Is this the truth?

I’ve been asked to write an assignment of a critical analysis on an image of my choosing within an area or special interest or expertise. It’s part of a course I’m taking through Coursera on English Composition. It’s a fantastic exercise in creativity, interpretation and delivering a structure opinion. Below is my critical analysis and reflection of this image.

What do you see?

San Francisco is a city filled with passionate, committed and dedicated runners. Many runners will be plagued at some point in their runner career by injury. I found this image on a website ‘Daily Health Habits’ under an article titled ‘Run without injury so that your first marathon is not your last’. It is an article which discusses ideas of reducing risk for running injury. The author does not describe this image or refer to it throughout the article. It is used solely to attack reader’s attention to the site. A second source uses it as a background for a motivation quote “First you feel like dying. Then you feel reborn.”

In both situations my mind runs wild with questions… Why have they used this picture? Are we being mislead as consumers? Are we focusing on the most important aspects of running?

Is this the truth?

Having a background in Physical Therapy and having treated many runners throughout my career, this image tells me a very different story to that which most online consumers would see.

The image is of a woman running along an open stretched road in the high country. The subject is located in the right 1/3 of the image, a strategy to bring the woman into focus and make her the sole subject of the photo. There are vibrant colours throughout the image creating strong contrast from the road, the runner and the sky. Where she is and where she is running to are questions that remain unclear. But there is a distinct story this image reveals.

It is clear after some observation about the lighting that the woman has been superimposed onto the background. In the background you see the sun rising over her right shoulder and in front of the runner. The light highlighting the subject comes from behind and yet there is no shadow cast on the road? The strong yellow line draw your eyes to the endless road ahead. Why is she running down the center? Where is this road leading? It creates an emotional reaction to running free in the outdoors.

There are snow capped mountains lining the roads, which indicates that the outdoor temperature is low and that the runner is at altitude. However, she runs in bike shorts and a tank top. Professional athletes would be wearing compression socks, gloves, a headband and other thermal appropriate clothing to ensure their body remains in a efficient state during the run.

Already there are several elements that question the reality and honesty of this photograph. If you allow your eyes to be drawn to a central focus on the image you’ll stare directly at her ass. Why?

So after looking at the image for a few moments my initial emotional response was strongly negative. I dislike how it has reduced the beautiful sport of running to sex and vanity. I dislike that the amazing beauty of nature is in the shadow of a model runner.

What else does this image reveal?

Footwear. It’s not a minimalistic shoe. It’s not vibrantly colourful. The brand is unrecognizable.

Barefoot running is a topic that has gained a huge amount of popularity and promoted for the proposed benefits for adopting a barefoot running style. These changes result in altered biomechanics that reduce impact peak forces, increase proprioception and foot strength and therefore reduce risk on injury. However it may not be this simple. “There remains a lack of conclusive evidence proving or refuting these proposed advantages of barefoot running” (Tam, Wilson, Noakes & Tucker, 2013, p.349).

Look closer at the foot striking the road. There is a pronounced heel strike. Is this an error in technique? Does this reduce her credibility as a runner for not adopting a forefoot strike pattern or increase her risk of developing an injury?

However not all runners adopt a forefoot strike pattern when transitioning to barefoot running. Up to 72% of barefoot runners heel strike at comfortable running speeds and as speed increases most shift to a forefoot pattern. However, up to 40% of runners will remain heel strikers even as speed increases (Tam, Wilson, Noakes, & Tucker, 2013, p.351).

When trying to transition from a heel strike pattern to forefoot strike pattern, some will adopt the pattern instantly and therefore benefit from the changes associated with this pattern. Some will take weeks to make the transition and need careful training and advice to avoid overuse, and others just may never make the transition. For those who don’t, running in a minimalistic shoe will likely expose them to much higher risks of injury as the ground reaction forces increase.

As I continue further to explore these questions in my mind I notice that my emotional reaction to the image is changing. I have noticed that this women is imposed on the image which tells me that she is running on a treadmill while the photo is being captured. What I haven’t acknowledge yet is that she runs with adequate knee flexion and hip extension in her swing leg — a biomechanical and functional feature many runners lack. She runs with trunk rotation, 90 degrees elbow flexion and is swinging her arm behind her. Again signs of a well-trained running technique.

She’s running well. From my clinical perspective, her technique is almost flawless. Expect for the heel strike, which is a commonly seen biomechanical change associated with running on the flat surface of a treadmill and not always a true representation of how runners strike outdoors.

This image is brilliant. It is compelling, connected to the running population I live in, it is clear and beautiful and yet there is so much complexity to the image itself and the purpose of it remains contestable and unclear. There are so many strong misconceptions about heel strike patterns, running footwear and training regimes. Many of which are misguided by fashion trends and poorly informed individuals.

My overall reaction to this image is very negative, but, that’s what I love about it. A lot of thought went into taking this photo. The image is within the context of an article discussing the prevention of running-related injuries — Is that what it depicts?

What story does it actually tell?
Is this the truth?


Image source accessed July 8th, 2015 6.07pm

Lieberman, D. E., Venkadesan, M., Werbel, W. A., Daoud, A. I., D’Andrea, S., Davis, I. S., … & Pitsiladis, Y. (2010). Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners. Nature, 463 (7280), 531–535.

Tam, N., Wilson, J. L. A., Noakes, T. D., & Tucker, R. (2013). Barefoot running: an evaluation of current hypothesis, future research and clinical applications. British journal of sports medicine, bjsports-2013.

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