Run Form Analysis: Elite Female Marathon Runners

Earlier this month, my friend Todd Kenyon (@TTBikefit) uploaded a great running technique analysis video and commentary to YouTube. I thought it would be great to share his insights.

Todd has collected some fantastic slow-motion footage showing the elite female athletes at mile 24 of the 2013 Boston Marathon. The video provides a brilliant opportunity to compare and critique the various differences in running form used by these elite athletes. Towards the end of the video, comparisons are also made to highlight the differences between the elites and those a little slower.

If you watch the video, you’ll notice that while there are of course the expected idiosyncrasies in running form between each athlete. However, there are also a number of commonalities which can be identified in most of these world-class runners.

Todd identifies elements of running form such as the combined hip extension and knee drive (see this article on the crossed extensor reflex), flight time and stride length as all being inextricably linked, along with cadence and foot contact pattern.

For an athlete to run with the stride length and flight time needed to sustain mid-5min/mile pace for a marathon, a number of key areas of technique must be working effectively. Todd describes these as:

  • Range of Motion
    – particularly hip extension to achieve stride length
  • Functional Stability
    – running stable base / pelvis
    – to avoid ‘energy leakage’ and unwanted motion
  • Elasticity
    – the capacity to store and release elastic energy in soft tissues when loaded
    – produces passive propulsion upon release

Foot Strike Pattern

Todd makes the great observation that while many of these elite runners visually appear to be landing heel-first (and they are), this type of ‘heel touching’ as he calls it is very different to the heavy heel strike we see with so many recreational runners. As observed in research by Bastiaan et. al. (2013) and discussed here, many runners land heel-first, but load at maximal rate not as the weight is applied to the heel, but over midfoot as the the foot comes flat to the ground.

Inline with my own coaching philosophy and the info in our online running technique course (50% discount – click here), Todd’s emphasis is more on how the whole body is moving than worrying excessively about foot strike type. If only the running community as a whole would become less hung-up on how the foot contacts the ground…!

Featured Athletes

  • Rita Jeptoo (KEN)
    – Finish Time: 2:26:25
    – Av Pace: 5:35/mi
    – Cadence: 95
    – Distance/stride: 5’0″
  • Meseret Debele (ETH)
    – Finish Time: 2:26:58
    – Av Pace: 5:37/mi
    – Cadence: 101
    – Distance/stride: 4’6″
  • Sharon Cherop (ETH)
    – Finish Time: 2:27:01
    – Av Pace: 5:37/mi
    – Cadence: 95
    – Distance/stride: 5’0″
  • Shalane Flanagan (USA)
    – Finish Time: 2:27:08
    – Av Pace: 5:37/mi
    – Cadence: 90
    – Distance/stride: 5’2″
  • Ana Felix (POR)
    – Finish Time: 2:30:05
    – Av pace: 5:44/mi
    – Cadence: 98
    – Distance/stride: 4’7″
  • Kara Goucher (USA)
    – Finish Time: 2:28:11
    – Av Pace: 5:34/mi
    – Cadence: 100
    – Distance/stride: 4’7″
  • Madai Perez (MEX)
    – Finish Time: 2:28:59
    – Av Pace: 5:41.mi
    – Cadence: 99
    – Distance/stride: 4’7″