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Instability

April 5, 2010

Running is ultimately an act of instability. Stand still, and you’re stable – there is equal pressure on you from all angles, and you don’t move. Run, however, and you’re basically moving because you’re unstable; there is a force in one particular direction that is stronger than any of the other forces pushing against it.

Finding a way to increase this imbalance without adding extra exertion to your running style will, in theory, help you to run faster or further. Maybe both. Hence, many runners strive to lean forward from their ankles. Running becomes a little like controlled falling, your legs never really cross your centre of gravity and your exertions are primarily concentrated on pushing you forward.

While that approach is sustainable – so long as you don’t fall over – you sometimes want a little burst of speed, or to strengthen your propulsion. For example, if you’re running up a hill, or trying to get through the final hundred metres of a race, you want to give it that bit extra. That’s when runners go for the Terminator 2 running motion, pumping their arms high, preferably with karate-chop hands. The wisdom goes that the higher you raise your arms in this motion, the faster you run.

Again, the basis for moving forward is through the displacement of the centre of gravity. But, while it’s easy to move your arms in synch with the rythm of your footfall, might it be more effective to move your arms to a different meter than your legs? The imbalance resulting from this makes it easy to start twisting your torso, and it takes more effort, but it feels easier to build speed.

So, the long and the short of it is that I might need to resort to leaning forward and flailing my arms in some random rhythm in order to stagger through the last 0.2 miles on Sunday. It’s a sprint finish, Jim, but not as we know it…

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