Aerodynamics and Long-Distance Running

Aerodynamics and Long-Distance Running

When we think of aerodynamics, images of sleek cars and aeroplanes come to mind, not runners. However, aerodynamics plays a significant role in the performance of long-distance runners. Understanding and optimizing aerodynamics can provide a competitive edge, especially at higher running speeds.

Aerodynamics, in the context of running, refers to how air resistance impacts a runner's efficiency and speed. While it's less significant than in high-speed sports like cycling, it's still an important factor for runners.

At what speed does aerodynamics become crucial?

The influence of aerodynamics becomes more pronounced as speed increases. For most amateur runners, air resistance isn't a major concern. However, elite athletes, who sustain speeds over 20 km/h (about 12.4 mph), can gain tangible benefits by focusing on aerodynamic efficiency. If you run at speeds faster than 12km/h - this article is for you.

Running in a group can reduce wind resistance by up to 80% for the trailing runners.

Improving aerodynamics - factors in order of importance:

1. Clothing and gear: Wearing tighter-fitting, smooth-textured clothing helps. Unlike loose clothes, they don't flap and create drag. Additionally, shoes with a minimal design can contribute to better aerodynamics. Who will ever forget Australia's Cathy Freeman's full body super-suit at the Sydney Olympics. Parts of the recovering leg of a top sprinter would reach speeds exceeding 70km/h! In the game of aerodynamics this is a substantial number.

2. Group Running Dynamics: Drafting, or running behind another runner, can reduce air resistance. This technique is often used in races to conserve energy. Running in a group can reduce wind resistance by up to 80% for the trailing runners. If you ever had the chance to watch the documentary on Eliud Kipchoge's sub two-hour record marathon run, you will know that it could not have been done without the help of a rotating crew of runners in formation that assisted to minimise his drag.

3. Body position and running form: A streamlined posture reduces air resistance. Leaning slightly forward, keeping the head and back straight, chin down and minimizing lateral movements can reduce drag.

4. Hairstyle and accessories: Small details like hairstyle and accessories also play a role. Long hair, bulky caps, or headphones can increase drag. Tying hair back and using streamlined accessories can make a small, yet impactful difference. Many runners will choose to shave their leg hair to make them more streamlined.

5. Environmental Factors: Choosing routes with less wind and running during calmer weather conditions can improve aerodynamic efficiency. However, this is often beyond the runner's control. Top runners often choose to run closer to the barriers or a fence or a hedge along the route to reduce the wind resistance.

While aerodynamics may not be the first aspect a long-distance runner considers, it holds importance, particularly at higher speeds. As in any sport, the aggregation of marginal gains, including aerodynamic improvements, can lead to significant performance enhancements.

Enjoy slicing the air,
the Anatomic Sports Team

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