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Another great post on Amby Burfoot’s Peak Performance blog explores an important wrinkle in the ongoing debates about optimal running form. We tend to think that “better” running form is better in all relevant respects: we’ll be faster and less likely to be injured. But that’s not necessarily the case. Amby takes a look at a study from a couple of years ago that analyzed the gait of an ultrarunner who ran from Paris to Beijing in 161 days, averaging 53 km per day. As Amby writes:
You would think that 161 days of a marathon-plus per day would turn you into a lean, mean running machine. But that doesn’t happen, at least not when it comes to running economy… His stride became shorter and “smoother,” the word used by the physiologists to describe his decrease in aerial time with each stride… He reduced his landing force and also his loading rate. But his oxygen efficiency, or running economy, decreased by six percent.
This illustrates one of the conundrums faced by those attempting to run with shorter strides. It may in fact reduce your injury rates. It won’t necessarily make you faster.
The adaptations that this runner’s body made over the course of this epic run make perfect sense: after all, his top priority was to survive each day without breaking down. But it’s a good reminder that, when we talk about “improving” running form, we have to think carefully about what, exactly, we’re hoping to improve.