new style of running because that’s how people get injured, and so, you have to do it very gradually, but the run, walk approach just is really good to get started, and just listening to your body and if something cramps up or if you feel like a pull somewhere or something like a sharp pain, you really have to stop, assess where that pain is, and sometimes it’s best to just stop there, but the best approach is to start off, your right, a mile then walk for however long, just do what you feel comfortable with and if you think you can do more, and you really monitor how your interacting with the ground, you can definitely increase your mileage between intervals.

Aaron: Got ya, got ya. Well Bretta, we’re coming up to the end of the show and I got a new segment called the Magic Mile and my question for you is if you had three months to train, and just do nothing but train for the next three months, you didn’t have to worry about your bills or anything, what do you think you could run one mile in as fast as possible?

Bretta: As my time?

Aaron: Yeah

Bretta: Like a 5 minute mile maybe, I don’t know.

Aaron: A 5 minute mile? Okay how about 4:59?

Bretta: Sure

Aaron: Alright well we’ll put you up on the Leader Board then, on that page on my website and where can people go to find out more about you?

Bretta: My website runforefoot.com and that’s pretty much you’ll know my research and the objective of forefoot.com and learn more about the difference between forefoot running and heel striking, and my journey as well, proper footwear and that’s pretty much where you can contact me is my website.

Aaron: Great, well thanks so much for being part of the show.

Bretta: Thanks for having me.

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If your interested in getting a free audio book download, go to audibletrial.com/paleorunner Once your there, you can sign up for a free audio book and if you decide not to continue with the service you can cancel or you can just get your free audio book and you can take it with you and you can actually download it to your computer or to your phone or through the app so go to audibletrial.com/paleorunner and get your free audio book.

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Aaron

Paleo lifestyle enthusiast, Minimalist runner

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