Gordon Pirie Book

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.


  • 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!
  • 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.
  • 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 ?
  • 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?
  • 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?
  • 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 :-)
  • 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?
  • 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.
  • 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!
  • 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.
  • Martin

    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.
  • only one question - why does a book on running have a cover picture of a bloke fishing????? or does this all become clear????!!!!
  • 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!
  • 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"?)
  • 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!!
  • 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.
  • Glenn,

    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.
  • 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.
  • 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??
  • Slowboy -

    Liz was right about landing on your toes, which is definitely not recommended, but this is not the same as forefoot striking, where you are actually landing on the outside of the forefoot and gaining benefit of the whole foot's full range of motion to absorb the impact. As Gordon rightly says, this has got to be better than the heel taking the full impact.

    The thing that has always struck (!) me most forcibly is what he says about landing quietly. So many heel-strikers land unbelievably noisily, whereas forefoot strikers make almost no sound at all as they "caress" the ground - which technique is going to cause you the most damage? It seem obvious.

    Good luck with the 1/2M, however you decide to land on the day! s.
  • I gave it a go yesterday doing a gentle 6m cross country in my Adidas Swoops and found I could achieve the forefoot strike ok. I attempted this style in my NB 854 stability shoes and just can't, and it feels very odd trying to 'fight' against what the shoe isn't designed to do.

    I feel ok this morning, though still very apprehensive about going out and buying the type of road shoes you can achieve this style in, as I weigh 16st and the manufacturers/magazine recomend racing flats for the swift 9st ers!! But at the back of my mind I believe I could well benefit and experience overall less jarring.
  • Knocker, how do you find running on the road in your Swoops. Don't you find that in them you naturally adopt a forefoot style anyway ?

    I use Walsh's for fell running and most of my routes include at least a mile or 2 on road which I was a bit aprehensive about at first because if the running press were to be believed I would cripple myself using them on the road. But I don't have any problem at all with them on the road as I naturally adopt this forefoot style. The only downside is that the studs wear very quickly on tarmac. I'm still trying to adopt a forefoot style in my road shoes (Asics Nimbus) but finding it very difficult.

    Try running a little on the road in your swoops and I reckon this'll convince you that you don't need a very supportive cushioned shoe. You must find that when its been hot that your XC routes are almost as hard as tarmac anyway.
  • Andrew

    Yes the ground was very solid yesterday and I had a little bit of road to cover on the route and yes they did feel fine.

    I think it is just a case of having conviction in what you believe in. That's probably the issue with so much contradiction about. Gordon Pirie does come across as a 'we had it bloody tough in my day', type of a bloke and would have you running in leather soled trainers with a 'never did me any harm'. I don't think he means it like that and my instincts are to agree with what he says, but how light a shoe should you go down to? he advocates no cushioning!
  • Having never really thought about style, I am most definitely a forefoot striker, though probably more to do with my younger track running days.... It has led to a few calf/achilles injuries, though that has been the extent of it - usually due to overtraining.
    Having been running for 18years, since age 11, I think I've either been very lucky, or maybe the 'technique' has got something to do with it... Occasionally try running heel first on longer runs, but tend to revert to forefoot without really thinking...

    Downside to this is current shoes provide pathetic outsole durability in the forefoot - usually blown rubber or some equally useless material, whereas the heels have carbon rubber.. I can wear out an outsole in a few weeks which becomes annoying and expensive......

    Watching many top runners - Crammy, Gabresalasie etc - there most be something to say for this forefoot running......
  • Well if you believe the advocators of barefoot running then no shoes are necessary. I just can't bring myself to do it partly through fear of little stones and peices of glass but mainly for fear of being ridiculed.

    I think I'm going to try a mid-weight racing shoe like the Mizuno Phantom or Adidas Response Competition. These have some cushioning at least so its not such a departure. If it doesn't work I can revert back to the Nimbus and just use them for short races.

    I'm a bit aprehensive about spending £60 on something they may be a red-herring. But then I spent £130 on a HRM that I rarely use these days.
  • At the Paris Marathon this year I did see someone running barefoot, a little old French woman who looked to be 60+ so there must be something in it - but it's probebly taken her all those years to end up with feet tough enough to do it. And never mind bits of grit and glass, the doggy-doos round our way would be more than enough to put me off.
  • I think as you have all noticed, the more flexible the shoe the better - I usually train in lightweight trainer/racers as opposed to heavier trainers - though I have the advantage of not being paticularly heavy.... mizuno precision I think and some Nikes... It atleast allows your foot to flex where/when it needs to.... Having never done many long 'road' runs, I can't say whether this would be ok... luckily manage to do these in the hills...

    A lot of Gordons Book, ties in with Ron Hills Autobiography - both training 'nutters'
  • The good news about lighter racing type shoes is that they're a whole load cheaper than those heavy cushioned monsters. I wonder whether the tales of injury from using lightweight shoes aren't motivated in part by the shoe industry wanting to flog us more expensive "boots". I think the same thing might be true of them telling us to renew our shoes after 400-500 miles - who benefits most from this advice?

    At the moment I am alternating Mizuno Wave Precisions which are billed as performance trainers, with the Wave Rider which is much more cushioned - and am fast coming to the conclusion that I don't suffer any worse in the lighter shoes. In fact the opposite seems to be true because I'm running less sloppily in the more responsive shoes. (I actually raced my last marathon in Wave Phantoms which are mid-weight racing shoes and none of the dire predictions came true.)

    I used to use Asics 2060's for long runs but when they wore out I just gave them up and although they were super-comfortable, I certainly don't miss the support and cushioning - and I've run with far fewer injuries since I stopped using them.

    I think that perhaps another problem with "cushy" shoes is that you feet have to do far less work and get lazy and weak in the process, which has two disadvantages - one, they're not building the strength to stave off injury, and two, they're not building the strength to make you run faster, since so much of running efficiency comes from how effectively the foot pushes off. Coming back to Pirie's theory, the heelstrike pattern minimizes the most efficient action of the foot with the result that most heelstrikers seem to over-stride to a considerable degree - and over-striding slows you down because each step involves a braking action as the heel hits the ground. What they are doing is over-compensating for a lazy or inactive foot drive by using the quads to do the work. I also bet that forefoot strikers don't suffer a lot of the injuries of heelstrikers because the feet are doing the job they were designed by evolution to do and hence they are placing less stress on the rest of the leg.
  • Fascinating stuff, this thread. I haven't quite finished his book, just skimmed the first few chapters. He does come across as having a bit of an attitude and perhaps an overly strong belief in his own theories which are based on coaching naturally gifted athletes. That said, running should be a natural activity to all of us.

    I think I will give it a cautious go. it would be nice not to have to worry about the whole pronation business - it's always seemed odd that you can't "unlearn" pronation. Also for 5Ks and under, I do find my Fila Flow lightweight shoes much nicer to run in, whereas conversely they are horrible at > 6min/mile when I am almost certainly going into long stride/heel strike mode.


    The "mincing" analogy made me laugh though - will have to get video'd and see what it looks like when I try!
  • Well, I'm pretty much convinced. Ran Liverpool half yesterday, and managed to stay much more neutral/forefoot for most of the distance, tending to fall back into the overstride/heel strike when I was tiring. Treated the race as simply a training run, and didn't feel like I was working as hard as I usually would, yet ended up only two minutes slower than my PB, or about ten seconds a mile which isn't a lot - particularly as I'd never felt strained, and my legs/knees felt much less sore than I would normally expect.

    I'm just aware that my calves/achilles are working much harder than they have in the past, I guess it'll take a fair while for them to adjust to the new workload (could be 6 months??) but I do feel that it's worth investing the time. Just a shame I din't find all this out 3 years ago! You live and learn.

    Mark H, I'd love to be able to comment on the relative merits of my shoes above and below the 6min/mile Mark, but as my PB for a track mile is 6:18, I'll have to take your word for it! ;-)

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