(Contributed by Tracy Peal, Speed & Movement Specialist)
Amidst the clamor and fanfare of this year’s edition of the Boston Marathon (heightened by the unexpected roar of mid-summer temperatures), I was able to secure my normal bird’s-eye view adjacent to the Newtown Fire Station on Commonwealth Ave, around the race’s 30k mark.
It’s here, with the toughest section of the race looming ahead past this short straightaway, that I feel the true essence of the runner is exposed: their unique interpretation of running efficiency. The 3/4 stage of any marathon is full of crises: elites trying to navigate for podium position, age-groupers hoping to set a PR and qualify for the Next Great Race, and many, questioning their sanity for even attempting this thing. Everyone is hurting in one way or another – so it seems most logical that runners will adapt a style most suited for survival. In the crunch, do our natural instincts take over, molding us into proper, economical form?
What is the best way to run?
It’s the most passionately debated topic in running circles. Opinions are rampant, serving to complicate the issue even further. Scientists, medical professionals, therapists, coaches, shoe companies, and even the athletes themselves, have varying ideas about the subject. Innumerable blog posts, website forums and research articles have been dedicated to airing arguments and providing the latest scientific information. With such conflicting advice, it’s hard to quibble with Kenyan Olympic gold medalist Kip Keino’s decree: “Form is God-given.”
We all have the right to chose our running style.
However, how much benefit or detriment is extracted from this choice becomes critical, especially considering the ramifications of performance and injury. We exist in a gravitational environment – which requires us to comply with the fundamental task of dealing with our bodyweight. How well we displace our bodies (i.e. bodyweight) horizontally is the ultimate goal of running. We therefore, have a standard of evaluation and assessment.
To illustrate our point, the gait mechanics of women’s winner Sharon Cherop (2:31:50), men’s 10th place finisher Matthew Kisorio (2:18:15) and an unknown elite female runner are utilized. For comparison, we have taken the video feed and cropped out a sequence of still photos of the various stride phases: Pre-Landing, Landing, Zero Position (body perpendicular to the ground), Falling, Toe-Off, Flight, EOS (end of stride) Landing.
Careful examination of the photos clearly shows that economy of movement is created by the aggregate of momentum, friction and torque as the runner’s body rotates beyond the fulcrum of ground support/foot contact (Cherop and Kisorio #4-6). As the Kenyan athletes allow their bodies to fall forward (“absorbing gravity” as Pose founder Dr. Nicholas Romanov termed it), they pick up the necessary acceleration that hurls them in flight. The timing of this fall/release is crucial for achieving great stride length (Kisorio #8-11; Cherop #7-11), while abating impact and physical stress.
The lone female elite runner displays a more generally understood notion of running mechanics, opting to interrupt falling by swinging her non-support leg forward (frames #7-9). Although the idea of “putting one foot in front of the other” is a commonly held belief, it’s limiting in comparison. Her’s is a running style fraught with needless energy expenditure and muscle effort.
As exceptional as Cherop and Kisorio are, there is still room for improvement. Their delayed recovery into the Zero Position (bodyweight over the ball of foot) is due to landing slightly ahead of the General Center of Mass (#2 & 3). It shows how even the smallest anticipation of ground contact can work against the runner, noting Cherop’s knee concerns and 2011 winner Geoffrey Mutai’s early exit due to leg cramping. Time, when it refers to the Stance Phase in running, should be avoided as much as possible.
Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Tracy Steven Peal, Sr.
Speed & Movement Specialist