It seems I moved from Germany to California two months too soon. Had I still been there on September 16, 2018, I would have been out on the streets cheering Eliud Kipchoge on and capturing some high-speed video as he set a new world record of 2:01:39.
Since I was in California instead and, I admit it, so immersed in my role as my family’s move manager I actually forgot it was Berlin marathon day, I only found out about Kipchoge’s massive new record after the fact.
I haven’t been able to find video of the full race, so unfortunately I can’t do a full analysis of the elites’ form. I’ve just got a couple of highlights videos, and working from them and all the times I’ve written about Kipchoge before, I’m going to give you a few bullet points about the ways his running form is a key asset for him.
- Appropriate upper body rotation. You can see this repeatedly through the video—watch the front/back of his shirt move side to side. That’s not due to arm movement, that’s his ribcage turning. You can even see it in the glimpse of him from overhead at 1:10.
- Hands coming to his midline. You can see this at 1:15, his hands rise nearly to the top of his vest and come right to the center of his breastbone. His elbows are always more bent than 90 degrees and stick out when his hand is close to the top of the forward swing. They point backwards at the end of the backswing due to his upper body rotation, not because he pulls them back.
- Hands very close to his chest. This isn’t super-clear in this video but if you look at any video of Kipchoge from the side you’ll see they nearly brush his shirt, and the closer they are to his breastbone the closer they are to his shirt.
- Feet fall under his hip joints, not in line with each other. See that from behind at 1:45.
- Head moves side-to-side, to be in line with his stance foot when seen from the front or the back. This is especially clear at 1:50 as he approaches the finish line.
- Appropriate pelvis movement. This is always a tricky thing to pinpoint with Kipchoge since he favors long shirts. However the head movement I pointed out—side-to-side and completely level—if the pelvis is tipping side to side, allowing the whole spine to sidebend slightly. If the pelvis doesn’t move but the upper spine bends, the head moves but it also tips. So we can infer movement in the frontal plane. In my London video from this year you can also see rotation.
- Forward lean. This highlights video isn’t much help, you have to go to my London video or practically any other video to see it. But it’s always there.
My rule of thumb when analysing the technique of the top runners is that if one person does it, no matter how great they are, it’s not necessarily right, and if a majority of world class runners do it, it’s probably not wrong.
Kipchoge doesn’t do anything special with his technique. It’s exceptionally clean, simple, and epitomizes the form of the vast majority of world class runners. He’s a paragon of what, plainly, works.
So go ahead, make him your role model.