Gordon Pirie Book

Revelations that modern running is wrong

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22/08/2002 at 09:25
Has anybody else seen this excellent free book by the legendary Gordon Pirie ?


I'm inclined to completely agree with him that modern running shoes are designed all wrong - I find that I run better in my Walsh's on the road than I do in a pair of cumfy Asics road shoes.
22/08/2002 at 14:46
If I remember rightly, Gordon used to train in boots - I mean heavy leather boots, so that when it came to races he felt so much lighter!
23/08/2002 at 08:17
I'm reading Mr Pirie's book now, it's certainly a different approach to the likes of Dave Bedford and co. in the early 70's.
I think things work differently for each person. I'm not yet experienced enough to comment on it but I would imagine a lot of what he says concerning running shoes in the modern age are true.
30/08/2002 at 12:42
I tried to adopt the running style recommended in the book but its practically impossible to achieve a forefoot strike in my current 'boots' (Asics Nimbus) just as he predicted.

I was wondering what shoes to try instead, I initially thought that racing flats e.g. Asics Tigers Paw might be suitable but even these have an elevated heel. Then I saw track shoes and these look perfect as they have no heel at all but they do have metal spikes in the forefoot. I don't suppose the council and highways agency would appreciate me running along the roads in metal spikes.

Does anybody know if the spikes are removable ? Has anybody else tried distance running in these ? Am I completely mad and destined for the casualty dept ?
30/08/2002 at 14:35
Having a look on Runners Need, the Nike Strike Vapour shoe looks like the sort of thing you are looking for in that the heel cushioning is the same as that under the forefoot, i.e. not elevated.

You can get distance spikes but of course they are made on the assumption that you are either on a track or on grass, both of which will have some shock absorption. Perhaps you need to take up cross-country to test the theory?
30/08/2002 at 14:55
One of the current (i.e. says September on the front) running mags, either RW or Running Fitness, has got a review of some Nike shoes that are like spikes without the spikes, if you see what I mean. Might do the job.

I'm ploughing my way through the book at the moment - fortunately it looks a lot like the kind of thing I read at work anyway. Pirie's memories of plimsols reminded me that when I first ran (through fields of dinosaurs) in my teens I always wore Dunlop Green Flash tennis shoes. These were flat but had some cushioning throughout.

Some years later I had a spell of running in bare feet (it was a karate thing, don't ask). Fine once you get used to it.

Now, what did I do with my medicine. What year did you say it was, nurse?
30/08/2002 at 15:04
Thanks for the posts, the Nike Streak Vapours look like the sort of thing. I'll also check the Magazines next time I'm in WHSmiths.

I'm hoping to build my training upto 40 miles per week using the technique so look out for the inevitable 'Please help - chronically injured.' post in a few weeks :-)
30/08/2002 at 16:19
Just downloaded the book and had a quick glance through at the pages on technique - very interesting, I've long been aware that all the best runners are forefoot strikers and the rest of us 'midfield mediocres' tend to be heel strikers but I've never seen it stated so clearly that it's possible to learn a good technique - I think it tends to be taken for granted that your gait is whatever it is, and you're stuck with it. I've also run barefoot (martial arts training, Tae-kwon-do in my case) and then I've naturally assumed a forefoot striking gait (as without cushioning it's obvious that your heels aren't meant to hit the ground first - it hurts!) but never thought to try to extend it to my 'real' running.

As to 'suitable shoes' - yes, you can screw the spikes out of track shoes, but don't for heaven's sake try using them on tarmac, they simply aren't designed for it. Track spikes generally have a sole plate (that the spikes screw into) made of hard plastic that will give zero grip without the spikes in place. As I say I've only skimmed the 'technique' section but from what I've read I'd say that a pair of racing flats should work OK - although they do tend to have a bit of built up heel cushioning it's often pretty minimal and the soles are so flexible they won't 'force' you into heel striking.

I'm certainly going to give it a try - when we're in physio next to each other we can discuss what it was we were doing wrong - lol. How about comparing progress/impressions via the forum?
30/08/2002 at 16:36
There's also the bit about cutting the tabs off the back of your shoes to avoid achilles problems - I'll certainly give that a go.
30/08/2002 at 17:17
Andrew - if you're looking for shoes that don't have the elevated "platform heels" of most brands, then take a look at almost every Mizuno shoe - far better than anything else I've found for that old forefoot strike routine - and you might actually avoid injury with them! But then they're a bit too "modern" for Mr Pirie I guess??!! Can't wait to read the book - this all sounds wild!
30/08/2002 at 17:24
My experience is that I definitely tend to run as a forefoot striker at speed but as I get tired or slow down I tend to slip to midfoot/ heel strike.

I think as Gordon was clearly running fast at the time his stride may have been natural to him but I think to try and change natural running style could cause more problems than its worth (injuries, increased energy consumption etc).

Glenn - I wouldn't cut the backs out of your heel tabs unless you're experiencing problems as most modern shoes have this done already. Remeber Gordon was running a few years ago and things have improved since then.
30/08/2002 at 17:31

Thanks for the advice. I have been having some problems on the left tendon and even before reading Gordon's advice was considering cuttting the tab. I will look closely first though. I'm using asics nimbus - don't know if they've got unusually high tabs.
30/08/2002 at 17:35
only one question - why does a book on running have a cover picture of a bloke fishing????? or does this all become clear????!!!!
30/08/2002 at 19:25
OK, just had to rush out and try it........

First impressions are:

1) feels weird - like mincing rather than striding
2) my calves are really feeling it, after just two miles
3) racing flats work fine
4) I had to really concentrate on not falling back into my old gait, especially when trying to speed up
5) It slowed me down - but that's only to be expected at first.

Martin, I take your point about the possible 'risks' of trying to modify your 'natural' gait, but think I'll stick with it for a while. As a fairly heavy heel striker I did feel like I was putting a lot less shock through my knees and hips - significantly at the end of yesterday's tempo run I had some sharp pain in my right knee, so was planning to rest today (as hoping to race this sunday) but it's felt absolutely fine through the two miles I've just done.

Haven't got far enough through to find out about the fishing though!
30/08/2002 at 19:48
Well done, Slowboy - let us know how you get on. I'm a forefoot striker myself, more by accident than design, and the theory fits with everything I've always felt, but so many people tell you is wrong.

Are you going to go the whole hog and emulate his training mileage? Can you believe the guy - it's quite phenomenal.

Old Gordon was obviously a complete nutter, and not exactly modest at that, but he's one of those rather alarming nutters who seem to talk an awful lot of sense. I don't think I'm going to rush out and hack my shoes to bits quite yet, though. (Actually, I think he'd probably have approved of the Mizunos I run in (Precision) which are very un-wedge-like and have the kind of forefoot cushioning that he's talking about. Why do so many running shoes look just like high-street fashion "trainers"?)
30/08/2002 at 20:16
Achilles - maybe because only 20% of running shoes sold are actually used for running? Puts the manufacturers in a bit of a quandry. I have to come clean at this point and admit a vested interest, as I work for one of them. Anything I post is strictly as a runner though, in case anyone is going to accuse me of hijacking the thread as part of a corporate conspiracy!! ;-)

I like your comment about being a forefoot striker 'by accident rather than design'. I'm a heel striker for exactly the same reason, it's simply what I did when I started running and I never thought to try to change it. I also don't recall seeing any articles/books that focused on technique, certainly not in terms of trying to radically change a poor gait into something more efficient. Maybe if I'd ever had coaching it would have been a different story, but like probably the majority of 'average' runners I've never considered myself serious enough (good enough?) to get any.

As to that level of mileage - probably not in this lifetime!!
31/08/2002 at 10:27
I think that shoe development really is one of the culprits. As mentioned somewhere above, when I started to run back in the mid 70s it was in flat shoes(plimsols then tennis shoes). Of course this resulted in forefoot running - anything else was extremely painful.

As a saddo I also tried last night and found that it was possible in the Nimbus, although it required concentration. In my case I found it difficult to go slowly and intervals seemed faster. The main thing is simply to make sure the foot is under the body when it hits the ground. No odd pains this morning.

To defend modern shoes, they probably do a lot of good in making it possible for people without an athletic background to start. Slower runners, who are doing wonders for their health, do tend to naturally land on their heels, and modern shoes must make this easier and less potentially damaging.
31/08/2002 at 12:36

I agree with your thoughts on modern shoes completely - I think they've been designed to accomodate heel strikers, and provide protection against injury, rather than to force people to heel strike. What's been missing is the knowledge that you might start off heel striking, but you should be aspiring to develop an efficient, forefoot striking style.
31/08/2002 at 14:19
Slowboy, I completely disagree - I think shoes should be designed with a spike under the heel so if you strike with it you get punished !

If it is clearly wrong to heelstrike (I'm not saying that it is I work in IT not physiotherapy) then shoes should be encouraging you not to do it rather than accomodating it.

Anyway I tried this morning with my Nimbus's and I too found it impossible - the best I could manage was a flat landing across the whole foot because of all the padding. I think I'm definately slower aswell but I've probably not increased the turnover of steps at all.

I feel a visit to the running shop coming on for some racing flats.
31/08/2002 at 20:54
Well, a spike under the heel would certainly stop it happening!!

Half marathon tomorrow, it'll be interesting to see how long I can stay in a 'correct' gait - I'm going to try for something no worse than my foot landing flat, which isn't perfect but should still be better than landing heel first. I think it'll be a while before my calves are up to maintaing a correct gait for any distance.

If you don't want to go for all out racing flats, a lightweight/neutral/performance trainer might be ok - I've tried in most of my shoes now and sole flexibility seems to be as important as the actual build up of the heel.

A quick look through the only book I've got that specifically mentions technique (Marathon Manual, co-written by Liz McColgan) boldly states that running heel through toe (i.e. heel striking) is correct, and that 'running on your toes is very tiring and can place undue strain on your muscles and tendons.' It's never easy to get a straight answer on anything, is it??
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