London 2012: Running Aerodynamics

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Running is not an event typically associated with aerodynamics, though any runner will tell you that a headwind can slow them down.  For comparison, a swimmer on world record pace sees 40 to 50 times the drag force of a runner over the same distance. But despite the relatively small influence of drag on a runner, there are measurable effects due to wind and altitude when races are judged by hundredths of a second. Given this, it comes as no surprise that researchers (and presumably manufacturers) are starting to considering how to optimize aerodynamics in running. The video above describes results of a study on running shoes that suggests modest savings may be derived from shoes with dimpled surfaces, much like a golf ball. Socks, on the other hand, don’t show any aerodynamic savings from special surfaces. Of course, the bulk of a runner’s drag comes from their hair and clothing; this is, in part, why runners wear form fitting clothes. While there may be some aerodynamic savings to be had, I don’t think we’ll see world records falling like crazy in Rio because of the latest new shoes.

FYFD is celebrating the Olympics by featuring the fluid dynamics of sport. Check out our previous posts on how the Olympic torch works, what makes a pool fast, the aerodynamics of archery, the science of badminton, how cyclists get “aero”, and how divers reduce splash.

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