ANOTHER
MOTHER RUNNER

Stopping by the Brand New Saucony Stride Lab

 

Finding my strong—with a little virtual Star Wars Light Saber thrown in for good measure.
Finding my strong and optimal stride—with a little virtual Star Wars Light Saber thrown in for good measure.

Like most of you, I'm guessing, I'm a sucker for a good running specialty store. Walls of bright shoes that just scream for miles; racks of clothes so cool, my mind swirls with potential finish line photos; colorful accessories, hundreds of flavors of nutrition, rows and rows of cushy socks and....bears, oh my?!

Running stores are my version of Dorothy's yellow brick road.

So last week, when the Boulder Running Company opened the country's biggest specialty run store, square-footage-wise, in nearby Cherry Creek, I pointed my minivan straight towards Oz. And while I could've spent hours perusing the racks, I beelined for the Saucony Stride Lab, a research-grade treadmill and lab that documents your stride—and, more importantly, your body's positioning and movement as you run—in microscopic measurements.

Although it's turf green, this $100,000 treadmill is actually the yellow brick road: It can lead to years of injury-free, strong running.
Don't let the turf green color fool you. This $100,000 treadmill is actually the yellow brick road: It can lead to years of injury-free, strong running.

Your left foot goes just a smidge wonky before you touch down? The four cameras, positioned in the front, back, and on each side of you, will catch it. Right hip droops just as the right foot pushes off? The cameras shoot hundreds of pictures a second, so they'll find that too. One shoulder is consistently in front of the other? It can't hide in the Stride Lab—and that's a good thing.

Shoes can support, cushion, cradle, protect, guide, adorn a running store wall, and make you drool as you gaze at them, but sadly, they're mostly about your feet. (Yep, feel free to insert a Waaah! Running is hard enough and life's not fair! here.)

Shoes can't keep your hips level, your core engaged, your stride light and easy, your alignment in order, the rest of your body running efficiently. You and your (hopefully) badass mother runner muscles have to do that. Problem is, you don't always know if they're flicked on like they should be. Injuries are one way to know if sleeping on the job, but I don't recommend this method. A better way is at the Stride Lab, the only research-grade treadmill available for us normal, average runners to try in this whole world. (All the other ones are located in universities or companies.)

The Saucony Stride Lab team: Sam, Meital, me, Spencer. (I'm not part of the team, but I kind of wish I were...)
The Saucony Stride Lab team: Sam, Meital, me, Spencer. (I'm not part of the team, but I kind of wish I were...the lab so dang cool!)

I got to take the treadmill last Friday, while Spencer White, Head of Saucony's Human Performance and Innovation Lab, was putting on the finishing touches on the set-up. He was also instructing Sam, who will be in charge of $100,000 treadmill, and Meital, a physical therapist with In Motion Rehab, which has an PT office in the flagship store. (Read: you get your stride anaylzed, and then Meital gives you exercises and techniques to get stronger and improve. Pretty sweet BOGO.)

I had already pitted out my top before I arrived: I had visions of a VO2 max test—think face mask + extended, intense effort—but I shouldn't have worried. After we talked about my running (20+ years) and injury history (too many to count), as well as my current goals (1. Stay injury-free; 2. Keep injuries at bay; 3. Push myself, but only if I don't hurt myself), I ran for just a few minutes at an easy effort while the cameras shot me from all angles, which is about as flattering as it sounds, especially when it involves cellulite in super-slow-motion.

Then I stepped off, and the four of us checked me out.

First, Spencer went over the forces of my foot strike. My left foot is more aggressive than my right, which is why my left heel always wears out first.
First, Spencer went over the forces of my foot strikes. My left foot is more aggressive than my right, which is why my left heel of my shoes is always the first to go. Not a problem, though. Phew.
We looked at me from the side and the top. Despite my  thinking I was landing more on my midfoot, I'm a heel-striker, as 85-90% of us are, according to Spencer. (And that, he says, is just fine.)
Then we broke me down from the top and sideways. Despite my thinking I had transitioned more to a midfoot landing, I'm a heel-striker, as 85-90% of us are, according to Spencer. (And that, he says, is just fine.)
Then we focused on my lower legs from the front. All good.
Then we focused on my lower legs from the front, rolling the film forward and backwards to see how each foot landed.
And the oh-so-flattering backside. The best news? My hips are level, which isn't always the case for mother runners whose hips have been, um, compromised. The green line shows how force is being distributed (the treadmill has special plates for measuring ground-reaction forces).
And the oh-so-flattering backside. The best news? My hips are level—thank you, Pilates!—which isn't always the case for mother runners whose hips have been, um, compromised by pushing out and carrying piglets. The green line grows through each step, showing how force is being distributed. (The treadmill has special plates for measuring ground-reaction forces.)

The whole process took about 30 minutes; it could've been shorter if I hadn't asked so many questions, and it could've been longer, if I were trying on different shoes. (Nope, not straying from my beloved Virratas.) Although the trio pointed out a few things that are slightly off balance as I run, nothing is particularly significant or a predictor of future issues. Phew again.

Of course, the form I have during a few minutes of fresh running isn't exactly what I look like 11 miles into a half-marathon. So we talked about all the ways that I—and any runner—can keep optimal form when that breaking-down feeling comes on a run: maintaining a strong core and (pretty) good posture; taking lighter, more frequent steps; and visualizing the foot landing under the body to minimize impact on the joints.

Oh, and you can never do enough planks, says Meital.

At the end, Spencer pronounced my current stride durable—a word that connotates longevity and strength. My stride isn't speedy or super efficient or admirable, but it is, according to close, expert anaylsis, durable. And, at this point in my running career, that is the best adjective ever.

The Saucony Stride Lab at the Boulder Running Company Cherry Creek is currently free; local runners can call 303-RUN-WALK (catchy, huh?) to make an appointment. We will also set up free appointments during our Mother Runner Denver party at the store on May 6, and will send out an email to those RSVP'ed once we have sign-ups available. 

 

17 responses to “Stopping by the Brand New Saucony Stride Lab

  1. I’m with the mother’s who want a field trip toBoulder to have a go at this wonder-machine, especially sim
    Nice I don’t have a real clue whether my feet, hips, shoulders are aligned. And Dimity, from my perspective, hat back view with the straight green line down your butt and gams is sayin’ “Yep, THIS mother runner has the goods!”

  2. Planks can be really detrimental to mother runners who have have a diastasis in their abdomen, which can be common after pregnancy. They won’t help your core heal and will lead to a weaker core, tighter hamstrings, and a sore back while you run!

  3. So darn cool! I would love some sort of professional gait analysis like that. I seem to have some sort of systemic weakness on my right side – or at least an imbalance – so that different parts of my body on that side keep popping up ‘talking to me’ when I’m in the thick of training cycles. I like the sound of “Durable Dimity” 🙂

  4. Sounds like a trip to Boulder might save us all some dollars and time spent searching for the elusive perfect running shoe (although my return trip from Australia might be a little more expensive!).

    I wish I had a durable gait, I think my ‘mild supination in the left foot and being neutral in my right may mean the only solution is to run in circles….:)

  5. I love my Virrata too! Switched to them last year and they are great. I wish I could make a trip to Denver for that party 🙂 One of the running stores near me has something similar but not as in depth. Also, as a PT that sounds like my dream job!

  6. THis is awesome! And I’m also thrilled that I’ve had a similar thing done in my Sports Doc’s office here in PDX. Treadmill + iPad app + Doc = good things. 🙂 I have images of me in super slow-mo watching my hips drop (need to get on that pilates thing)…

  7. I am both intrigued and terrified with the idea of doing this! I would love, love, love to know how to fix my wonky stride, but am scared they might tell me I’m beyond all help! 🙂 I know when people say things like, “I knew that was you coming from a mile away…I could tell by the way you run,” that my technique needs some repair! As an aside, I want to chat more about your Virratas! I recently switched to those and found my nagging hip pain is now all but gone! I doubt they fixed my twisted, unleveled gait, but they seem to have set something straight.

  8. That’s awesome! We have one of those treadmills at our University Running Injury Clinic – but it sure as heck isn’t free!! I’d get the analysis done for sure if it didn’t cost anything.

  9. A durable stride! Totally a dream!!!!
    I’ve done a video gait analysis, which seems similar to what you describe but with a human on a computer clicking on things and measuring stuff. It was interesting to learn, but completely overwhelming. I did not leave with a gait pronounced “durable” but instead with a list of bizarre eccentricities in my stride.

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