US Olympic Trials Marathon a trial by form?

With the US Olympic Trials Marathon starting in a few hours I thought I’d throw in a few thoughts about a few of the more well known participants and the unusual amount of scrutiny their running techniques have generated.

I must admit watching from afar that the US Olympic marathon trials almost seems to be bigger than the Olympics with numerous articles written about these races and many being etched in US distance running folklore. I’m not sure what US running fans think about it, but it does sometimes look like the US runners smashing each other up and perhaps even giving their best performance before they even get to the Olympics. Although recent medals by Meb Keflezighi and Deena Kastor possibly put that argument to rest.

The three male favorites, or at least most well known runners, have all had their running technique heavily scrutinized over the years for various reasons. These articles and comments have caught my eye from time to time and it’s amazing the debate that such comments generate. Here are some links to some of the more thorough and interesting pieces:

The perfect stride A controversial opinion piece about Alberto Salazar’s attempts to convert Dathan Ritzenhein into a forefoot runner. Pete Larson covered this also – more on Ritz.

Meb in Skechers versus Meb in Nikes Video of Meb before and after he moved to shoes with a design claim of making runners land more mid-foot.

Running form, elites and what it means for you A Pete Larson special, very thorough breakdown of some slow motion footage some of his students took at the 2010 Boston Marathon. Includes Meb versus Hall.

Does running form Matter? The Runner’s World view – good piece by Peter Vigneron that includes more Meb versus Hall analysis.

Elite technique comparisons, interesting for run nerds, not so relevent for regular runners

Despite my interest in running technique, I’m of the school of thought that if you’re a world class elite runner your technique is clearly very sound, so you won’t find me being critical of any given athlete. These runners all share the basic elements identified through my reading, observation and coaching as being fundamental to good running form.

The key thing that regular runners need to work on can be found behind you – in short getting stronger buttocks and learning to use them is the first step towards developing the strength needed to run with good technique. This is much more important than getting to hung up on trying not to heel-strike.

In my opinion this butt factor outstrips any arguments about foot-strike, forward lean and gravity assisted running, especially when it comes to what regular runners need to work on when training for proper running form.

So while it might be interesting to debate the merits of Meb’s heel-striking, the infamous Dathen Ritzenhein, Salazar forefoot strike rebuild and then compare them to Ryan Hall’s seemingly effortless stride, what you’ll find when you stop kicking the tyres and look under the hood that they all share very similar basic mechanics.

Ryan Hall’s form universally admired, but not so much his training approach

Ryan Hall Takes Regular Down Weeks to Refresh during hard trainingRyan Hall is an interesting runner, as while US observers admire his form, the criticism he receives for finding his own pathway in his training methods seems unnecessarily harsh.

While I don’t share his faith, I do get where he’s coming from in terms of finding ways to really embrace and enjoy your running, I’d be surprised if his training philosophy that emphasizes recovery doesn’t get more credit in the long term than the current suspicion it arouses from some pundits. These types tend to believe if you aren’t out there smashing yourselves day in day out that you’re not a real runner.

While the marathon can throw up all kinds of surprises and bring even the most well conditioned or credentialed athlete undone, I hope Ryan Hall continues his good form shown in Boston 2.04 and Chicago 2.08 that incidentally seemed to attract a bunch of vitriol because he didn’t vomit like Meb in NYC!

I’m tipping Ryan Hall from Meb Keflezighi in a close finish.

It’s not a kinda magic

None of it is magic; there’s good genetics, strength and a lot of hard work over many years that allows you to run this fast over the marathon distance. But you’d be surprised at the number of times I’ve had comments about how some guru could improve the technique of world class and even world record holding runners. Would you believe even running immortal David Rudisha was singled out as needing to use gravity more to make him run faster? If only it were that easy or simple.

Strong fierce women

I’ve studied the form of the main female contenders slightly less, but have admired the strong running of Kara Goucher and Shalane Flanagan over a number of years, their achievements at international level already have them well and truly etched into running folklore.

Deena Kaster too has Olympic Bronze in the marathon (2004), but a spontaneous broken foot early in Beijing 2008 suggests some errors in preparation. The lightly built Kaster has reportedly been in the gym and paying more attention to nutrition in an attempt to improve her bone density, so hopefully we won’t see a re-occurrence.

Desiree Davila could lay claim to favoritism after a big performance at Boston 2011, look out for her to try and spoil Flanagan and Goucher’s party.

Time to see how the races play out. Hopefully it’ll be bigger than Texas!

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Women: Flanagan, Devila, Goucher

Men: Keflezighi, Hall, Abdirahman

Image credits:

Meb Keflezighi by Erica Sara Neuman

Ryan Hall by George Roberts

Kara Goucher by Stewart Dawson

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