When I began running 8 yrs ago I would run on the Des Plaines River trail with my husband riding his bike alongside of me. As little as a year before, I never dreamed I would become a runner but, running along the forested path beside the Des Plaines River, feeling a newfound sense of joy and enjoying the kinesthetic movement of my legs propelling me forward, I became addicted. My husband would observe my gait and wonder out loud “you don’t look like a gazelle like that woman who just ran by.” I would say I’m new to this; it takes time.
Fast forward to today. I have been studying and working diligently on my form, not to look like a gazelle, but to overcome and prevent further injury (Achilles tendonopathy). I’m feeling pretty good about myself as I sense the form and cadence change in my run. I’ve been videotaping and analyzing my 15-year-old son’s run for the past year and thinking about my form. He flies through the air with great ease at 6 minute per mile pace, no sooner does a foot touch the ground then hes off it, standing up tall with fully extended leg on the back stroke driving his knee forward. He looks like a gazelle. Well surely I must be able to look like a gazelle if I gave birth to a gazelle. My son videotaped me. Hmmm, I’m leaning nicely from the ankles, standing tall, looking straight ahead, no significant hip drop, mid-foot strike, and a 184 steps per minute cadence. But I sure don’t look like a gazelle and I’m doing all the basics right. What’s missing?
Recently I watched a video online provided by Todd Kenyon, PhD from www.TTBIKEFIT.com. He was comparing the two primary running styles of elite ironman triathletes. He called the 2 running styles, gazelles and gliders. My eyes lit up, I’m a glider, not a gazelle, and it’s ok! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tJWPwVF30yo
Todd points out that the glider’s form can be more efficient, with shorter stride length, less bounce, increased cadence and decreased air time (the time between toe off of one foot to foot strike of the other foot is very minimal). This efficient form of running may be the best for age group runners, those of us over the age of 40, to best avoid injury as it does not require the same amount of elasticity in the tissues as running like a gazelle. As people age, the elasticity in their tissues become tighter and can become more prone to injury. Of course, there are age groupers who do run like gazelles, they do not need to change their form unless they are suffering injuries, then a form change may be in order.
The gazelle, on the other hand, is someone who is born with that capability, either you can run like a gazelle or you can’t. Gazelles have increased air time both vertical and horizontal, allowing greater distance per stride than the glider. Gazelles will have greater ability to use the stored recoil in their tendons and to absorb this great force when landing. Anyone running under a 6 minute mile will have the form of a gazelle.
Whether you’re a gazelle or a glider, the following are some running form guidelines for everyone:
- Run tall – look straight ahead
- Engage core/lower abdominals
- Arm swing – arms at 90 degrees, close to body, driving elbows back, not crossing body
- Foot strike lands close to body
- Knees pointing straight ahead
- Ankles –slight lean
- Cadence – 172-185 steps/minute
Not everyone can have the beauty and grace of a gazelle running form like my son. Maybe you’re a glider like me, and that’s ok. At least you are out there running.