Did you catch the 2015 Chicago Marathon last weekend? I did, because Letsrun.com and NBC kindly arranged for a live stream on www.lestrun.com. Thank you for that!
Unfortunately I cannot now find any publicly available video of the full race, which makes it pretty difficult for me to share my running technique analysis with you — you’ll have no idea what I’m talking about without video and screencaps to look at.
So instead of a detailed runner-by-runner analysis I’ll just share with you an movement pattern I saw in a number of elite runners, both men and women. This is a follow-up to my insoles post about the Berlin Marathon; though my shot at using physics to explain a common asymmetry pattern in runners turned out to be wrong–nothing ventured, nothing gained!–the pattern is definitely there. The better you understand it the better you’ll be able to help yourself if you have injuries related to it or other runners with the pattern if you’re a coach, physio, etc.
The asymmetry I talked about in that post was turning the upper body more to the right and supporting the weight better over the left leg. This tends to result in a left foot that points forward and a right foot that points out.
One way to see it in a runner is to watch where the midpoint of the armswing is. Ideally a runner swings their arms so each hand in turn comes to the breastbone, the midline of the body. Sometimes “experts” say you shouldn’t do this, you should just swing your arms straight front-to-back, but how rarely runners who do this rise to world class level should by itself indicate there’s something wrong with this idea.
In any case, sometimes you will see a runner whose arms don’t swing to their midline, but instead meet slightly to one side or the other. In that case, it’s nearly always to the right.
What I observed in the Chicago race was that Florence Kiplagat, Yebrugal Melese, Dickson Chumba, and Wesley Korir, as well as a few others all had the meeting point of their right armswing and left armswing lined up with their right leg rather than their midline. This indicates they twist their shoulders right, their pelvis left, shorten the right side of their waist, and swing their right leg up and forward much more easily than the left.
In this pattern, if one knee hurts (particularly below the kneecap) it’s the right, since the right leg lands farther forward than the left one does and may in fact be overstriding excessively so that the hip joint isn’t over the knee on that side. A runner doing this will appear to hit the ground harder with the right foot, or you’ll see more of a jolt through their body when landing on the right foot than on the left.
This is why you can rehab a runner’s right knee forever without seeming to get anywhere or prevent a recurrance. You have to work with the torso, the ability to stand and balance on the right leg, and the ability to swing the left!
Every running technique-related injury is a whole-body situation. Look beyond the local in order to really get things to change.
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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.