There's a fascinating article about running in, of all places, the New Yorker. It's about the former great marathoner, now Nike coach, Alberto Salazar and his obsession with discovering THE perfect running form to win marathons. While watching slow motion videos of the great African distance runners Kenensia Bekele (world 10K champion) and Haile Gebrselassie (the world's top marathoner), Salazar noticed that their biomechanics is similar to sprinters. (I won't go into this, read the article - it's very good.)
The article describes how Salazar used his theories to train Dathan Ritzenhein, a promising, but injury plagued, American distance runner prepping for the New York marathon (which was run today). Salazar basically retrained Ritzenhein to run more like the storied Kenyans and Ethiopians. Americans have had a 20+ year plus dry spell winning against the Africans in distance running. I guess Salazar figured if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Or copy them.
But that's easier said than done. By the time a runner makes it to an elite level, the way they run is already deeply embedded in their muscular memory. And their biomechanics, the way the body works when s/he runs, is literally hard-wired with bones, ligaments and tendons. A runner will not easily change this. Salazar, to his credit, knew if Ritzenhein would risk injury during the transition. There's a video with the article that shows Ritzenhein running - sort of like an African. It's thing of beauty. The major changes that Salazar coached were how Ritzenhein moved his hands and arms and how his foot struck the ground. Ritzenhein had to relearn how to land on his forefoot rather than his heel.
Running magazines are full of articles and tips about how to train, eat and run like elite runners. For most of us, these tips are a waste of time and, sometimes, even risky. We are not anatomically equipped to run like these runners, nor do we need to be. Remember that elite runners (including Alberto Salazar during his career) frequently suffer serious injuries.
The next time you run a race, look at the people in your wave as you run and those you finish with. You run much like them. If you want to run faster, lose a few pounds, train a little faster, run intervals more frequently, strengthen your core, learn to relax. But don't monkey with your biomechanics. You are not a Gumby. Run like you've always run and have fun.
In today's New York Marathon, Dathan Ritzenhein finished a respectable 8th. Haile Gebrselassie, the runner with perfect form, dropped out at mile 16 with a knee injury and announced his retirement. The race was won by Gebre Gebremariam -- another African.