The aim of this study was to determine whether gait cycle characteristics are associated with running economy in elite Kenyan runners. Fifteen elite Kenyan male runners completed two constant-speed running sets on a treadmill (12 km ·h-1 and 20 km ·h-1). VO2 and respiratory exchange ratio values were measured to calculate steady-state oxygen and energy cost of running. Gait cycle characteristics and ground contact forces were measured at each speed. Oxygen cost of running at different velocities was 192.2 ± 14.7 ml· kg-1· km-1 at 12 km· h-1 and 184.8 ± 9.9 ml· kg-1· km-1 at 20 km· h-1, which corresponded to a caloric cost of running of 0.94 ± 0.07 kcal ·kg-1·km-1 and 0.93 ± 0.07 kcal· kg-1· km-1. We found no significant correlations between oxygen and energy cost of running and biomechanical variables and ground reaction forces at either 12 or 20 km· h-1. However, ground contact times were ~10.0% shorter (very large effect) than in previously published literature in elite runners at similar speeds, alongside an 8.9% lower oxygen cost (very large effect). These results provide evidence to hypothesise that the short ground contact times may contribute to the exceptional running economy of Kenyan runners.
Keywords: African runners; Energy cost of running; ground contact; stride frequency; stride length.