Running Research Subject

I was able to take part in a running research project, in which 20 runners from each of the following four groups are being analyzed:  barefoot/minimalist, traditional shod, Pose, and Chi.  Can you guess which group I’m in?  🙂  (I’ve actually read both the Pose and Chi books, and went to one Pose session with a local NC Pose coach, as well as practiced Pose drills a bit, but I would not say that I am a Pose runner in any way…)

I actually got to do the study twice.  :-/  A month ago I went, and felt extremely uncomfortable on the treadmill.  And it was not just because the treadmill has two belts, a left and right, with a 1/2″ gap between them.  Nor was it all the ace bandages wrapped around my legs and waist.  Something was just off… I had chosen to run in my Vivo Barefoot Ultras (with sock liner), which have tremendous ground feel.  And I could feel a slight indention on the left belt and a slight protrusion on the right.  These disturbances were enough to make my body react as if I were stepping on something dangerous…  After the 1st run and set of samples, I asked to run again because it just felt so off.  On the 2nd run, we quickly stopped the treadmill as it was obvious something was drastically wrong.  Turns out the right belt had completely come off track!

So I went back a month later when the treadmill had been fixed, and it felt much better and I was much more comfortable.  I could still feel a slight indention, now on both tracks, but I tried to not let that bother me much.  We stopped at “2.8” on speed which turns out to be about a 9.40 mile though it actually felt much more like an 8:30.  I hope that doesn’t skew my results too much and I’d love to see some of the data at a faster rate.  I can say that I stopped at 2.8 as it felt the most comfortable in this awkward running situation.  For comparison, I ran Boston this year in a 7:52 pace and my current 5k pace is about 6:50…

At some point during my 2-3 minutes of running on each belt, the researcher took video as well as sampled spatial and force data — I think five 3-second samples were taken.  The spatial data is something like 240 frames per second using reflector nodes that had been attached to me… The force plates were even higher sample rates at 1200 per second.

The researcher was kind enough to send me a few snippets which I’ll include below.

First is a composite of my ground reaction force across all the samples of data.  What is interesting to me and the researcher is that most barefoot/minimalist runners do not have an impact transient — but I do, albeit slight.  (For a quick summary of my barefoot history, see this post.)  Overall my peak ground reaction force is on the very low end at 2X body weight, whereas the normal range for most runners it 2-3X.  (This is one area where it would be nice to look at a faster run as I’m sure the GRF would go up at speed…)  The researcher did say I have the lowest “bounce” in any runner he’s seen yet…

Next I’ll show the actual video of me running from the side…  Unfortunately the lighting is not great and the feet are a bit blurred — this is not a high speed camera!  But I think it shows a pretty decent fore to mid-foot strike.  I think the VivoBarefoot Ultra’s almost force that…

And finally, I’ll show the “composite stick figure” video.  This is the five 3-second samples averaged out…  This appears to show more of a mid-foot strike than the video above, though that just may be due to the presentation…  The vertical bar is Fz that is the breaking or propulsive (depending on where you are in the stance phase) force you are seeing in the anterior/posterior direction. (I thought it showed the impact transient but that is NOT the case…)  It’s really hard to tell without the upper body being shown, but to me it looks like I might landing a bit far in front of my center of gravity and perhaps that could be part of the impact transient…  I wonder if this would be different at faster paces? When I did do the Pose session, the one thing the teacher wanted me to work on was the slight forward lean from the ankles, and maybe I’m still running to straight up…

What would be most interesting is to have this kind of data available very quickly and easily, so I could try a few different things and see what would happen.  But it is an expensive treadmill that is in high demand, for both research studies like this as well as rehabilitation of stroke victims and the like.  And it takes about 30 minutes to get all the measurement reflection nodes attached.

All in all a worthwhile experience and the data you can get back may be useful to you if you are in to analyzing your form.

5 thoughts on “Running Research Subject

  1. I agree, Sean. There is something about running on that treadmill which forced me into a more upright posture. I think it was psychological. The area directly in front of the treadmill was walled in, so I’m guessing my brain wouldn’t allow me to lean as much as when I run out in the great wide open.

  2. The second video really did look like your foot strike was forward of your center of gravity, but I think you’re right in that it would probably change at faster speeds. Until they can put these sensors on a body and have them record things in a more natural setting, then the studies seem inaccurate due to inconsistencies caused by the lab environment. Still, interesting info.

  3. Cool post. I’m not too surprised to see a small impact transient, as the Ultras have enough cushion to allow for a bit of overstriding and/or heel strike.

    Did they have you run barefoot also?

  4. I almost asked if I could run barefoot to see the difference, but to re-do all the sensor’s on the feet and run again would have taken some time… But, in hindsight, I still wish I had done it…

  5. Pingback: Born to Run. Christopher McDougall. (2nd read) « 2sparrows

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