Running technique to avoid knee pain

I'd really appreciate some advice, sorry for the long post.

I started running last May using the Couch to 5k programme, and it went really well. Once I'd reached 5k I started adding 10% to my weekend long run until I reached 10k. I stuck at that distance for a few weeks then started upping the distance again and ran a half marathon at the end of November. All without a single blister. I'm not a fast runner - fastest 5k is 30:04, fastest 10k is 1:04 - but I've been very fortunate and haven't had any injuries, or even little twinges to deal with, only a bit of shin pain that soon passes.

But then it all started to go wrong. I went out for a long run on Christmas Eve but had some knee pain and had to cut my run short. The pain has been in both knees but is now in my right knee. It's just under my kneecap on the outside of my leg, but I only get it when I'm running. After a few minutes of stopping running it goes, I don't get any pain when I'm walking or going up and down stairs. I stupidly thought I'd try just running through it, slowing down till it went then speeding up again, and for a few runs that worked, but now it kicks in after only 2 or 3k.

So then I started googling. I've found a few exercises to try and have invested in a foam roller, although that hasn't arrived yet, and I also bought "Born to Run" by Christopher McDougal, which I loved. Although I'm always barefoot at home I'm not planning on taking up barefoot running yet, but a lot of what he writes makes sense. My next move was to go out for a little experimental run on Friday morning, trying out the midfoot strike technique rather than my usual heel strike, and I managed a slow 5k. The good news is that I don't have any knee pain, although that might have been because I hadn't run for over a week. But the bad news is I had massive calf muscle pain afterwards and could barely walk!

So my dilemma is: do I persevere with the new midfoot strike and start the c25k again using that. Or do I stick with my usual heel strike as it was going so well last year, and do lots of knee exercises and foam rollering. I've entered another half marathon in May and I'm desperate to get back to running the 20k a week I was doing last year.

Thanks for reading.


  • hi there, I started using barefoot running technique last  september and did the same as you! overdid it and got awful calf pain! I use the merrell barefoot shoes. Are you using minimalist shoes or have you gone completely barefoot? 

    the thing is, barefoot running brings in underused calf muscles and you have to take it easy. When your calf muscles have recovered a bit, start again but slower this time, start with about a half mile 2 or three times in the first week, and add about a half mile each week to each session. (this would mean you will reach your 5k in about 6 weeks)  You can run in your old shoes and heel strike in other session while you are doing this but the new technique must be done slowly (sorry thats not very clear but i couldnt work out how to say it - hopefully someone else might!).

    I have just run 8 miles in my shoes yesterday with hardly a calf twinge so it will get better honest but give your muscles time to adjust as they re-learn how to run! 

  • Hi I agree Max's Mum

    I'm pretty new to all this and I have recently changed my running technique and its made a world of difference. I used to be a heel striker and I used to have all kinds of problems. But literally in the last week I am a mid foot striker. it genuinely only took me a week to sort this out. However as you mentioned my calves are on fire after a run. I started back at 2 milers and slowly slowly, running every other day, raising my mileage. I find that stretching my calves at various points throughout the day helps massively. Even on my days off I still stretch stretch stretch. I have also been doing calf exercises. I'm presuming these are helping. But I cannot say how happy I am with my progress. But I think the main rule is go back to the beginning, change your style (You can found thousands of websites on how to do this, plus the book you mentioned I have seen on the forums a lot so there must be some good stuff in it) and take it slowly and gently. I know I didn't want to but as I said before I'm glad I did image

  • glad you are getting good results!

    and although there has been a lot of publicity about this running technique especially since 'born to run' but it is not really a new technique, just been re-visited.

    check out this publication by Gordon Pirie, especially the section on running technique and the one about how running shoes should be. Its interesting stuff, like we have come full circle!

    happy running!

  • Chhers for that When I have 5 Ill have a look. Looks V interesting image
  • I was in a similar position. I trained hard for the FLM in 2009 and ended up getting severe ITB pain. I tried Profeet orthotics and hours of physio but nothing really worked...the cortisone injections were extreme and seemed to hinder rather than help!!!

    I then stopped running completely under medical advice and took a good hard look at what I'd been doing. Basically using orthotics, fancy shoes and drugs to mask what was basically bad biomechanics. The doc said don't run anymore...I didn't believe that giving up could be the only solution.

    I looked into other techniques and went to a Chi Running beginners day. It was a revelation. The chi running techniques and ideas mirror much of what is in Born to Run and also Danny Abshire's book Natural Running. I started thinking more about form than speed and distances. I went back to enjoying slow running and worked out what bits of my biomechanics were causing the problem with the help of a good physio.

    It took two years, lots of running in virbram five fingers, pilates and core strengthening plus really concentrated effort on the weaknesses I had (all my problems stem from a weak right glute, weak hamstrings and poor hip flexibility) and I got back to loving my running.

    So far during training for the VLM this April I'm injury free. I've backed off the heavy milages,only run three times a week and cross train. I have the goal of arriving at the start line uninjured...the following 26 miles should be easy in comparison!

    For me the secret has been to take it really steadily. Barefoot or minimal shoes will change large parts of your gait and it does hurt. I find trigger point calf rollers are the solution for me to get rid of the knots in my lower legs as stretching does not quite cut it.

    The Vibrams are great but be really careful if you try them as landing on stones and sticks is REALLY sore (I have broken a couple of foot bones doing not looking where I'm landing)! I now only use them on road...I prefer zero or minimal heel lift flats for trail running which is where I spend most of my time.

    The most important thing though is to relax and go back to enjoying running and concentrating on form rather than times and distances...leave the watch at home to start with!

    I can only speak for myself but it has made an incalculable difference. Pain free running, for me was/is the holy grail. I'll leave the racing to everyone else. Crossing the finish line with a smile rather than a grimace on my face will be great way to spend the 22nd April!

    Good luck and stick with works.

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