In an upscale community in the heart of Denver, Colorado lies a runner’s paradise. It’s called Boulder Running Company Cherry Creek, and it’s the home of a state-of-the-art running assessment that previously has only available to elite runners, or non-elites who could lay down a lot of cash. A modest, narrow green band in the floor is actually a $150,000 treadmill. There are only 11 others in the United States, and this is the only one located in a retail facility and available to the general public.
Since BRC Cherry Creek opened in early April, many runners have made a pilgrimage to admire the latest and greatest running store in Colorado, and to take advantage of this assessment, I made my own pilgrimage last Friday, and after admiring all the shiny new running shoes, clothes, and gear, it was my turn for a visit to the Saucony Stride Lab. Read on to find out why it’s worth the pilgrimage!
First of all, the Stride Lab isn’t just your average treadmill assessment! Anyone who has purchased a pair of running shoes from a running store has most likely been asked to run on the store’s treadmill in various pairs of shoes while the sales staff watches you for pronation issues. And while that’s okay, it’s not an in-depth form assessment and doesn’t tell you much about other elements of your running form that really matter.
An in-depth assessment from one of these super treadmills, in addition to the foot strike/lateral movement analysis from the treadmill itself, uses cameras to report on so much more:
- vertical displacement (up and down movement)
- how the upper body moves
- hip drop
- angle of knee at impact
- amount of hip extension
- body rotation
- degree of pronation
- where the foot strikes the ground (heel, midfoot, forefoot)
- and where the foot lands in relation to the body.
Assessing these elements will help identify areas that could become problematic and contribute to future (or current) injuries. It might also help identify changes that could be made to improve running efficiency.
Unfortunately, unless you have access to a research facility or university testing setting, you’re out of luck if you want one of these in-depth analyses. Some medical professionals offer assessments, but these can be cost-prohibitive unless covered by insurance. For these reasons, driving 100 miles to visit the stride lab was absolutely worth it for me.
Since all the other super ‘mills are kept in research and university facilities, why is this one in a running store?
According to my tester guy, Saucony made the investment so they can use the data from running assessments for product research and development. They’ll make note of how many runners would benefit from certain types of shoes and, of course, what shoes the runners being tested are wearing. If not Saucony, why not?
After receiving a brief rundown of what the assessment would entail, I slipped a neon yellow belt around my hips (so the cameras could more easily gauge any hip drop), stepped on the treadmill, and my assessment technician fired it up. The goal was to bring me from a walk to an easy pace, and for me to run at that pace for about a minute. I was supposed to run “naturally” and not look at my reflection on the huge screen in front of me (yeah, I didn’t peek at all). While I was running there were 4 cameras filming me from various angles, and the treadmill was measuring the force of my foot strikes, whether or not I struck harder with one foot than the other, and how much side-to-side movement I generated. The belt was quite a bit more narrow than a normal treadmill, so I really had to concentrate to stay in the center. The minute passed quickly, and I really didn’t want to stop.
While my technician was letting his fingers fly over the computer keyboard to gather the test results, I was surprised to realize I was really nervous. What if I had something horribly wrong with my stride? What if I looked like Phoebe in that episode of Friends when she ran through Central Park with her arms and legs flailing? It calmed my fears a little to know there is a physical therapist “in residence” so if something was broken, I could consult with a professional to help me fix it. Luckily I didn’t see Phoebe while watching my film, and amazingly there wasn’t much wrong with my form.
My results reported a very efficient, “almost perfect” stride. I’m a moderate heel striker, but I roll through quickly from heel to midfoot to toe, so he didn’t suggest changing anything there. I strike the ground evenly with both feet, not too hard or too softly – all okay there. I have very little up and down or side-to-side movement, my upper body rotation is what it should be, my arms match my stride and are placed appropriately (don’t cross the body, my hands don’t go too high, etc.). I don’t over stride, and he felt like my cadence is appropriate. No hip drop (thank you clam shells and glute bridges), my hip extension is good, my knee angles are good, my shoes keep my feet from pronating too much (he said I don’t need the Superfeet inserts I sometimes use), and the Brooks Adrenaline shoes I wear appear to be an excellent shoe choice for me. His only suggestion was for me to work on going from a very straight back to a slight forward lean (from the ankles), which would make me a bit more efficient.
I was so relieved at the assessment results, and really wanted to get the “almost perfect” part in writing, even though he was only referring to my running form. Having an analysis like this has been on my wish list for such a long time, and I still can’t believe it was absolutely free!
If you have any excuse to make your way to Denver, I encourage you to visit Boulder Running Company Cherry Creek and make an appointment in the Saucony Stride Lab. And if it’s absolutely impossible, call your local running store or sports med clinics and ask if they can recommend a facility where you can have a similar assessment done. It’s well worth your time!
Have you ever looked into an in-depth running assessment? If you got one, has it helped you become a better runner? If not, what prevented you from going through with it?