Recent articles about efficiency in running

In the NY Times, Christopher McDougall writes about barefoot running and raves about the merits of a 100-year-old training exercise called 100 Up:

It was five months since I discovered W.S. George’s “100-Up,” and I’d been doing the exercise regularly. In George’s essay, he says he invented the 100-Up in 1874, when he was an 16-year-old chemist’s apprentice in England and could train only during his lunch hour. By Year 2 of his experiment, the overworked lab assistant was the fastest amateur miler in England. By Year 5, he held world records in everything from the half-mile to 10 miles.

McDougall tells the story of barefoot running like no one else, and he is really excited about the “100-Up” thing. I’m not sure running in place will cure all that ails ya, when it comes to running. But the 100-Up exercise does point to an important issue: technique. I think it’s a widespread misconception that we know how to run. In school, the gymn teachers teach the kids how to do all kinds of sports. They teach how to play basketball, how to do the long jump correctly, how to benchpress properly. But when it comes to running, most coaches just point to the track and yell “run faster!!”

At the other end of the spectrum of coaching runners lives Alberto Salazar.In her  recent New Yorker article, Jennifer Kahn chronicles Salazaar’s quest for running perfection as a runner and as a coach for the Nike running team.

Salazar believes that a runner striking even slightly in front of his body will experience a momentary hesitation while the hamstring labors to pull his torso forward over the grounded foot. “It’s like having a square wheel on your car,” Salazar said. “Each time it comes around, there’s a moment where the car will lurch.”

Switching to a video of Bekele, Salazar grew animated. “If you look at Bekele and you look at Gebrselassie—and Gebrselassie is the first one we saw this with—he’s not sitting,” he said, stabbing a finger at the runner’s pelvis. “His hips are directly under his body, which is directly above his foot. So all that force is going up through his legs and hips into his upper body, to propel him forward. There’s nothing being lost there.”

Both Salazaar and McDougall are on a quest for perfect running technique, but they take very different approaches. McDougall promotes minimalist running, and now I guess the 100-Up exercise as a cure-all for bad technique. Salazaar likes to throw exotic methods and lots of technology at the problem of bad running. And of course he works for Nike. But I think ultimately they both come to the same conclusion – efficiency is the key to good running. Clearly it’s the key to speed. Sprinters have known that for a while. But I think we’re learning that efficiency is also the key to healthy, injury-free running.

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