I was so excited to actually be in Berlin to watch the marathon in person this year. I took my camera along to get some high-speed (aka slow motion) video to use for analysis, as I’ve done every January at the Great Edinburgh Cross Country.
I learned, however, that there’s a big difference between videoing a road race and a cross-country one. For instance, the fleet of cars, trucks, motorcycles and bicycles that got in between me and the runners. And also the width of the streets — my camera won’t zoom when recording at high speed, and because I turned out to be on the far side of the street from the runners, they ended up tiny.
What can I say, I’m no videographer. Now I know what to watch out for next year, though!
I make all these apologies because I’m about to share a video with you that is truly not good. It’s of Wilson Kipsang and Kenenisa Bekele around the 37k point, Kipsang in the lead.
There are a few things you can see in this video–perhaps better because it’s low resolution and the runners are small. When detail is absent you see the big picture better. I even use this sometimes in working with clients–to decrease detail I half-close my eyes and the simpler form I see shows things I didn’t see before.
Kipsang, as always, is running with his arms swinging low, near his hips, and his shoulder blades pulled slightly back. This gives him a gliding style of running, with an easily moving pelvis.
Bekele, as always, keeps his hands very close to his chest, swinging them up to a little above heart height.
In this video you can see Kipsang’s lower legs, as compared to Bekele’s larger leg action. You can also see how much less Kipsang turns his upper body than Bekele. The gap in space makes the comparison not immediate, but if you watch it twice you will see it.
The second time you watch, notice how the forward movement of Bekele’s shoulder as he moves into flight makes a single long line of his side from shoulder to foot, creating his big leg action.
My initial impression was that this gave Bekele a greater stride length than Kipsang. But after watching my own video and others’ many times, I don’t feel I can accurately eyeball their relative stride lengths.
People get very caught up in what happens in the hip joints to create stride length — ability to hyperextend the hip of the back leg and flex the hip of the front leg, which gets translated to hamstring and hip flexor flexibility.
But of course stride length isn’t just a result of how great the angle is between the two thighs in flight, but also the distance covered in flight. And that’s where my questions about the difference between Bekele’s form and Kipsang’s lie.
Now that you’ve seen these things, take a look at some “real” video from the broadcast of the race and, with your eyes primed from squinting at my bad video, you’ll see these same things again — Bekele’s considerably larger upper body movement and how it generates a large leg action.
Notice also Bekele’s very loose, easy head movement. This kind of freedom in the upper cervical spine makes all the large movements beneath it possible, including his upper body rotation.
In my experience working with runners, the “differentiation” Bekele has in his upper body, meaning his ability to articulate all the different joints and allow them all to contribute motion, normally translates to lower percieved effort, increased stride length, and greater speed. Kipsang’s upper body appears to move as a single unit; seen from the front his head doesn’t move relative to his neck the way Bekele’s does, nor do his shoulder blades move as much relative to his ribs.
However, it looks like Kipsang may be covering as much ground per stride as Bekele, at least in my video, and this would be by virtue of his good pelvis movement.
So this leaves me with a buring question: do Bekele’s larger upper body and leg movements (which occur together and enable each other) indeed translate to lower perceived exertion, or even lower heart rate or longer stride length, than Kipsang’s at the same speed?
I’ll be honest, I’m a huge Bekele fan, on an aesthetic level the beauty of this run was simply awesome.
I’m sorry to not be commenting on any other elite men or any of the women at all, but my video isn’t usable and the price of watching in person is that I wasn’t harvesting screenshots on my computer through the race. So my respect to all the runners (including Kippsang, of course), and I promise to do a better job next year.
One of my favorite things to do after watching a marathon is try on the different runners’ styles on my run the next day. Give it a go yourself — try out what you picked up from watching Kipsang and Bekele and let me know what you discover.
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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.