What makes a ‘perfect runner?’ Two students aim to find out

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A pair of summer students in the Toronto area are using advanced motion capture technology to determine what makes a “perfect runner” and how it can help the more recreational athlete.

Katie Wilkinson and Nathaniel Reid-Smith are spending the summer working with the Mississauga-based data analytics company Adastra Corporation, where they are tracking the movement of elite and recreational runners to see what, if any, differences in technique they show.

Once they determine differences in form, they hope to coach the slower runners to match the technique of the elites and see if these changes improve their speed and efficiency on the track.

“We’ve recorded a number of different runners, we recorded people around the office,” Reid-Smith, a fourth-year computer science and math student at the University of Toronto, told CTV’s Your Morning. “We’ve already seen great differences between different angles people run at from their stride angle to the angle of their knee at different points in their stride.”

The pair was inspired by the National Geographic documentary “Breaking2” in which scientists at Nike used advanced technology to train three of the best long-distance runners in the world to see if they can break the two-hour marathon barrier.

Ultimately, Kenyan marathoner Eliud Kipchoge finished just 25 seconds shy of the benchmark, but is planning to try once again in October.

At a sports science conference in May, Dr. Yannis Pitsiladis, a professor of sport and exercise programs out of the University of Brighton in the U.K., said completing the marathon in less than twohours is possible, but would require technological advancements in footwear and nutrition. He went as far as to suggest runners could be injected with carbohydrates during the run to improve performance.

More than just running, Wilkinson and Reid-Smith hope their project can one day be used to help a variety of other sports as well. They envision motion capture technology helping golfers and basketball players to perfect their form.

“Our project right now is focused on running, but the applications of this project innumerable,” said Wilkinson, a second-year health sciences student at McMaster University.

The project uses the Microsoft Kinect 2.0, an attachment that comes with the Xbox One, to record the runners’ motion. The device doesn’t require wearable technology to be placed on the athletes’ bodies.

“We could bring the technology to a basketball gym, for example, and analyze the perfect three-point shot,” said Wilkinson.

Perfecting one’s form can not only improve speed and efficiency during a run, it can also prevent injury. A 2018 study out of the University of Salford’s Running Performance Clinic found that many runners’ injuries are caused by simple errors in technique.

They found runners who complained about injuries were most likely to be leaning forward while running, or were leaning their pelvis to one side.

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