Ironman Run Style – Gazelles vs Gliders Part 2 – What Really Matters?

I have had lots of response to part one of this discussion – please read and view it first if you haven’t already. The point here is to challenge some of the “common wisdom” out there about how you “should” run. And by “you”, I mean everyday runners and long course triathletes. If you are an elite runner, track athlete, or even a fast short course triathlete, I wouldn’t bother watching the videos. But, if you are everyone else, you may find something valuable here. In part one I laid out the differences in the two running styles, and touched on the physics involved. Bottom line, if you are running slower than 6min pace (and you probably are running much slower most of the time), should you emulate the running style of athletes running well under 5 min pace? Do you “need” to fly? Do you need the extra impact and potential greater likelihood for injury of the bounding Gazelle style?

If you are a speedster, yes. Physics demands it. Otherwise, sticking to the ground and turning over quicker may be the ticket. I think everyone naturally runs Gazelle style as a child – you are running in short fast bursts in play and sports. But what about sustained slower running – a very unnatural thing for children and most humans unless you take up endurance sports – or maybe unless you were a prehistoric hunter who killed much faster prey simply by outlasting it.

So why not try gliding if you aren’t running that way already? Yes, you can consciously change your running style. I did and essentially overnight I was running 20 secs+ per mile faster for longer distances. For me, paces around 1/2 marathon race pace were easier to maintain – they felt much more sustainable. And that could be a big plus for long course triathlon where most folks slow way down as the run progresses. Plus, I was less beat up after long tempo runs. In fact I wasn’t beat up at all, other than feeling it some in my hips and butt – hips from testing my mobility, and butt from drive off of the back foot. But no impact soreness.

And that brings up the fact that to be a GOOD glider, you still need the posterior chain to activate and drive your forward, and you need hip mobility. You need good rearward extension, which requires supple hip flexors (not a common characteristic of triathletes who spend hours in the aero position) and t-spine mobility. But you may well not need nearly as much “spring” as Gazelles do. And that is good news for everyday runners and especially “older” athletes. So a good foundation still matters, and the better it is the better you will run regardless of style.

Other than analyzing videos of yourself running, how can you wrap your brain around gliding? Two visualizations I have used are Nordic skiing and skating. Get that front foot swinging down from the knee early to help propel you forward. In both Nordic and skating, the motion of driving the front foot forward helps propel you off the back leg and opens the stride.

What DOESN’T matter? Foot strike for one. I can see from the comments under the first video that folks are obsessed with “strike”. I’ll say it again – just don’t BRAKE. Land midfoot, forefoot, or even touch your heel lightly – just don’t stop yourself on each stride. What many think is a heel strike is really just a heel touch on the way to a mid-foot landing. If you achieve weighting mostly under your center of gravity, then it really isn’t going to matter how your foot touches the ground. The foot needs to be “pawing back” as it touches and not weighted until it’s under your hips. True heel striking involves crashing your heel into the ground well out in front of your hips – sending most of the shock from the landing straight up your leg into your hips and back. Please don’t do this. It hurts just writing about it.

So check out my “part 2” video. I look at some more pros, but also look at an everyday runner – me – running both ways at different paces. I also talk about the types of athletes that may benefit most from each style. And just to be clear, I am not trying to be dogmatic here. I am not saying that changing styles is a magic bullet or this is the “only” way. You will still need to work on range of motion and mobility. But maybe gliding will let you take greater advantage of what you have to work with.