Here’s What Us Regular Runners Can Learn From Kelvin Kiptum’s Running Form

Kiptum shows us that it's all about doing the basics really well

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After running 2:00:35 at the 2023 Chicago Marathon, 23-year-old Kelvin Kiptum is the fastest marathoner in the world. 

Alongside being an extremely talented athlete, there are a number of other factors that Kiptum needs to be dialed in on to break the world record. Things such as nutrition, sleep, and recovery techniques are all small yet important pieces to the performance puzzle.

Another key component to Kiptum’s success would be his running form.

In this article, we’ll break down the basics of Kiptum’s running form and give you some ways to improve yours.

kelvin kiptum crossing chicago marathon finish line
Chicago Marathon 2023

Why Is Good Running Form Important?

Let’s start off by talking about why good running form is important for running fast.

Running with good form gives you two main advantages. The first is improved efficiency, and the second is a reduced risk of injury.

Becoming a more efficient runner means you will save more energy with every step and, as a result, be able to run further and faster since you are not wasting energy on unnecessary movements.

Nobody wants to be sidelined from an injury. Running with good form reduces your risk of injury by not overloading any specific joint or muscle or moving in an unnatural way. 

Avoiding injury is also beneficial for improvements in training. If you can prevent injuries with good form, you can maintain consistent training without having to take extended breaks to treat injuries.

Upper Body

Kelvin Kiptum and many other Kenyan runners have a straight upper body with a slight lean forward. The lean does not come from bending at the waist; rather, it comes from his ankles.

His head is slanted slightly forward as he maintains the straight line all the way down the rest of his body.

The slight forward lean is advantageous as it improves cooperation with gravity, promoting efficient hip extension and improving stride length and frequency.

Foot Plant

The ideal foot plant for runners is on the mid-foot. Kiptum’s mid-foot strike means that his heel and toes hit the ground at the same time with each stride. 

A common among runners is the heel-strike. As the name suggests, this is when our heel hits the ground before any other part of our foot.

What a heel-strike often means is that we are over-striding. Over-striding not only reduces running efficiency and wastes energy but also puts us at greater risk of injury since we are loading our knees more than needed.

Kiptum not only has an ideal mid-foot strike, but he lands with a slight bend in the knee and under his center of gravity, providing him with an ideal running posture.

Stride Length And Frequency

When you see Kiptum run, you will notice he has an incredibly fast turnover. Most elite runners have a turnover of around 180 steps per minute

At the Chicago Marathon, Kiptum averaged 187 steps per minute, which increased to 192 steps per minute in the later parts of the race.

This turnover is made possible in part by his short stride length. A shorter stride length is more efficient, saving Kiptum some energy and reducing some shock in the knee joint, which helps reduce the risk of injury.

Hands

You’ll notice Kiptum has relaxed hands that are kept close to his chest. It is important to avoid clenching your hands as you run, as this wastes energy and increases tension in the upper arms and shoulders, wasting even more energy as a result.

One analogy many running coaches use is to imagine you are holding a potato chip when you are running and to avoid crushing it by relaxing your hands.

How Can You Improve Your Form

Now, we’ll talk about the two biggest ways you can improve your running form today.

The first is to be more mindful of your form when out on your runs.

For example, being conscious about the tension in your hands and making a deliberate effort to ‘hold a potato chip’ will help relax the rest of your upper body.

Being more aware and making deliberate changes will not feel natural at first, and that’s ok. Over time, as you continue to practice these small changes, they will become an unconscious habit.

Another way to improve your form is to use running drills. Made popular by Kenyan runners, running drills have become a standard practice around the world.

There are countless different running drills, which can make it confusing at the beginning. If you are just starting out with running drills, the ABCs are always a reliable place to start.

  • A Drills: These drills often involve high knees, emphasizing proper lifting of the knees during running to improve stride length and hip flexibility.
  • B Drills: B drills typically involve various forms of butt kicks, working on hamstring flexibility and encouraging a proper backward swing of the leg during the running motion.
  • C Drills: C drills may include exercises that focus on ankle and lower leg mobility, helping to improve foot strike and overall running efficiency.

Although most of us won’t be running a two-hour marathon anytime soon, Kelvin Kiptum and his Kenyan compatriots can certainly teach us a thing or two about our running form, which may help us get closer to a personal best.

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Jessy has been active her whole life, competing in cross-country, track running, and soccer throughout her undergrad. She pivoted to road cycling after completing her Bachelor of Kinesiology with Nutrition from Acadia University. Jessy is currently a professional road cyclist living and training in Spain.

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