One of the things I live for is a helicopter view of runners on TV. The 2014 Great North Run came through for me this year, with a bonanza of helicopter footage showing my favorite angle: above and behind. We don’t normally see runners from this perspective, and when you do certain things become beautifully clear. Take a look at the collage above, showing Mike Kigen in yellow with Mo Farah behind him (and not terribly visible).
In the first picture you can see Kigen in stance — probably midstance, though it’s hard to be sure. You can see how the compression of his leg (in other words, it’s bent at the ankle, knee, and hip) continues up his entire left side, with his left hip pushed upwards and his left shoulder pushed down. The middle of his back, which is easy to see because that’s where the armholes of his top end and his race number begins, is shifted to the right, and his head is in line with his stance foot.
We know that his leg is going to unfold as he moves forwards over his foot, straightening like a spring expanding, propelling him forwards and up. So will his torso as well.
In picture two, late stance, you can see that his stance leg is straightening and his swing leg is moving forward. His left hip is also moving backwards as his right hip moves forwards (by “hip” I mean the whole side of his pelvis). His left shoulder is still low but moving forward while his right shoulder has begun to move backwards — the result is that his shirt looks a little more twisted than before, with his race number appearing tilted right. His neck begins to lengthen as a result of this since his head is beginning to move to the right as a result of his left side lengthening.
In the third picture Kigen is in flight, with neither foot on the ground. You can see that the rotation of his shoulders (right back, left forward) has increased significantly while his pelvis is rotating the opposite direction. His shirt has been pulled along by his upper body rotation so the number is now turned to the left. And most significantly, his head is now in between his two feet, moving towards the right foot where it will be supported in midstance when he arrives there.
From this angle, it is impossible to miss the role the torso plays in running. In motion, the spine flexes side to side like a snake or fish, revealing our distant evolutionary heritage. The twist-untwist-twist of shoulders and hips makes it clear that the whole body is a spring when you run, not just your legs.
And the movement of the head from one foot to the other suggests that one possible way to describe running is as moving your head forward — dribbling it like a basketball with legs!
Thinking of any of these things when you run, imagining them and trying to sense whether you do them even just a little bit, greatly benefits your running form. A long time ago a runner told me after a workshop:
After years of trying to be straight as a board… I’m hoping with this new information I can start doing my long runs and have some kind of enjoyment.
Have a look at this slideshow of Kigen and Farah from a somewhat different angle, but one that shows plenty of the movements I described above. What do you see?
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Jae Gruenke, GCFP, is a running technique expert and Feldenkrais Practitioner. Known as a “running form guru,” she is the Founder and CEO of The Balanced Runner™ in New York City and The Balanced Runner UK. She has helped runners from beginner to Olympian improve their form to become pain-free, economical, and fast.