Running Form Analysis: Letesenbet Gidey and Hellen Obiri at the 2023 NYC Marathon
A New York Times article about the 2023 New York City marathon pointed out the difference in running form between the two leading runners. Sports reporter Scott Cacciola called it ‘effortless grace’ vs. ‘ferocious power’.
In the video below we analyze the running form of these two runners: Letesenbet Gidey and Hellen Obiri. We will see if their running form is truly so different and if it could have made a difference to the outcome of this race. If you do not yet know who won – we’ll also share that at the end of the video. As always – if you prefer to read – then you will find a transcript of the video below.
Gidey is currently holding the world record over 10,000 meters as well as over the half marathon distance. How ironic – given that at age 13 she was expelled from school for refusing to run during Phys. Ed. class. Thankfully she changed her mind, resumed school and went on to conquer the running world.
Who is Hellen Obiri and Letesenbet Gidey?
Hellen Obiri is 9 years older than Letesenbet Gidey. In 2007 she stopped running to focus on her studies and only started running again in 2009 when joining the military. She then went on to a stellar career in running and won the first of her two Olympic silver medals over 5000 meters just a year after giving birth at the Rio Olympics. At the Tokyo Olympics she then won another silver medal. In 2023 she won the Boston marathon, which was only her second marathon ever, against a highly competitive field.
Obiri and Gidey have faced off many times before, including at the 2022 10,000 meter world championships.
Running form Gidey and Obiri – Lower body
We start our running form analysis of these two elite runners with a look at their cadence. As you can see from the video they run with near identical cadence. Obiri demonstrates a cadence of 180 steps / minute in this segment, Gidey runs with a step rate of 184 steps / minute. The 180’s are a common cadence range among elite marathon runners, here you can see how it compares to cadence from other recent elite marathon performances, all measured towards the end of the race.
Both Obiri and Gidey land on their mid-foot, a testament to their muscular endurance. It’s quite common, even for habitual mid or forefoot runners to switch towards a rear foot strike later in the race. You can find the running form Analysis of Assefa, Kiptum and Kipchoge also on this blog.
Both runners extend their legs about 17 degrees forward. Gidey lands slightly closer to her center of mass. This may be partially explained by her slightly higher cadence in this segment vs. Obiri. As a result Gidey generates 15 degrees of sweep compared to Obiris 11 degrees of sweep.
Both athletes have a very similar forward lean at midstance and even though Obiri pumps her arms a lot her upper body does not move forward and backward significantly. Neither does Gidey’s.
Running Form Analysis Obiri and Gidey – Upper Body
Both athletes run with great upper body posture, stacking their head, neck, thorax and hips in a straight line. They also both run with their arms flexed strongly, however Obiri opens up her arms more during the backward swing.
Despite their different arm movement styles both athletes control the forward and backward movement well. They let them swing naturally, with near identical forward backward movement without excessive overshoot. Generally swinging the arms during running influences vertical oscillation and counter balances the momentum of your legs. It also minimizes head, shoulder, and torso rotation.
From the front view we can see why to the casual observer Obiri’s and Gidey’s running form looks so different.
Obiri moves her head more and brings her arms up higher and carries them wider. This may cost her more energy over the course of a marathon, but also helps her to accelerate. A good example is the photo below taken in an uphill section towards the end of the race. Most importantly Obiris pronounced arm movement is not a symptom of an underlying issue. Often this might indicate overstriding or low cadence, which is not the case here.
For this analysis keep in mind that this lower framerate footage limits accuracy. It also only shows running form at a very specific point during the race. Now knowing what you know after this analysis – would you have guessed who won this race?
Was it the ‘textbook’ running form of Gidey or Obiri’s aggressive style? Keep in mind that running form is only one of several factors influencing race outcomes.
Well here is the outcome: In another tight race between the two of them Obiri pulled away from Gidey during the finishing stretch in this race.
Now do you want a running form analysis like this one? Maybe compare your own running form with these running legends? You can get your personal running form analysis at Movaia.com!
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