Whether you know the answer to this depends on how old you are. If you are relatively young then you may assume we have been running like this for ever.
The truth is that from the arrival of human being through to the 1970s humans have always run by forefoot striking. I’ll talk in another post about why we did it and about why it ideally suits our physiology. But in this post I simply want to talk about why we changed.
In a competitive world people are always looking at ways to making big improvements with little effort. This is also true of manufacturers of sports shoes looking for technical innovations that will improve the performance athletes using their products.
In the early 70′s Nike concluded that by forefoot striking runners were limiting the length of their stride. If they could length the stride and maintain the same rate of strides then the runner would travel further and thus faster.
They concluded that the runner could lengthen his or her stride by extending their foot during each stride and landing on the heel. This presented problems though, as the heel is effectively a solid bone object (unlike the forefoot) and would suffer from discomfort and eventual damage from this impact. But if you built a shoe differently with lots of cushioning in the heel, you could protect the runner from this impact and enable them to handle the new technique.
So Nike now had the marketing pot of gold: a new way of running that made you faster but that was only feasible with a special pair of Nike running shoes.
The shoes sold like wildfire, Nike’s competitors soon adopted the concept and within a few years it was taken for granted that a runner needed special running shoes and these would have thick cushioned heels.
So in only 40 years we had completely rejected and more or less forgotten about a way of running that had served us well for 10s of thousands of years.
Those of us who advocate barefoot style running are unconvinced about the benefits of this change and I”l talk further about why.