Trying to be a faster and more efficient runner?


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Being a track runner while I was in high school, I was always trying to cut off a millisecond off of my race times in order to better my personal records for my different races. In my freshmen year of high school, my track coach told me that to increase my success on the track, I would need to purchase a pair of "spikes". Spikes are lightweight shoes with sharp pieces of metal in the sole of the shoe in order to create traction between my feet and the track. 

There are different types of spikes for different runners. Sprinters, who predominantly land on the balls of their feet while racing, have the metal spikes on the front half of their spikes because the heel of the foot does not touch the track while a sprinter is running. Distance runners' spikes are a bit different than those of a sprinter. Spikes for a distance runner have shorter metal pieces spaced out throughout the majority of the sole of the shoe because distance runners connect their whole foot with the track, unlike sprinters who land on the balls of their feet only when they are running.

A study done by Dr. Hunter wanted to test the hypothesis of whether sprinters and distance runners should actually be landing on different parts of the foot for maximum potential in races. Dr. Hunter was able to take pictures with a camera, which took 240 pictures per second, of the runners at the 10,000 meter Olympic trials. He hoped that doing this, he would expose the secrets to success of the fastest long-distance runners in the country.

Dr. Hunter stated that the results of the photos for both men and women were "all over the place". Some of these long distance runners landed heel first, some landed on their mid-foot and some even landed on their forefoot. Dr. Hunter said, "None of these things were connected with performance, nor with running economy." Dr. Hunter also concluded that in a way, his results were actually a good thing because studies have shown that runners end up using more energy to cover the same distance when they try to change their style of running. 

Linked with Dr. Hunter's observational study, another set of experimental studies were done by Rodger Kram, a biomechanics researcher of the University of Colorado. Kram's goal was to tackle the question many runners have: Is running barefoot or in the minimalist shoes the most efficient way to run? 

Scientists say that running barefoot is more natural seeing as humans evolved to run without shoes on. Scientists also say that running barefoot is more economical for the runner because he or she is using unnecessary energy to lift the weight of the shoes as they take their strides. Another downfall in shoes is their cushioning. The cushioning of the shoes absorb energy that should contribute to propelling the runner forward as they run.

Dr. Kram and his students eventually found that running with lightweight shoes were more efficient than running barefoot (the barefoot runners ran with weights on their feet so Dr. Kram could easily study cushioning of a shoe versus no cushioning when running barefoot). The runners who wore shoes used 3 to 4 percent less energy to go the same speed and distance as those who did not wear shoes. 

Next, Dr. Kram wanted to understand what exact amount of cushioning in the shoes would benefit the runner the most. Dr. Kram conducted a study during which experienced barefoot runners ran on different three different surfaces which mocked different cushioning that would be found in running shoes. The results showed that running on the surface with 10 millimeter cushioning was the best for these runners. These runners used an average of 2 percent less energy to run the same distance and speed as when they ran with less cushioning and more cushioning than 10 millimeters. Kram concluded that there was a metabolic cost to running barefoot as well as running with cushioning that was too thick. 

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2 Comments

I'm so happy I read this article because I used to be a cross country runner and a track runner in high school. My coaches were always so concerned with us wearing the perfect shoes for our event, and my parents footed out way too much money on different pairs of sneakers and spikes. I never understood the difference between certain spikes because to me it was up to the runner how they performed, not the shoes. I'll most likely email this study to my high school coaches so that their future athletes can save some money. Shoes I'd be interested in knowing more about though are Vibram FiveFingers: Barefoot Sports Shoes. They're shoes with spots for each individual toe that seem to be a growing trend among runners. I'm curious if they make a difference in speed/time when running.

This post was definitely very interesting to me because I ran cross country all through high school and I continue to run today. I thought the part about shoes was cool to read because although running with a lighter shoe may be better time wise, I always had problems when I ran with a lighter shoe. For me, I get really bad shin splints from running with a shoe that didn't have much support. I had to switch to always using nike shoes with a base, much like these ones. I found that anything else slowed me down due to pain. Running barefoot or with the barefoot shoes has also caused many problems with runners and depending on the runner, these can ruin a runner's foot as seen in this article. I think that being able to physically run is a lot better then running the fastest. What do you think?

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