When Priscah Jeptoo came charging up on Buzunesh Deba at the ING New York City Marathon, the talk of twitter turned to one, noticeable aspect of Jeptoo’s running.

Her running form.

It’s unmistakable that Jeptoo has a rather unorthodox running gait. Heck, it’s downright ugly. Watching that gait with a 2:20:14 marathoner, how do the two even go together?

So, what is going on with Jeptoo’s form?

Jeptoo runs with an increased valgus stress on her knee.

Jeptoo runs with an increased valgus angle and stress on her knee. This means, the knee drops closer to her midline (medially) and her tibia (lower leg) moves outside. It also appears as if she does overpronate, which can cause the knee to drop in medially as well.

Below is an example of the different leg angles.

  • Varus (bow legged): The knee is bent outward and the lower leg is bent inward.
  • Neutral: Knee tracks over the second toe.
  • Valgus (knock kneed): The knee is bent inward and the lower leg is bent outward Jeptoo falls in this category.

stance

How can Jeptoo run like that?

Without seeing her in person, I don’t know exactly why this is. It’s certainly possible she has a biomechanical issue that cannot be corrected and thus her form developed from that issue. An example would be a leg length discrepency or a bent tibia.

As I researched this issue, I found this one photo of Jeptoo standing in shorts, facing the camera (apparently thanking contactmusic.com)

See the red line? I drew it from the outside of her hip to her knee and then down to her foot. There is already that valgus stress on the knee without her running. I don’t know what that is specifically for her, but it’s not uncommon to see someone with knock knees.

See how it resembles the diagram above it?

Seeing this stress while she is standing, it’s no wonder when she is in swing phase (her leg off the ground behind her), that leg rotates out as the knee rotates internally.

Adaptation is a funny thing.

Jeptoo can continue to run with that type of gait because she has built up resistance and tendon, ligament and muscles have adapted through the thousands of miles she runs on a yearly basis and, for all of her life.

If her coach or anyone tried to fix her at this point in her career, it would do more harm than good. Her goal is to win marathons during her short career. 

Since she remains injury free, there is no need to change it because she wins. I don’t necessarily agree with If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. But then again, I’m not winning the world marathon major championships.

It’s not about the aesthetics, it’s about the principles.  

There are outliers in every sport who’s mechanics defy the other 99% of professionals Some golfers have swings that make Jack Nicklaus cry. However, even the most hideous swings can result in a 320 yard tee shot down the middle.

Why?

If you dissect the terrible swing, you still find the principles of a good golf swing. Club face square at impact, good swing angle.

In Jeptoo’s case, while her leg rotates out during swing phase, the rest of her form from head to toe is indicative of what I would consider to be good running form. Specifically…

Her body lean is key. 

Jeptoo’s increased lean is a key to her success. Without her lean, she would be forced to put more pressure on her legs at toe off (when your foot comes off the ground) and that would cause her leg to internally rotate even more.

I originally heard one of the announcers discuss her increased lean, but after looking at a few videos, I notice why it works for her.

If we do look below the waist remember that….

Legs, do not a full runner make.

You can’t simply look at a runner’s legs and know the whole story. If you look at her upper body, her arm swing is a bit unorthodox, but her arms are also very long. Her torso does not rotate much, and this could be the cause for her leg swing as the legs swing out to compensate for this lack of rotation.

Now, with that said, there certainly are runners who have adapted to their unorthodox gait over time. Jeptoo is in this category.

Jeptoo is an outlier, and an example of someone who has defied the odds with that type of running form and remaining healthy throughout years of running this way.

Her running form works for her, and her only. All things considered, she is doing more things “right” than she is doing “wrong” when compared to your average runner when you look at her total form.

Her goal is to win now, and as much as possible. The average lifespan of a professional marathoner is very short, and in several years, Jeptoo’s career will be over.

You, on the other hand, plan to run for another 20 years and can benefit from shoring up your form and dealing with outstanding issues that can cause injury or hold you back from becoming a happier, healthier runner.

What do you think? Do you disagree or see something that I don’t? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

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