Stride Problems Forcing American Runners to Lose Gold at Rio

American runners at Rio continue to lose Gold Medals to runners who are simply more efficient—and not stronger or more fit.

A good example is #Shalane Flanagan who finished 6th in the women’s marathon behind winner Jemima Sumgong.

Shalane is extremely inefficient in her upper body mechanics, as you can see in these photos of Sumgong and Flanagan.

Sumgong leans forward 11 degrees in her trunk. This is efficient as it places the center of mass forward and minimizes overstriding, which slows the runner down. Surprisingly, Shalane leans back 5 degrees while she runs, which increases overstriding. Overstriding, or landing with the foot forward of the center of mass, is like racing a car with one foot on the brake at all times.

In addition, the only time most runners lean back is to slow themselves down after crossing the finish line.

Shalane also has a smaller Arm Extension Angle than Sumgong.

Arm extension is important as it affects the leg on the same side. The more you can bring your elbow back while you run, the easier it is to lift the knee on the same side. This increases your Stride Angle, enabling you to run faster. Sumgong ran faster than Shalane because she covered more ground with each stride.

As you will see, Shalane’s poor Trunk Angle and Arm Extension Angle are both related to her breathing problems.

But these are small potatoes compared the most damaging difference between Shalane and Sumgong.

Sumgong bounces up 2” and then drops down 2” with each stride. Since a marathon runner takes about 1,000 strides per mile, she runs up the equivalent of a 4,367-foot mountain and then back down again during the race-- or a total of 1.65 vertical miles.

Shalane bounces up 3” and then drops down 3” with each stride, or 50% more than Sumgong. This is the equivalent of running up and down a 6,550-foot peak during the marathon, or 2.48 miles.

Imagine if Sumgong challenged Shalane to a race where she would run up and down a 4,367-foot mountain, but Shalane would have to run up and down a 6,550-foot mountain. No runner in her right mind would accept such a challenge as it is so patently unfair and unequal.

But this is what happened during the Rio women’s marathon.

Sumgong ran her 4,367-foot mountain, Shalane ran her 6,550-foot mountain. Sumgong won the race. Shalane lost.

Runners don’t have to bounce up and down this much when they run. Sprinters, for instance, bounce up and down only ¼”. Belayneh Densimo bounced up and down less than 1” when he set a World Record at the 1988 Rotterdam Marathon that lasted for 10 years. At the end of the race, he was asked how he felt. He replied that he felt like he could run another 5 miles. More evidence for our reality that the marathon is difficult primarily for the vertical distance run.

Apart from bouncing up and down so much, Shalane has an apparent breathing problem, as you can see by comparing her chest to Sumgong’s.

Shalane is arching her back to try to keep her neck as vertical as possible. This is a common compensation we see in runners who have restricted chest expansion. When the chest expansion is restricted, the ribs are pulled down, which in turn pulls the neck, shoulders and head forward.

Restricted chest expansion is also often accompanied by forward shoulders—which you can also see in Shalane’s photo. Chest expansion can often be the result of allergies, bronchitis, or pneumonia when young. The chest muscles tense up to reduce the amount of cold air going in to the lungs. The connective tissue between the chest muscles thinks that the ribs have been broken, and starts to form microfibers (mild scar tissue) between the muscles to form an internal cast. Unfortunately, these microfibers not only do not go away after the stress has passed, they actually accumulate over time, further reducing chest expansion. This reduces the amount of oxygen going to the muscles—obviously not a good result for marathon runners.

You see this same full chest and forward lean in other winning marathoners like Haile Gebrselassie.

When we release microfibers in runners, they usually double their chest expansion in just 4 weeks or less. Many have increased their vital capacity 33%--from 3 liters to 4 liters of air.

But more impressive is what it does to their running times.

One collegiate rower, for instance, dropped her time on a 10K training circuit from a 9-minute mile to a 7:30 mile after we released microfibers in her chest. Most of our runners cut a minute per mile off their running pace as we improve their breathing ranges and stride efficiency in four weeks or less.

So Shalane ran 50% farther than Sumgong in the vertical direction, leans backward instead of leaning forward, has a stiffer upper body, and takes in less oxygen—but only finishes a minute and a half behind Sumgong.

Tell me that she isn’t much more fit and stronger than Sumgong.

The other stride characteristic that wins races is Stride Angle, the maximum opening between the front and trailing leg. For every degree a runner increases their Stride Angle, they increase their stride length by 2%. So just a 10-degree increase means you cover 20% more ground with each stride. It is very difficult to keep up with someone who is covering 20% more ground than you are with each stride.

The current king of the Stride Angle is Usain Bolt.

Bolt’s Stride Angle was greater than any of his American competitors in the 100m or 200m sprints. He effortlessly beat them not because of his height or leg length, but because his Stride Angle was greater. This has been the case throughout his career, as we demonstrated in our prior analysis of his stride during the Beijing Olympics.

We also examined the Stride Angle in the marathon

But 112 degrees is not the limit of what is possible in running.

Here are photos of an 800m runner after we released microfibers that were binding together the muscles of his hips and restricting his Stride Angle.

When he returned home to run with his high school team, his coach asked his dad ‘Where did your son get that mile-long stride?’.

Americans can clean up at running in 2020 at Tokyo if runners will simply get over the idea that success lies on the road and in the gym. Muscles are not the key to winning races because muscles are only 20% efficient—80% of their energy is expended as heat.

What they need to succeed at the next Olympics is to improve their stride efficiency and expand their breathing ranges. These are both achieved by releasing microfibers in the connective tissue—not by exercising or strengthening the muscles.

Once they do this, they will be unbeatable.