Friday, June 22, 2012

Wiring up the Kenyans

It seems like Lolo Jones is not the only world class runner being wired up in some fantastical way to help improve performance and avoid injury. If you read Toni Reavis's blog you would note that he is spending time in Kenya these days and hanging around with some of the fastest runners to have ever graced this planet. On the Road to Kenya: The Cattle Dip Loop Toni meets up with the Kenyan marathon team in Iten and explains the technology being tested out on these runners.
Today’s run would also serve as a field test for a new wireless sensor technology developed at the UCLA Wireless Health Institute that holds the promise of re-ordering the level of sophistication that athletes and coaches can bring to their training.  Small accelerometers worn on the laces of each shoe would monitor, record and transmit the stride characteristics of Abel Kirui and Wilson Kipsang throughout their run.  With this information in hand they and their coaches will be better able to analyze the small asymmetries in ground contact time, back-kick dynamic, pronation and supination during the varied runs in their training regimen. As Pegasus Sports Performance CEO Bill Shea, an interventional radiologist by training, outfitted Wilson and Abel with the sensors and the small cell phone which they will wear to transmit the signal to the internet and onto our computers ...
 Then he gets to witness a short "easy" workout by these Kenyan greats. In Toni's second installment Into Thin Air: Kamarini Stadium Toni visits the track in Iten where the "also rans" are dreaming big. An "also ran" in Kenya may mean you are a world class well-known runner or just a young kid dreaming of becoming a champion. The third installment Poor Weather Forecast for Kenyan Olympic Trials has Toni talking about racing for fast times vs. racing the competition. He also talks about marathon pacers and the saturation of Kenyans in the market.

Toni's latest installment Meet at the Corner Shop: Fartlek into Masai Land has Toni traveling to Ngong a town near Nairobi where world marathon record holder Patrick  Makau trains and gets back to the technology being used with the Kenyans:
Throughout today’s run Makau will be wearing a pair of Pegasus Sports Performance sensors on his shoe laces, and an android cell phone tucked in a belt pouch strapped to the small of his back. With this equipment, we will record and transmit data monitoring Patrick’s cadence, rear kick dynamic, ground contact time, and pronation during the course of his 1:30 workout, which will include the warm up and cool down phases.
We also learn that Makau comes from a different tribe than the majority of top Kenyan runners and has a different build.

But what was also apparent was that Makau’s Kamba tribe body is much different than that of his Kalenjin tribe rivals like Wilson Kipsang, the 2012 London Marathon champion.  Of the 42 tribes in Kenya, perhaps five represent the running talent of the nation. And of those five  the Kalenjin have long been considered the cream of the crop with their longer, thinner legs, and narrower hips making for a more aerodynamic cleaving of the air. 
Makau’s Kamba-built gait rides atop a sturdier base as he is broader across the shoulders and hips, almost resembling a 400-meter power runner rather than the long, lean marathoner we associate with Kenyan athletes.

I am fascinated with Kenya and with the technology that is being tried out on the runners there, so I had a question yesterday for Toni which I left on his blog.
I am enjoying your series on Kenya. What a fascinating place. I was there last summer-although it was not running related. Are they using the data to tweak the strides of these athletes or just testing out the technology. Will the tweaks be workout related (form breaks due to fatigue) or actually trying to alter their form (might not turn out too well)?
Toni was gracious enough to answer and provide more information:

Jim,Initially this is a beta test of the equipment in the harshest of road conditions with the very best athletes. But the runners and their coaches will receive all the data that is collected, and be able to identify and understand where the imbalances may be in their stride mechanics.This data will inform their decisions on drills, workouts, and therapies which might address those imbalances, so that their fitness is better utilized to generate speed without crossing the line into over-use injury. 
For athletes of this caliber, small things can have big consequences. Realize that just a 1% difference over the course of a marathon equates to 2:00. So it is critical that these athletes be as precise as possible as they strive for success. 
One half of the equation is to get as fit as possible, Avoiding injuries is a big part of that quest. The second half of the equation is to transfer that fitness into forward motion as efficiently as possible. The Pegasus sensor technology can be an invaluable tool to achieve both halves of their goals, while making their structure a better implement of their fitness.Make sense?
Well it sounds like an interesting concept: helping the best runners find the nuances in their biomechanics that need adjusting so as to become even better runners. I remember the days before timers were on your watch and you timed your workout by where the big hand and the little hands were on the watch face. Can you imagine the day when instead of runners placing on sports watches and  heart-rate monitors, runners will be wearing devices like these being tested to get the data they need to become better runners and stay injury free. Well, as long as they know what to do with the data! I would have loved something like this to figure out what my wonky stride has been doing all these years and then to see what I could have done to improve my running form rather than running myself into the ground.

Stay tuned to Toni's blog and see how many more installments he writes and then continue reading what he has to say about running. Toni is the voice of running in the U.S. He can be heard commentating on races all the time and has done so for many years. He knows the athletes and the movers and shakers of the sport and he has opinions on many running related topics that are well worth listening to.

Here is an earlier post Toni had made on Pegasus Sports Performance. Here is the website for Pegasus Sports Performance.

As I mentioned, Toni has been reporting on running for a very long time. Here is a picture I snapped of him at the 1976 Falmouth Road Race as he was interviewing Bill Rodgers. I can't tell, but that might that be Bob Hodge behind Toni's massive FlipCam?

Here is a newly published book: Running with the Kenyans: Passion, Adventure, and the Secrets of the Fastest People on Earth.

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