The Balanced Runner analyzes Hellen Obiri’s form: “Yes, there’s a lot of up-and-down, but that’s not actually a bad thing.”
“In summary, if we set aside the question of whether her form is ideal, I actually think it’s pretty impressive. It is maybe a bit expensive, so how well it will translate to marathons is probably a question of training and her being able to get a feel for how to dial it back a bit and run just powerfully enough to get the job done.”
by Robert Johnson
March 29, 2023
Today it was announced that Hellen Obiri, the 2019 world xc champ and two-time world 5000 champ, will be running the 2023 Boston Marathon. Since she bonked in New York last fall in her first marathon, I have been wondering if Obiri’s form might end up causing her problems in all of her marathons – not just her first. So I reached out to Jae Gruenke, the founder of The Balanced Runner™, to see what she thought. In my email to Jae, I wrote, “it seems there a lot of wasted up and down motion for her and that won’t translate to the marathon? Or am I just making things up?”
Article continues below player
Here is her reply:
She’s a powerful runner, no question. Yes, there’s a lot of up-and-down, but that’s not actually a bad thing, and I don’t think it’s too different from, say, Edna Kiplagat or many of the other great Kenyan runners. Maybe a bit more, but not much.
The thing is, bounce isn’t bad the way we used to think it was. Shane Benzie has done a great job of explaining this (though I disagree with him on much else). Running is a spring-driven action, and that bounce loads the elastic tissues, which turns into propulsion. Salazar’s crazy idea about trying to eliminate bounce back in his running days creates a much bigger problem. Just looks good on paper but doesn’t really work, like so many ideas about running form.
I reviewed a few videos after I got your email, and in this one the announcer says, “When Hellen Obiri goes to her arms, the race is over.” That’s a key insight. You can get a really good look at her form in this high-quality slow-motion video.
Obiri’s head may go up and down a bit more than the average, but what she really does a lot of is pumping with her arms. She has broad shoulders and a very strong upper body, and she uses it to increase ground reaction force to run faster. You see a lot of impact through her whole upper body, but that’s how she’s getting her speed. It’s not a flaw.
She’s also got a deep lean, which runners who internally rotate their thighs generally have to do in order to run well. I looked at the finish line video of last year’s Great North Run, and you can see Ayana coming through in third behind Obiri with exactly the same organization of her legs as Obiri has, even though the two runners look very different from the side. It’s a pretty common pattern–Sharon Lokedi does it too.
Another reason Obiri uses her arms so much is that her thigh internal rotation limits her pelvis movement and thus overall core action, so she does more distal movement to make up for it.
In summary, if we set aside the question of whether her form is ideal, I actually think it’s pretty impressive. It is maybe a bit expensive, so how well it will translate to marathons is probably a question of training and her being able to get a feel for how to dial it back a bit and run just powerfully enough to get the job done.
Expensive form does make for a hard transition to the marathon, but to me the most obvious case of this was Mo Farah, and his form had a major flaw that cost him a lot in the marathon–namely, pushing his hip forward at toe-off, causing his head to bob backwards and forwards. That is a major waste of energy, so much so that you seldom see it in world-class runners. I don’t see a comparable problem in Obiri’s form.
I hope that’s helpful! Let me know if you have any questions.
Talk about Obiri’s form and her Boston prospects on our world-famous messageboard.