When asked about his ungainly running style, the great Emil Zátopek replied: ‘I shall learn to have a better style once they start judging races according to their beauty.’
Zátopek knew what he was talking about. To this day, the man whose running style was once compared to ‘a man juggling an octopus on a conveyor belt’ is the only runner to have won the 5,000m, 10,000m and marathon at the same Olympics.
Now, a study from Tennessee State University adds further weight to the argument that running is not a beauty contest. The researchers sent one-minute video clips of five different runners to 121 coaches, asking them to rank the runners from most economical to least. They then compared those rankings to lab-measured values of running economy, which refers to how much oxygen you consume to maintain a certain pace – in this instance, a 7:30min/mile.
The result: the coaches were completely unable to correctly rank the runners from most to least economical. It’s worth noting, too, that the coaches weren’t a bunch of rookies unsure of what to look for. Eleven per cent of them had doctorates and another 29 per cent had masters degrees. Yet none of this mattered. Only six per cent of the coaches managed to get three of the five runners in the correct order; 12 per cent get two in correct order; the other 82 per cent got either one or zero in the correct order.
So, if your stride is more Zátopek than Zoolander, worry not: when it comes to running efficiency, looks aren't everything.
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