by Stephen Suydam, PhD.
Marathon runners train countless hours to make it to the “pot of gold” – the end of the 26.2-mile rainbow. However, some runners don’t just want to finish, they want to finish fast. This spring, we sampled 55 marathon runners who completed the Eau Claire and Pittsburgh Marathons wearing a MilestonePod, and a very interesting trait was found among the faster runners: butt kicking!
The fastest runners not only kicked their butts figuratively to complete the marathon, they did it literally as well. Runners finishing under four hours were running with a leg angle over 90° for more than 96% of the race. That basically means they were bringing their leg up to parallel with the ground on each step. Runners finishing over four hours only did this 62% of the time. Even more telling is that runners who completed the race in under four hours had an even greater leg angle (>100°) for 25% of the race, compared to a mere 6% for the slower group. The single fastest runner in this group of 55 finished in under three hours. As you probably guessed, he had a leg angle over 100° for the entire race.
A higher leg angle is learned by doing a drill called “butt kicks.” It is the practice of getting your heel as close to your butt as you can while you run. This training technique has been used for decades. In fact, it was first published almost 40 years ago by the great running expert Peter Cavanagh. His work showed the closer your foot is to your body as you swing your leg forward, the less energy it takes, improving your running economy. And running economy translates to moving faster with less effort. The difference between then and now is the tools used to measure leg angle. Peter’s initial work in the 1970’s was done painstakingly with cameras and drawing on individual pieces of film. Today, we have light and easy wearable sensors, like the MilestonePod, to tell us all sorts of information about how we run. It’s like getting run lab results delivered right to your phone.
If you want to be push ahead of the pack or break personal records, take advantage of today’s tools to track your running form. The first step to improving speed is to understand exactly HOW you run.
Kick your butt in training to run faster on race day!
Leg angle (also called “leg swing”) is one of 12 metrics captured by the MilestonePod.
This is post #1 in a mini-series entitled: “Because How You Run Matters.” Steve is the Director of Research at Milestone Sports. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.