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Gait Analysis of Lead Pack at 2011 New York City Marathon

Posted on 19 November 2011

The Natural Running Center asked us — The Gait Guys – to comment on this striking photo of the lead male pack that was taken at the recent NYC Marathon (with the beautiful Manhattan skyline in the background). We, as always, were glad to oblige. Please keep in mind, we were sent a still photograph that was taken only from the side, and had no video to analyze so there is much information missing; thus some assumptions are a given.  To simplify matters for readers, we dispensed with names.

Let’s start with Mr. Hat at the rear of the pack.  He appears to be at the toe off phase of running gait, the late stance phase of gait. Fatigue may be setting in. He appears to have insufficient hip extension, as the thigh is flexed (as is the knee) and he is leaning back at the upper torso and is in neck extension. This could be from fatigued abdominals, but he could be trying to expand his ribs and chest wall to get more oxygen. This is not a good strategy but who are we to pick on a guy who can keep up with gazelles. The angle of his swing or float phase thigh is also a little low, again a possible product of fatiguing abdominals, but it could be merely because he is just beginning forward swing.  Remember, this is a snapshot in time, these ranges may improve at a 100th second subsequent frame.  You also get a peek at his left calf (medial gastroc, actually, behind the right foot) and it looks pretty contracted. Judging from his great toe extension, he is using that torso extension to pull him through the stride.

Next we have Mr. Blue Shorts I, immediately in front of Mr Hat. He looks like a heel striker in this frame with that limb out in front of his body. Note that right shoulder coming forward and torso twist to propel him through. He even flexes his neck and rounds his shoulders; probably to try and ventilate for all that ATP expenditure. Form is often loss with fatigue; we all know that.

Now onto Mr. Black Shorts, the shortest runner in the lead pack.  He appears to have some really nice hip extension happening, or is it? Actually, if you look carefully, the extension is occurring at his lumbar spine, and his hip extension is close to 0 degrees…far from the 15-30 we would like to see. The shadow on the back of his shirt makes this hard to see.  Check out that  right shoulder. See how far it is cocked into extension behind  him? Driving a strong posterior arm swing will help extend the opposite hip, an attempt to make up for any power leaks in hip extension.  He appears to be another heel striker as well.

Next up is Mr. Orange Singlet in his orange Nikes. This gentleman, and pack leader Mr. Red (yes, it’s a Mutai, but not the one who won!)) seem to have the most promise and cleanest strides in this still photo. Mr. Orange Singlet has good forward lean, nice thigh flexion and adequate hip extension; his body is lined up during toe off from the foot to the top of the head. He is using that medial gastroc muscle on the left. He also appears to be the most relaxed of the bunch.

Mr. Red appears to be a forefoot striker, and he may hit at or just in front of his center of mass. He has good hip extension as well (maybe he is copying Mr. Orange, or is it the other way around? They do appear to be looking at one another). He has some torso rotation to the right (look at that shoulder), and has a cross body arm swing but that could also be from the neurologic reflex of turning the head to the right to check out the competition.

It would be great to see some video of these gents to see if our hypotheses were correct. Good biomechanics and form do not necessarily equate to winning, but they do improve efficiency and we like to think they prevent (or minimize) injuries.  Don’t get us wrong, these guys are the pros.  These are the guys we all strive (and dream) to become as runners.

Their apparent “snapshot” flaws are either minor for them given their physical capacities, a product of fatigue in a race where they are running each mile faster than many  can ride a bike, or they have simply grooved their dysfunctional patterns.  That does not mean that what we have talked about are not power leaks for these guys; elite runners can almost always improve some aspect of their form.  But hey, we would settle any day for 26 miles at a sub-5 minute pace.

Do not ever forget that running is a skill and an art form.  The more miles you do, the more video you watch, the more you practice the fundamental skills as you build endurance and strength, the better you can tap into optimal biomechanics. Simply running without constant mindfulness on every step often yields faltering mechanics into your weaknesses and habits. Sure, we would all love to look like these guys when we run, but not many of us do. But then again, how many of us amateur runners  are putting in the miles and time that they do?  According to Malcolm Gladwells book, “Outliers” and Daniel Coyle’s book, ‘The Talent Code”,  most of us have not done the 10,000-15,000+ hours necessary to become masters at this craft.

Respectfully, we are The Gait Guys. Two aging bald foot geeks, helping humanity, one gait cycle at a time.

Pictured in the photo:
3     Geoffrey Mutai    2:05:06           Kenya
2     Emmanuel Mutai    2:06:28       Kenya
4     Tsegaye Kebede    2:07:14           Ethiopia
1     Gebre Gebremariam 2:08:00     Ethiopia
8     Mathew Kisorio    2:10:58           Kenya
14     Kibet    DNF                                  Kenya

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2 Responses to “Gait Analysis of Lead Pack at 2011 New York City Marathon”

  1. MarkC says:

    Shawn, Ivo,

    Thanks for the insightful look at the variances of the true elite. Their bodies likely develop their own unique economies but we can learn from them in many ways. One thing i just started thinking about more is arm carraige. Jae Gruenke teaches running style in a way that i think gives great insight into the movement patterns of the Kenyans.
    http://www.balancedrunner.com
    I’m playing with getting my arms in a more relaxed circular pattern with fist closer to chest and elbows bent more than 90 degrees as
    seen in this video she sent me of WR marathon
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E3gl8bVs7jo&feature=related

    Look at the elbow and hand position of the runners in the picture.
    this is really natural and seems to flow with lower body.
    never really thought much about this before.
    its fun to keep learning and playing with things yourself.
    Mark

  2. Excellent article! Very interesting indeed. Thanks for sharing!


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