Drafting to Reduce Drag: the Effects of Air Resistance on Runners

Alex Hutchinson recently wrote about a study showing significant benefits from drafting behind other runners to reduce drag, or air resistance in a marathon. In a real-world situation it would amount to a savings of somewhere between 3-4 minutes due to less energy spent pushing yourself forwards–whether you’re Eliud Kipchoge, Brigid Kosgei, or simply a middle-of-the-pack recreational runner.

Researchers noted that there’s a range of benefit, though, and it wasn’t connected to the runner’s level or speed. Some runners just seem to handle drag better than others. 

They were looking at footstrike but not other gait parameters, and I’d bet a large amount of money that in fact the runners who lean forward more handle drag better. 

This sent me back to my blog post from a year ago about how to benefit from a tailwind by running upright. I cited research by the British scientist and mountaineer Griffith Pugh, whose work also inspired the recent study on drafting. 

The next time you run on a windy day, take advantage of the opportunity to experiment with how your body interacts with the air around you. The stronger the wind, the easier it will be to feel how you respond to a headwind and how to capitalize on a tailwind. This is an aspect of athletic skill that you’ll benefit from having in your toolbox, and it will improve to how will you deal with the nearly imperceptible but still significant resistance of the air on days when the wind is still. 

1 thought on “Drafting to Reduce Drag: the Effects of Air Resistance on Runners”

  1. I have used this many times in races. You can really feel the benefit. Move around behind your pacer to discover the optimum place to draft as this changes with the wind direction. It may seem like your invading their space but this is racing don’t be shy. If you feel bad about stealing the free speed you can always take a turn at the front.


Leave a Comment