The platonic ideal for all pavement plodders is barefoot-running style. Which is why this short slo-mo video at the 25.5-mile mark of the top three women finishers at the 2011 Boston marathon is fascinating to watch. We first see the two Kenyans, Caroline Kilel and Sharon Cherop, so graceful and elegant, nearly matching stride for stride in textbook foot-striking perfection. Then, in third place, along comes the American runner Desiree Davila, who is clearly heel-striking, or is she? To answer this question and reflect on the Kenyans' gait, Zero Drop asked Dr. Mark Cucuzzella, a 17-time Boston finisher, for his opinion. "The gait analysis pundits may make the false observation that Davila is 'heel striking'. This is incorrect. Think about what she is doing at this stage in the race. It is 25.5 miles in and they are running 5:20 per mile. She is using everything left to engulf the real estate between her and the Kenyans. This is not relaxing in the pack at 13 miles. She is reaching with all her might, recruiting every muscle/tendon unit, touching gently on her heel, rolling forward without losing momentum, extending her hips, loading the springs in her feet and Achilles, and gaining the ground with guts."
And yes, Davila did in fact gain precious ground. She edged past Cherop by five seconds to finish second in 2:22.38; Kilel won by a whisper in 2:22:36.
More from Mark on the three women:"This video is the visual of what perfect barefoot running style is. You can see that they are fully utilizing the magic of elastic recoil. They land softly, maintain their momentum, load the springs (foot and Achilles), and in a relaxed upright posture launch off the ground. They are getting massive hip extension and utilizing the recoil of the iliacus and psoas, as well as the hip flexors. They are not sprinting. They are still in the relaxed efficiency mode and allowing everything to happen in the normal frequency of muscle/tendon recoil, about 180 steps a minute."
And here's Mark discussing his own gait: "Although I am not as efficient as these runners, I use the same principles to run relaxed through this race of ups and downs. I finished 164th in 2:37 at the age of 44. I’ll keep working on my hip extension and spring loading and maybe gain some ground on them next year."
BUT WAIT! Dr. Phil Maffetone disagrees with Mark's assessment of Davila's form: "I almost got injured watching this very short clip—too short to make a complete and accurate analysis of gait. But it’s clear that the American has a terrible gait compared to the two women ahead of her. She’s overstriding, a common problem associated with significant fatigue, and a number of muscle imbalances are evident. Just the energy used (and wasted) to obtain the significant contraction of the tibialis anterior muscles that raise the foot (the reason she lands too far back on her foot) is a major issue. Shortening the stride could have eliminated it, and possibly helped the tibialis posterior muscles with better recoil action in the feet (gaining a lot of energy for propulsion).I’m estimating (just a bit better than guessing with such a short view) that this runner lost 60-90 seconds in the race due to these irregularities. She must be a great athlete to be able to run that well with so many imbalances, (and as such she reminds me of Alberto Salazar)."