Troubleshooting My Biomechanics of Running 101

23 04 2013

HK International Diamond Mile: Race Report & Form Analysis

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These days, I’ve become increasingly fascinated by the biomechanics of running.

Tempo runs and hard intervals give me endurance and speed; squats, pushups and plyometrics give me strength and power. But underlying it all is the biomechanics of running movement. If cardiovascular endurance is the engine, and muscular strength the horsepower, then biomechanics is the car frame. And I want structural integrity: a sturdy, high quality car frame, Ferrari standard – not some beat up pick up truck.

Last Sunday’s race, the HK International Diamond Mile, was held smack-bang in the middle of Central. With its sharp hairpin bends and gradients to navigate, it did not make for a fast course. I ran the two laps, 1609m in total, in a not-so-respectable 5:39, placing first in the Women’s Junior category. The race was later televised in full. Here, for the first time, was my chance to scrutinize my running form. (Watch from 7:00 onwards)

Running form: what’s the big deal?

I believe running form can make or break a runner.

Take Alberto Salazar, for example. He’s a former marathon runner and now coaches, amongst other athletes, Mo Farah and Galen Rupp. At the age of 21, Salazar won the first marathon he entered, the New York City marathon in 1980. He would win it again in 1981, and again in 1982.

And then things started to fall apart. At the 1983 Rotterdam marathon, he pulled a muscle in his groin. Patellar tendinitis came next, followed by a torn hamstring. It was the beginning of the end. As Jennifer Kahn wrote for the New Yorker:

Looking back, Salazar blames his form for his decline. “The way I ran, it wasn’t sustainable,” he said. “The attitude at the time was: if you were gifted with perfect form, great. If you weren’t, you were just kind of stuck.” While a runner with an awkward stride might win a few races, Salazar argues now, he’s ultimately doomed to break down: “The knee injury, the hamstring injury—in hindsight, these were the things that killed me.”

Thoughts on technique and form

Arm Swing

This is a problem I’ve been trying to fix for a while now: excessive lateral arm-swinging – a total waste of energy because I want to propel myself forwards, not left and right. Take a look at these freeze frames.

Arm1

My left arm is coming right across my body. Ugh.

One way Salazar describes the arm swing is going “nipple to nipple“, meaning that your left fist should be in front of your left nipple, and your right first in front of your left nipple. The blue line above shows where my fist would line up with my nipple. As can be seen, I’ve over-swung to the centre, as marked with the red line.

Arm2

My arms are swinging laterally in front of me, creating this triangle that would not be there if I were swinging backwards and forwards.

Toe Off: Hip Separation

For me, this is not so much of a problem as an area for improvement. My back kick looks strong enough from the video, but my knee drive needs a bit more work.

Ideally, I’d have a knee drive as strong as this runner below.

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Right now, though, my knee isn’t coming quite high enough.

ToeOff2

Blue line: where I’d like my leg to be.

The freeze frame below, from the video Changing Stride, explains hip separation at the point of “toe off” nicely.

On the left you have Dathan Ritzenhein, an American long distance runner whose running form Alberto Salazar drastically overhauled. On the right is Kenenisa Bekele, an Ethiopian runner with the 5000m and 10,000m Olympic and world records under his belt.

Ritzenhein’s angle of hip separation, on the left, in blue, is smaller than that of Bekele’s on the right. You want a greater degree of hip separation because it increases the length of your stride so that you can cover more ground with each step.

ToeOff

Here’s an absolutely b-e-a-u-tiful example of hip separation.

Mo Farah leads Cam Levins (left) and Galen Rupp (centre) in training Photograph: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Wrap Up

There’s so much to be said about the biomechanics of running form. I have very little knowledge in this area – all the information above was gleaned from YouTube, articles and Googling around – but I’m enthralled. My hope is that approaching running in a comprehensive way – clocking miles, running hard intervals, stretching, building strength and power, and paying attention to the details – I’ll become the best runner I can be.

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