Mo Farah is only the second athlete in history to have won double gold medals at both the Olympic Games and the World Championships in long distance events.
In the past 13 months, his distinctive style of running has seen him cruise past the competition to win race after race and he almost seems to glide around the track with energy to spare.
With five global titles under his belt in the 5,000 and 10,000 metre events, Farah now has his sights set on breaking world records and competing in his first marathon at the London Marathon next year.
At the weekend he took part in the Great North Run – a race that saw Farah, 30, go up against the man who currently holds the world records for the 5,000 and 10,000 metres – Ethiopian long distance legend Kenenisa Bekele.
The half marathon provided another chance to see Farah’s distinctive running style in action.
He radically changed his running style 17 months before the 2012 Olympic Games, under the instruction of coach Alberto Salazar, after failing to qualify for the 5,000 metres in Beijing.
At the World Championships in Moscow this year, he averaged more than 13 miles an hour in the 10,000 metres, winning the gold medal.
In an attempt to understand this transformation, The Telegraph asked biomechanics experts at Run 3D, a spin out company from the University of Oxford, to analyse footage of Farah’s running new style to see what elements might be helping to make him so fast.
Dr Jessica Leitch, founder of Run 3D and a visiting fellow at the department of engineering science at the University of Oxford, identified nine key elements of his gait that are fundamental to Farah’s success.
Many long distance runners strike the ground first with their heels, which causes a large impact force to run up their leg to their knees and hips. Farah, however, strikes the ground with the ball of his foot, known as mid-foot striking.
He then lowers his heel before going back up onto the ball of his foot and then pushing away with his toes. He essentially becomes lighter on his feet.
Dr Leitch said: “By adopting a mid-foot strike running style, the impact on the ground is reduced and the forces acting at the hip and knee joints are lower, which decreases the chances of Mo developing an injury at these joints.
“It also helps him optimise where his foot strikes the ground and the rate of his stride.”
The position where Farah’s feet strike the ground in relation to his body is also highly efficient. His foot lands only slightly in front of his centre of gravity, his knee is bent and his lower leg is almost vertical.
“Many distance runners overstride, which means that they plant their feet well ahead of their centres of gravity and land with an extended knee,” said Dr Leitch.
“This can cause an inefficient up and down motion as well as a relatively long energy absorption or braking phase as the body has to travel over the foot in order to be ready to push off.”
By keeping his centre of gravity over his feet, the force of Farah’s feet pushing off the ground is transferred up through his leg into the upper body to propel him forward. Up and down movements are minimised.
In gait analysis the amount of time the foot is in contact with the ground is known as stance time. In Farah this is very short – just fractions of seconds, meaning he spends more time in the air.
Dr Leitch said: “This means that less of the ground reaction force is absorbed by the flex of the foot. Adopting this strategy means the lower limb becomes more stiff and there is less energy lost in damping.”
Wriggling and twist
The body can move in three planes – forward and backwards, up and down and side to side.
When running most of the movement is forward and excessive movements in the other planes can use up energy and reduce efficiency.
Farah keeps his hips and shoulders level while his legs move straight forward, meaning there is no unnecessary side to side movement or twisting.
Dr Leitch said: “Although it is difficult to measure, if Mo were to have his biomechanics tested using 3D gait analysis, it is likely that he would demonstrate an optimal range of motion.
“Even at the end of a race, Mo’s pelvis is level and there is no sign of his hip and knee collapsing inwards as we so often see in fatigued and injury prone runners.”
While many runners will grimace, clench their fists and lock their jaws with the effort, Farah runs with a very relaxed gait, giving the illusion that he is floating around the track.
His hands are open, his jaw is relaxed and his shoulders are not hunched.
Dr Leitch said: “By running in this way and focusing on reducing the tension though out his body, Mo wastes less energy and is able to run more efficiently.”
This is perhaps one of the most interesting element’s of Farah’s technique. Just after his foot leaves the ground, he quickly kicks his heels upwards towards his bottom rather than leaving it trailing behind him.
“This is a technique is employed by sprinters in order to reduce the distance that the swing leg has to travel before it is ready for the next stride,” said Dr Leitch.
“By doing this, Mo can increase his cadence, which leads to faster running.”
This is the rate at which the feet hit the ground, or stride rate. To run faster, the stride rate and stride length need to increase.
“There are many aspects of Mo’s running style that enable him to run with a high cadence, thereby increasing speed and optimising performance.”
Footage of Farah running reveals that he holds his arms relatively high and with a very bent elbow compared to other competitors. This generates a more powerful push from the backwards pump of the upper arm, known as elbow drive.
Farah’s technique means he does not bounce up and down much as he runs, this means he is able to use the bulk of the force from his legs and feet to drive his body forward, allowing him to cover more ground quickly.
... But that is not all
However, even with these techniques, it is not the whole story and copying these techniques are unlikely to turn others into world class athletes.
Dr Leitch added: “there is no right way to run, neither is there a one size fits all solution for optimal running gait. What works for Mo might not work for everyone and may even lead to injury.”
In addition, Farah’s victories have involved significant sacrifice. In 2011 Farah uprooted his family from their London home to move to Portland in Oregon to work with his coach Alberto Salazar at the Nike Oregon Project.
There he now trains for up to eight hours a day, has a specialised diet and access to some of the best equipment available, including an innovative underwater treadmill that allows him to run for longer without risk of injury.
He also does high altitude training to improve the way his body uses oxygen.
Farah, who failed to qualify for the 5,000 metres at the Beijing Olympics, has admitted that before he went to work with Salazar his technique was all over the place.
Christian Poole, who used to work with Farah when he competed at St Mary’s University College in Twickenham where he lectures in sport rehabilitation and also runs the Running Lab, said: “He has been doing a lot of strength work, so that will make a huge difference in his ability to run and with a few technique changes that has helped him quite a lot.”
Farah is also to be given a pair of million dollar running shoes, which are being developed by Nike, in the hope that they can help him break the marathon world record in London next year.
There are also hopes that Farah will take on the world’s fastest sprinter Usain Bolt in a 600 metre race that has been billed as the greatest race ever.
Although no date has been set, there is already great speculation about who might win.
Andrea Backhand, the clinical lead at Run 3D has examined the possibility. She said: “It is certainly going to be a close race.
“Bolt has overall greater power, exceptional physique, optimal sprinting biomechanics, speed and his ability to utilise anaerobic energy systems more efficiently.
“However, Farah has the advantage of having the ability to efficiently pace for over a lap, whereas Bolt will waste energy with unnecessary vertical movements.
“However, all things considered, my opinion is that 600m is still short enough for Bolt to maintain a faster speed than Farah, but I’m secretly hoping that Mo will win.”