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Runners who like talking and thinking about running, and the process of running, often find themselves on the topic of form. Some of us believe that proper form is the key to not just running our best times, but to something even more important — staying injury-free.

As we’ve seen over the past couple years, though, the notion of what constitutes “proper” running form is highly individualized. So while the general parameters are widely agreed-upon, there’s a lot of debate on the specifics. Furthermore, the relative importance of each element of good form varies depending on which coach or expert or blabbing blogger you choose to believe.

Despite the lack of consensus, sometimes you see someone running and have an instant reaction that they either look really good or really bad. I find myself doing this all the time — whenever I pass a runner while I’m in the car I can’t help but take a quick glance to check out their mechanics.

Interestingly, my immediate “they look good” or “they look bad” reaction doesn’t come from comparing that person’s stride to an ideal picture I have in my mind’s eye, or after I’ve tried to evaluate the distinct elements of that person’s stride, or even by comparing them to the top-level runners I see on video or running trails and paths around Boulder. Nor is the runner’s speed necessarily a factor; there are plenty of fast runners who look horrible, and slow runners who look great.** Instead, the reaction just pops into my head nearly fully formed. (** – Of course, in the context of competitive running, this discussion is pointless — if you get to the line first you’re the winner, regardless of the “quality” of your gait.)

Sometimes I’m lucky enough to see someone whose stride looks great — “great” in the sense that I feel something positive in my running soul to have seen it. And “great” in the sense that my next thought is “I KNOW what it is to feel that smooth and free…. when can I go for my next run?”

For example, this morning I saw this picture of the women’s winner of the Moab Winter Sun 10k (http://www.coloradorunnermag.com/2013/12/10/moabs-winter-sun-10ka-winter-wonderland):

Womens-Winner

I was immediately struck by how everything (head, shoulders, elbow swing, level hips, ankles, feet….) seems in great, clean, alignment, and I can instantly feel the efficient power in the stride. (And congrats to the photographer for getting the shot of the runner in flight – I love those…)

While I’m always genuinely impressed by course records and fast times, they don’t generally inspire me. Instead I’m inspired by the feeling of efficiency and speed that I see in this picture.