This week I got to participate in a small running study at the University of Leeds. A group of five exercise and sports science students had set up the study for their dissertations and put out the call for runners to take part. Always the willing and helpful citizen I went along to be a guinea pig. In the initial stage last month I simply had to run on a treadmill and be measured/weighed, and yesterday I went back to the lab for the full trials.

Here’s the blurb on the study:

Barefoot/minimalist running is becoming increasingly popular and it’s important to understand the potential differences between the biomechanics of running in different footwear and how this changes after a period of time running in them since this may have performance or injury related consequences.

There will be four conditions tested: barefoot, barefoot with sock, cushioned shoe and minimalist shoe (a shoe without cushioning). Two separate speeds will be used for the shoe conditions – a jog and a run. This will be no more than moderate-intensity exercise.

In-shoe pressure will be used to measure foot pressure during running to analyse foot strike pattern and plantar pressure distribution. Muscle activation of four muscle types will also be measured on the leg lower leg. This allows us to check the onset of muscle activation to check the muscles are activated at the same time since this has been shown to be an underlying cause inhibiting performance improvements or a possible injury. This requires the skin to be prepped for use of the EMG equipment, so the lower right legged will be shaved. The Qualisys camera system will require markers to be worn on both legs and the lower back. This is so the system can track the movement of the participant on running on the treadmill so kinematic data can be analysed. The data collected allows analysis of particular angles of the leg as well as velocities. A video camera is also used to record a real time image.

As it turned out they had abandoned the “barefoot with sock” condition as running with the pressure-sensitive insole and a sock was causing problems. I had markers and devices attached all over my legs, lower back and sides, which was rather amusing, and did the cushioned shoes first. They were Saucony, but I didn’t get the model details. The next shoes were VivoBareFoot, which I wear for walking around in anyway so am used to. And the final test was barefoot with the markers stuck on my skin. For each condition I ran for five minutes on the treadmill. I’m not sure what speed it was set at (they determined the pace they would use for me in the initial test) but it felt like a nice tempo pace.












Being the tippty-toe Bambi ninja that I am I had no problems running in new shoes. I always land midfoot, and in fact I am very forefoot with minimal or no shoes and when going faster.

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I got to see a little bit of the data straightaway, including the info from the pressure sensitive insoles in the Vivo shoes – as expected I show the classic midfoot strike pattern. Apparently I was the only person to land midfoot in the cushioned shoes as well – everyone else had been heel striking in those but becoming more midfoot in minimal shoes and when barefoot.










It was good fun and the students were very friendly and confident in explaining everything they were doing. I’m glad to have been able to help out and am looking forward to reading what they make of their findings. I hope I wasn’t too much of a statistical anomaly to throw their data!


The new Asics store opened in Leeds today and I spotted through the wonder of the @AsicsLeeds Twitter feed that they are doing free foot scans and gait analyses over the weekend. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to gather some new data, so off I went.

Asics Leeds











The store is on Albion Street, just opposite Adidas (if New Balance would please open an outlet in the empty shop a few doors down I would be very happy, and very skint).

Asics running kit











I was very pleased with the bright colours. The green is particularly in-your-face. It also made me smile to see the latest version of my favourite Asics shoes – the Gel Noosa Tri – in store. As a friend once said: “they look like the 80s threw up on them” and this has become the minimum requirement for all new running kit. Neon goes faster you know!

But back to the story, I said hello to the lady (whose name I didn’t get – sorry) I had been tweeting with and she put me in the hands of Rory for my foot scan and gait analysis.

First I had to fill in my details, which isn’t as straightforward as it sounds when you don’t understand metric! But thanks to Google I converted from ft and lbs and was able to input my height and weight on the iPad.

Then, off with the shoes and socks (fortunately my runner’s feet aren’t looking too bad at the moment, although I suppose they have seen it all before) so Rory could put  tiny blue stickers on certain bones. This was so the camera had known points of reference.

Feet bones











Then, one foot at a time, into the special scanning box (seen here on the left).

Foot ID and analysis









I can honestly say I didn’t feel a thing! Ha! 3D foot mapping technology is explained more here.

The computer came up with all sorts of figures – foot length, bridge height, toe angle and so on. It seems my feet are reasonably equal, average width blah blah. The 3D image was cool.

Feet stats









Then, for the gait analysis, into some special Asics shoes. They have no support or cushioning etc – just a neutral shoe with dots on the back so the camera has a reference point for determining the angle of your heel.

As with other gait analysis sessions I’ve had (two – at Sweatshop, who said I was “beautifully neutral”) this is simply a few minutes of treadmill running with a camera filming the feet from behind.

Gait analysis









I’m always a bit nervous when I get to see myself run – I don’t look quite as light and graceful and gazelle-like as I think. But then again, I don’t get called Bambi and tippy-toes for nothing.

As expected, the video shows that I land very definitely on my forefoot. And I don’t under or over pronate to any great extent.

In this part the stats I particularly liked were my step rate – 181 per minute, which is what “they” say runners should aim for, and my step length/height – 66%, which is apparently an indication of efficiency, and should be between 60% and 70%.

So that’s all good then.

Rory and I chatted some more about what it all meant, and I got a print out with some of the key information and a booklet to explain things. A nice bit of bedtime reading.

Foot stats











I then went to have a chat to the guy from Science in Sport about nutrition and sampled a few of their goodies. He explained to me what to take and when to take it during a marathon and was very clear in his advice.

Finally, I had a bit of a mooch to get some more ideas for the Christmas wish list. Can anyone say shoe porn?!

Asics shoes









I found all the staff to be very friendly and helpful and had some great chats while I was in there. They have running groups on Wednesday evenings and Sunday mornings, so I will try to get along to a session soon.

Asics Leeds are offering free foot ID and gait analysis over the weekend, and the SiS expert will be there as well to talk about gels, protein bars etc. Plus, get a goodie bag when you make a purchase.

Asics goodie bag











Many thanks to the Asics team for a fun experience. I’m always a fan of running brands that make comfy, neon kit, so Asics get a big thumbs up!