Endurance Running Technique

Analysis of Tirunesh Dibaba and Jo Pavey's 3000m clash at Gateshead
Words by: Dave Sunderland



The endurance running action falls into three phases which are constantly repeated throughout the cycle. These are the support phase, the flight phase and a return to the support phase. Throughout these phases it is important that the legs, arms, trunk and head all work in unison. It is also important that the endurance athlete works on their mobility to help improve their range of movement.

Tirunesh Dibaba


Support Phase:
With each stride the foot contacts the ground and with the majority of athletes the outside of the heel contacts the ground first in the longer distance events (5k/10k/Marathon) and makes contact with the mid or forefoot first in the shorter endurance events (800/1500). The support leg cushions the ground contact to minimize any braking as the objective is to avoid any deceleration during the stride. The arm action is similar to that of a sprinter but is not as aggressive with the shoulders remaining relaxed. The arms come up and slightly across the chest and the action will become more aggressive in a sprint finish. The head should be held erect with the eyes sighting down the track. The coach should check that this is happening and that the athlete is running naturally and rhythmically. (This well illustrated by Tirunesh Dibaba in sequence 1. This shows her foot about to make contact and the excellent use of her arms)

Once the foot has made contact with the ground the objective is to optimize the forward drive and momentum. (Dibaba sequence 2) The athlete’s weight will roll over the foot and drive off the toe. To ensure that this happens effectively, the hip, knee and ankle joint extend during this phase. In the shorter endurance distances the longer the extension. The thigh of the free leg rises to as near the horizontal as possible but is not as pronounced as in sprinting. The coach and athlete should be concentrating in this phase on relaxation, rhythm, coordination of the arms and legs, running tall with the head held high and maintaining a straight line. All of these points the use of the arms, thigh moving to the horizontal, relaxation and running tall are exemplified in sequence 3 of Dibaba and the leg extension and forward drive in sequence 4.


Flight (Non-Support):
In this second phase the height the heel is brought up and the amount the knee is bent is less than in the sprinting action, and is even less in the longer distance events. Here the aim is again efficiency and rhythm, so that the recovery phase is normal and not exaggerated. The arms, shoulders and head should remain relaxed and breathing should be natural. This efficient and rhythmic action helps the athlete run smoothly and reduces the possibilities of them bounding or over striding.
The recovery leg now swings through and upwards, again not as high as in sprinting. (Generally the slower the speed the lower the knee is lifted). This is to prepare for an active foot strike. The foot moving down and back relative to the body’s position again to minimize any braking effect once the foot makes contact with the ground. The knee lift should be efficient and appropriate to the athlete and they should have an appropriate active landing. From here the athlete can drive off the foot into the next phase. The head and eyes should always be looking down the track. This visual alertness will help maintain the heads alignment throughout the action. It will also make it easier to react to any other athletes around them. Throughout both phases the athlete should be running at a realistic pace. In sequences 5 and 6 of Dibaba we see the recovery leg beginning to move through with the correct knee lift, arm action and body posture. Once sequences 7 and 8 have been executed the whole of the two phases are now complete.
From this driving position the whole process is constantly repeated. If the athlete is required to increase their pace the knee is brought up higher the hip, knee and ankle are extended more and the arms become more active and aggressive.


Jo Pavey




Pavey – a model of efficiency and rhythm:
The accompanying sequence is of Jo Pavey who is an excellent example of an efficient, economical, rhythmical running action. The sequences 1 – 7 illustrate perfectly the support and flight phases.
Sequence 1- Shows the end of the driving phase ready to start the support phase. Note how well balanced are the arms and head, and how Jo is running tall.
Sequence 2 - The support leg begins to come through assisted by Jo’s active arm action. The left leg is beginning to move nearer to the horizontal.
Sequence 3 - Shows the extension of the hip, knee and ankle as the foot gets ready to land. The arms, head and trunk perfectly aligned and giving support.
Sequences 4 and 5 - Show the foot has landed with the mid foot first and the arms are maintaining balance whilst the head and eyes look down the track. The rear right foot is now commencing its move through as the left foot rolls onto the toes ready for Jo to move into the driving phase.


Sequence 6 - Depicts the commencement of the driving phase from the left leg supported by the arms. Jo’s right leg is coming through in the support phase ready to start the sequence again.
Sequence 7 - Is the continuation of the drive phase with the arms beginning to drive through and across the chest. The shoulders relaxed, head hell high and Jo illustrating how to run tall. The right leg continues its way through to the horizontal ready to commence the sequence again.
Similarly in the shot with Tirunesh Dibaba the correct driving phase using both the legs and arms in unison is perfectly illustrated by both athletes. (In combined sequence 1). See how much drive they both achieve through the rear leg whilst running tall remaining perfectly balanced and with active arms whilst the support leg comes through with a high knee towards the horizontal.


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