A sub-2 hour marathon in 2017?

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

A bit of a different post this month. Earlier this month, Nike announced that they will be fielding an attempt to break 2 hours in the marathon in the spring of 2017. Shortly later, Adidas announced that they had a similar initiative in the works. Both have apparently been working on this for years.

I’ve written about breaking 2 hours in the marathon in the past when the topic has come up. In 2014, I said don’t expect to see a 1:59 in the next decade (by 2024) and I’m not even convinced it would happen in the next 20 years (by 2034). So am I writing this off as something that never will happen? Well, not completely. Here’s why.

There are routes to a faster marathon time. Some are illegal when it comes to record consideration, some are of questionable legality, some are perfectly legal but are not likely to happen in a normal race. I’ll list out an example or two from each category in order to give you an idea of how this might happen. This is not a comprehensive list of what we may see attempted, just a few examples of what we may see.

Course or schedule modifications: The current word is that Nike is not planning a record ineligible course, such as an all downhill course or one that can guarantee a tailwind the whole way. That said, they can do other things. Such as developing a course with few or no sharp turns, which slow down runners at elite paces.

They can also mess with the schedule. They can say something like we’re planning this attempt on Saturday morning but, if the wind is unfavorable or if it’s a bit too warm, we’ll postpone to Sunday. This would make the attempt not record eligible but wouldn’t seem to be all that outrageous.

Shoe modifications: Adidas already has their energy return foam technology, which has been in the shoes of recent marathon world records including the current one. These haven’t been controversy free but have been largely accepted.

What is raising more eyebrows is the fact that Nike recently filed a patent for shoes with spring plates. Springs in shoes are currently in a legal limbo. By the letter of the IAAF law, they are illegal. However, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in a ruling related to Oscar Pistorius called that rule into question. I’m not sure what the ruling would be if the ban on springs in shoes was challenged but, if this type of shoe were used, I’d personally have a little trouble swallowing this one and I know I’m not alone.

Logistical modifications (beyond flexible scheduling): What if Nike or Adidas brought in their "second tier" runners, guys who can run sub-2:05 in the marathon, as pacers to take the primary runners through 24 miles? What if the runners are given incentives that encourage them to work together for the fastest time possible instead of a traditional race where the incentives encourage winning over all else? What if fresh pacers were brought in at the halfway point?

The first two would be technically legal for record purposes and seem plausible to do for corporations with big bank accounts. Bring in some incredibly fast runners to serve as pacers and tell them to go as far as possible. A big enough group of pacers would also allow for drafting advantages. The primary runners could be told that there is no financial incentive for "winning" but financial incentives will be shared between the runners based on the "winning" time. This gives them all the reason in the world to work together to ensure the fastest time possible. No tactical racing, just all runners focused on getting to the finish line as fast as possible.

The last would be illegal for record purposes and would make things look a little funny to a lot of people. One simple rule of races: if you’re there, you have to be there from the start. Pacers need to start the race, they can’t jump in mid-race. Obviously, the benefit would be significant as the primary runners would have pacing and likely drafting help the whole way, including through the most difficult last miles when fatigue makes everything harder.

Conclusion?

I’m not sure there is one. The potential to do this, via record eligible and non-record eligible means, is there. Things wouldn’t have to get too crazy for the potential to be there. I saw one statement that a good pack of pacers who also work as a good wind break could be worth over a minute. A course with minimal hard turns could supposedly be worth around another minute over a course like Berlin, the current world record course, with all of its turns. Now, you’re talking about being within a minute. How much would having the runners being incentivized to work together for the fastest possible time rather than going tactical to win be worth? How about a few "bent" rules like flexible scheduling to ensure the best possible weather conditions?

To be clear, I don’t think it’s highly likely that either Nike or Adidas succeed in these goals. In the marathon, it’s always safe to bet on a world record to not happen. For a monumental time like this, it’s even safer to bet it won’t happen. That said, given the possibilities, including possibilities that would make this attempt not eligible to be ratified as a world record, I wouldn’t say 1:59 is impossible.

I won’t editorialize on whether I think these attempts are a good idea beyond this. Initially, I thought these were absolutely ridiculous. I’ve relaxed that line a bit, to the point of saying this isn’t going to excite me but it’s probably not going to leave me feeling like it’s a complete sham.

Reflecting on 2016

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

Last week, I mentioned that this is the time of the year that we think about what we want to do next year.

It’s also the time of the year when we reflect on the year that has passed. I’d like to take a moment to reflect on what 2016 has held for HillRunner.com and maybe look a little forward to what 2017 may hold.

2016 was a very busy year for me personally, which means I didn’t have as much time as I’d like to work on HillRunner.com. Ok, I’ll be honest. Even in the best year, I never get as much time as I’d like to work on HillRunner.com but this year I got less time than I usually do.

That said, some things have happened at HillRunner.com, mostly visible to Club HillRunner.com members.

I haven’t gotten nearly as many videos uploaded as I wanted. That is going to be a focus for 2017.

However, club members who use the training log should have noticed more visual representations of their training through charts. Club members will now see a "My Trends" section on the homepage where they can see daily and monthly trends (weekly trends to come). They will also see charts in other parts of their logs that should help them visualize how their training has been going.

As always, I’ve also made some changes to the display of the site to modernize it and make it easier to use on both big and small screens. Most of these should not be terribly noticeable for most but I hope, if you had issues in the past, they have been resolved. If not, don’t hesitate to let me know.

On the content side, I took a look through all of this year’s blog posts and noted far too many to mention that I’m very happy to see out there. A few of the many I’m happy to have had the ability to write about over the course of 2016:

Following up on the Winter running post I originally wrote many years ago and update/resurface every year, I finally wrote a Summer running post that will probably get similar treatment.

I wrote about both not getting caught up in "magic workouts" and the importance of consistency, which are related topics in my opinion.

I started a spotlight workout series with hilly long runs. Being a series, I should probably write at least a couple more posts in 2017.

I also noticed that I repeated myself some (Consistency matters and Get off the roller coaster for example). I don’t regret this and I will continue to do so because some topics are important enough to be repeated.

On the coaching front, we’re always learning and things never go perfectly. There have been ups and downs but I’m happy to report that there were far more ups than downs, including a runner who set a PR in every race he ran this year, a runner taking her first ever overall victory, and a few Boston Qualifying marathon efforts. I haven’t been working with many runners this year but those who I have had the opportunity to work with, as usual, are hard workers who make my job a wonderful experience.

Goal setting

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

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I love this time of the year! Not necessarily for the weather but because it’s the time when so many runners dare to dream. It’s the time when we decide what we’re going to do in the upcoming year and what our goals should be. We dare to think big and be optimistic about the possibilities.

But what happens if we think too big or get too optimistic? What happens if we fall short of our goals? For some people, this can be crushing. For others, we can look at what we did accomplish and be proud of the strides we have made, even if we were short of the ultimate goal. That said, it’s always nice to get a goal.

So, as we think about our goals for next year, how should we set them? I believe there are a few key considerations you should keep in mind as you set your goals:

1) What are you capable of?

What do you believe you can do next year? Don’t ask others what they believe you can do, ask yourself. Based on recent performances and recent trends in your performances, what do you think you’re capable of?

You must believe in your goal and your capability to accomplish it or it will seem like it’s too far out there and won’t be motivating.

2) How will you handle it if you fall short?

Some runners do well by setting huge goals. If they fall short, they look back and can say they have still accomplished a lot. If this is you, dream big.

Other runners need more moderate goals. If they fall short of a big goal, they still feel let down. If this is you, set more moderate goals that you strongly believe are within your reach. If you accomplish them, you can always set new goals.

What excites you?

I always tell runners that your goal needs to be YOUR goal. Don’t let your friends, family, coach, or anyone else dictate what your goals should be.

From what distances to race (or whether to race) to what your goals are, they need to come from you. You may benefit from feedback, for example from a coach who says the goal seems realistic or too aggressive to accomplish in the coming year, but in the end it’s your goal. It needs to come from you.

If the goal comes from you, you will be more excited about it and more driven to accomplish it. In short, you’ll be more likely to accomplish it and it will mean a lot more when you do.

Consider setting multiple goals

Finally, don’t be afraid to set a few goals. If I can use Ed as an example, he was very close to breaking 18 minutes in the 5K this year. I’ve already heard that going sub-18 is one of his goals for next year. I hope he has more goals, though. Given how close he was to 18 and his recent improvement curve, I hope he’s thinking of another number. I’m not talking about breaking 17 or something like that but maybe 17:50 or 17:45. He could set a goal like this after breaking 18 but what happens if he’s in a race heading for 17:50? Some people need that additional goal out there to aim for.

In the end, set goals that you believe in, that excite you, and that motivate you. These are what will get you striving to be the best runner you can be.

Running while ill

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

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The holidays are here. We’re traveling and visiting people we don’t see on a regular basis. Students are spending more time inside and more letters are coming home to parents about various illnesses spreading through schools.

This is the time of the year where it’s hard to avoid catching some kind of virus. While the best thing to do is to avoid getting ill, that’s at times easier said than done. So what do you do as a runner if you do get ill?

When to run?

The first question we need to answer is whether we should be taking time off. When your body is weakened by illness, you sometimes need to remove the stress of running so it can have the strength to fight off the illness. However, there are times that the illness is minor enough that you don’t need complete rest.

So how do you know when to completely rest and when to keep running?

An old axiom experienced runners will talk about is, if the symptoms are all above the shoulders, keep running. If they are below the shoulders, rest.

Generally, that works pretty well. If the symptoms are below the shoulders, such as chest congestion or a stomach bug, the illness is often serious enough that you need to rest. If they are above the shoulder, such as nothing but nasal congestion or a sore throat, it’s often minor enough that you can continue running if you wish.

However, this isn’t perfect. Sometimes, the symptoms of a head cold are so significant that your body needs rest. This is where there is no simple formula. You have to use your judgement. If you’re feeling run down, think of the long term risk of trying to run through it. If you’re going to prolong the illness, a week or less of time off is most likely better than a month or more of compromised training.

How to adjust?

So you’ve decided you’re healthy enough to run. Now what? Do you just continue with the plan as though nothing is happening? Most likely, no.

If you’re experiencing truly minor issues, then you might be able to continue. However, most illnesses are significant enough to warrant at least some change in our training plans. I’ll list adjustments here in order based on severity. The first adjustments, when the illness is least severe, first. As things get more severe, the adjustments become more significant.

I won’t go into detail on what symptoms warrant what adjustments because, again, you need to use your judgement. The one thing I will state is play it safe. It’s better to back off a bit too much for a short period of time than not enough and deal with the illness for a long period of time.

Minor symptoms, small adjustments: If you don’t really feel any different other than a scratchy throat or some nasal congestion, you can probably continue near full load. You might want to cut your longest runs short a bit and take the edge off your hardest workouts by backing off the pace a bit or reducing the number of planned reps but not much is needed.

However, as you start getting a little more advanced, it’s time to start changing things. If not 100% healthy, I don’t like the idea of a 2+ hour long run. Cut it back. The long run can be very strenuous on your immune system, which is just what you don’t want.

Likewise, very hard workouts such as 5K pace repeats or tempo runs of grueling distance are very strenuous on your body. I prefer skipping any kind of repeat or interval workout completely. In its place, a tempo run of moderate effort can be done. Likewise with more grueling tempo runs. Make them a little more moderate.

Easy days can continue as normal, though it’s not a sin to shorten them at least slightly.

Moderate symptoms, moderate adjustments: When you feel low on energy or the symptoms are enough to have you feeling a bit beat up, more significant changes are needed but you can probably keep running.

Long runs of any kind are out. Personally, I won’t run for more than an hour if I’m feeling low on energy or the symptoms are more than minor nuisances.

Same for workouts. Just don’t do them. Even tempo runs. Even strides.

So what’s left? Relatively short runs of less than 1 hour. I even prefer the 30 minute range. Pace should be slow. You’re trying to warm up your body and get the blood flowing. Don’t think of training, think of just getting your body moving.

Severe symptoms, time off: As mentioned above, if the symptoms are severe, give your body the rest it needs.

In the end, it’s obviously best to avoid getting ill in the first place. However, nobody can always do that. When you do get ill, the best guidelines are common sense and your best judgement. Be smart and do what it will take to get back to 100% as soon as possible.

Photo credit: health ideas, on Flickr

Taking a break

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

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Take some time to put your feet up and relax

It’s that time of the year again. Some of us have already finished our fall racing seasons. Some will be soon. All of us should be thinking about taking a break.

Why take a break, especially if we finish our racing season and are feeling good and highly motivated? Because your mind and body need it. If they don’t demand it now, they will. Nobody can keep going forever. It’s far better to take a planned break when you have no races on the immediate horizon than to take an unplanned break when your body or mind gives out as an important race is approaching.

What should you do for your break? It depends on you. Personally, I think almost everyone would be well served by taking some time completely away from running but, as most of you are probably are aware, I don’t do that myself. Running is such a big part of my life, far beyond competition, that I need to have it there. I’d probably have a mental breakdown if I was forced away from running for any significant period of time. So I keep running, short and easy. No "training" allowed, though. I’m just running because it’s what I love to do. If that’s what you need, then at least do that. If you can take some time away from running, all the better.

How long should the break be? Again, it depends on you. I think everyone would benefit from at least 4 weeks once a year with a true break from training. I usually give myself 4 weeks with no training, then tell myself I’ll start training when I feel ready again physically and mentally. That means I’m both physically feeling good and mentally feeling motivated to do the work that comes when training starts.

Once your racing is done, give yourself a break. Your body and mind will thank you with better training and racing next year.

Photo credit: put your feet up by Melody, on Flickr

Running: good for fighting colds, also good for the knees?

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

Running is good for a lot of things. We already know that, right? Well, here’s a little on the positive aspects of running.

How exercise may help us fight colds

Have you ever noticed that fit people are sick less often? You’re not imagining things.

Working out could help us fight off colds and other infections, according to a timely new study. The study, which found that regular exercise strengthens the body’s immune system in part by repeatedly stressing it, was conducted in animals. But the results most likely apply to people, the researchers say, and could offer further incentive for us to remain physically active this winter.

Is running good for your knees?

I’m sure we’ve all experienced people telling us that we’re ruining our knees. The interesting thing I’ve noticed recently is that, lately, people who are younger than me will say this while complaining how their knees ache. What’s up?

There has been some research suggesting that, much like stressing our immune systems to build them up stronger and stressing our muscles to build them up stronger, running can do the same for various structures of our joints.

Well, here’s another study that attempted to address a possible reason running might be good for the knees. Unfortunately, the results were inconclusive. There were some interesting results but there simply wasn’t enough data to say anything conclusively.

That said, we already know that, regardless of what your non-running friends tell you, running is definitely good for your knees. So keep it up.

Race report: Shooting for 21 years

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

As most of you probably know, one thing I take great pride in is my consistency. I may not have the great peaks that some runners around me have had but I keep plugging away all the time. The best representation of that is my streak of consecutive years having run at least one sub-17 5K.

I never broke 17 minutes in high school. My first ever sub-17 didn’t come until I was about a month shy of my 19th birthday. However, once I went sub-17, I haven’t looked back. No, not every 5K I’ve run since has been a sub-17. However, for every calendar year since my first time under 17 minutes in 1996, I’ve managed to go under 17 minutes at least once. This year, as has been the case a handful of times recently, it all came down to my last planned race of the year.

Coming off subpar performances in both of my prior races this fall, my confidence was a little shaken. I’ve done this every year for 20 years, I know how to do it. However, do I physically have what it takes this year? Going into the fall, I felt my training was slightly better than last year but both races I ran were well off what I expected of myself and I just didn’t feel that quickness on race day.

After Al’s Run (I still owe a report on that, it’s mostly written up, I’ll post it soon) I was very concerned about the streak but I also quickly formed a plan. My endurance isn’t my limiting factor, my ability to get up to a quick speed isn’t my limiting factor. It’s my ability/confidence to hold that speed that’s lacking. So I set out a training plan with lots of half mile repeats at or close to 5K pace.

I started this plan 3 days after Al’s Run and ran enough half mile repeats over the next month that I think I burned myself out a bit. That said, I now had the confidence that I could hold pace and I could feel that pace in my sleep. With a taper, my legs came back to me and I was feeling ready. Mostly confident but not quite as sure of myself as I usually am.

On race day, I was still telling myself I know I can do this and my legs just know how to run sub-17 in October. The weather was nearly perfect. I convinced myself it was going to happen. It would be close but it was going to happen.

After a longer than planned warmup, it was race time. There were a couple high schoolers there. The grandson of the race director has been gunning for me for a while and he’s been getting closer every year. Another high schooler I talked with for a while before the race is a sprinter who does cross country for stamina training in preparation for the 400. He wasn’t expecting to be much competition for me. As always, though, this is where I go to run fast. I don’t care what the competition is. I’m going to run hard gun to tape and see what happens.

At the start, the director’s grandson went with me. I expected him to gradually drop back pretty early but he held on. And he kept holding on. I was a little worried that I might not be going as fast as I expected but I just focused on keeping a quick rhythm. I was trying to get out hard but, obviously, I don’t want to take off sprinting in the first half mile of a 5K.

Shortly before the half mile, we take a turn and leave the park where the race starts and head out to a bike trail. About this time, I noticed I was getting separation. OK, if things go to plan, I’m running the rest of this by myself. Just keep pushing. Up an incline to cross a highway, then back down the other side. I see the people who will be giving mile splits ahead and just keep pushing toward them.

As I approach them, the guy calls out 5:25. Given the fact that I thought I heard a 5:34 split last year and ended up with a 16:45, this means I’m either in good position or going to pay for the faster start later. Either way, the only thing that I can do right now is keep being aggressive. I keep pushing with the empty trail ahead of me to the turnaround and get around there while losing as little momentum as possible.

On the way back, I can see I have a respectable lead on second, the race director’s grandson, and he has a solid lead on third, the sprinter. I give both a thumbs up as I run by them, then try to draw on some inspiration from seeing the other runners go by. I keep pushing, reminding myself that every step counts, but feel like I’m fading just a bit. I remember that I have some cushion so that fade isn’t the end of the world but I can’t keep fading. That gets me going again.

Into the third mile, I keep fighting this. I feel like I’m fading but I keep pushing harder. If I am actually fading, it’s not much. I believe I can do this.

After crossing the highway, I’m back on the course with the 1 mile walkers heading out. They are using the whole trail but most see me with plenty of time and give room to pass. I’m a little worried at a few points about kids who seem to be all over the trail getting very close to me but, fortunately, there aren’t any incidents. At the turn into the park, I had to find my way through a bit of traffic but did so fairly easily and without incident. Then I have the park to myself. With about a half mile to go, it’s me against the clock. I push harder, harder, feel like I’m speeding up a bit. I see the mark I picked out as 1/4 mile to go during my warmup and push more. I get off the trail and know I’m at the 3 mile mark. I try kicking but I have nothing left. All I can do is hope that, when I see the clock, I like what I see.

Then I see the clock. Low 16:40s and I know I have less than 10 seconds to go. I did it! Even after the tough fall season I had, I came through again with another sub-17. I keep pushing to see how far under I can go but my legs are shot. I pretty much just maintain pace and end up crossing the line in 16:51.

That’s 6 seconds slower than last year after I believe being 9 seconds faster at the mile. I’ll take it, though. It’s a sub-17 and I really think I needed a fast start this year given how my past two races went. I needed to get the legs fired up, then just do what I can to hold on.

If the mile split was accurate, I did something else interesting. It looks like I averaged 5:25 per mile, matching my first mile split. I knew I didn’t fade much, if at all, when I felt like I was fading. I knew I managed to get the pace back up. I didn’t realize it all worked out to be overall such an even race.

So the streak lives on. 21 consecutive years with a sub-17 5K. Now, it’s time to start planning my path toward my 22nd consecutive year. Maybe I’ll come up with a strategy that won’t have me waiting until October.

Improving stride rate

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

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Stride rate? Check.

Two weeks ago, we covered the fact that running speed can be broken down into two factors: stride length and stride rate. Last week, we discussed stride length. That means it’s time to discuss stride rate this week.

When thinking of stride rate, much like when thinking of stride length, we can think of two phases: when your foot is on the ground and when your foot is in the air. The difference is that it’s best to think of each foot individually. Not like stride length, when you’re thinking of when one foot is on the ground and when both feet are in the air.

In both cases, we’re essentially thinking of quickness.

When your foot is on the ground, the question is how quickly can you come into contact with the ground, use the ground to redirect your momentum, then get off the ground.

When your foot is in the air, the question is how quickly can you bring it forward and get it back on the ground.

How do we reduce our time on the ground (ground contact time)?

Last week, when discussing stride length, I brought up strength. You need to be strong enough to propel yourself a good distance. This week, it’s time to discuss power.

What’s the difference between strength and power? To keep it short, strength is a measure of how much force you can apply. Power is a measure of both how much force you can apply and how quickly you can apply that force. Obviously, when talking about stride rate, how quickly you can react to the ground and apply the force necessary to propel yourself through your next step matters.

Develop the strength but not power and you’ll have a nice, long stride. And it will take a relatively long time. Develop the strength first, then the power to use that strength in a quick, explosive manner and you now have a long stride with a quick stride rate that will result in greater speed.

So how do we develop the power?

Well, as I mentioned, first comes strength, which I covered last week.

Second comes power. This means explosive movements. Skipping, jumping, plyometrics such as box jumps. You’re looking for quick movements.

A couple of my favorite moves are quick skips and quick hopping. Both are just as they sound.

Quick skips are basically skipping, just like my 8 year old daughter likes to do, but with a focus on spending as little time on the ground as possible. How high you go doesn’t really matter, what matters is that, as soon as your foot hits the ground, you pop right back up.

Quick hops are essentially the same type of exercise. Landing and jumping with both feet, think of it as basically bouncing. As with the quick skips, the height of your hops doesn’t matter as much as spending as little time as possible on the ground. If you’re more coordinated than me, you can jump rope. If your level of coordination is similar to mine, you might want to leave out the rope so you don’t hurt yourself or have to keep stopping.

Important note: These are exercises that put a lot of stress on your body. Be cautious with these and don’t do too much. A little goes a long way. Also, one reason I stress strength first is because developing basic strength before working on power will reduce your injury risk. Likewise, I also recommend that you keep doing strength training for the same reason. You can’t do 6 months of strength training, then do nothing but box jumps and skipping exercises the rest of your life and expect to remain healthy.

How do we reduce the time our feet are in the air?

Obviously, this is also all about quickness but it’s about how quickly your leg can be brought forward.

Your hip flexors are the primary muscle group that pull your leg forward so strength and power development matter here. Exercises like front leg raises and scissor kicks are good.

Also, a much less considered aspect for many runners is foot position when bringing your leg forward. If you are a shuffler, keeping your feet close to the ground, this creates a longer pendulum to move forward, which requires more energy and takes longer. Watch faster runners and you will see that their feet come up pretty high. This creates a shorter pendulum and a more efficient forward swing.

To work on picking your feet up, you can focus on pulling your heel up during the skipping exercises I mentioned above. Even better are butt kick drills. Basically, jog at a real slow pace and focus on snapping your heel up to your butt.

Remember

Don’t forget, though, that taking more steps per minute is only half of the equation. We also want to do so without shortening our stride. A quick shuffle is not necessarily faster than a long, bounding stride.

Again, as I pointed out the past two weeks, remember that in the end you need the fitness and efficiency to be able to hold your effort through the duration of your run. Developing the power and quickness to be able to have a quick stride rate is an important step but doesn’t help without the conditioning to hold that stride rate for the duration of your upcoming race.

Note: This is part 3 of a 3 part series:

Part 1: Speed = stride length * stride rate. Period.

Part 2: Improving stride length

Part 3: Improving stride rate

David Rudisha by SNappa2006, on Flickr

Improving stride length

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

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Long stride? Check.

Last week, we covered the fact that speed can be broken down into two factors: stride length and stride rate.

This week, I’d like to discuss stride length and how we can improve it.

There are essentially two phases of your stride to think about when increasing stride length. One is very limited, the other is technically unlimited but practically there obviously is some kind of limit.

While in contact with the ground

Every stride, we obviously have a period of time when our feet are on the ground. Unfortunately, there’s not much we can do to increase our distance covered while our feet are on the ground. Obviously, with your foot firmly planted on the ground, there’s only so far you can go.

What you can do

Many runners have very tight hip flexor muscles. If you’re one of these runners, you’ll find it’s hard to extend your leg behind your body as you run. If you look at pictures of yourself while running, your extension behind your body is limited. Nothing like the picture of David Rudisha at the top of this post. Improve hip flexor flexibility/range of motion and you can extend further back.

What you should not do

Many runners, when trying to run faster by lengthening their stride, reach out in front of their bodies. They overstride, sometimes significantly, which actually backfires on them. When you overstride, you’re essentially driving while applying the parking break. This slows you down. So don’t reach out in front to try to extend your stride length. You’re better off trying to reach back but, more important, you probably want to think more about what is happening while both of your feet are off the ground.

While airborne

One of the things that defines running and separates it from walking is the fact that you are usually completely off the ground at some point during each step. How much distance you cover while off the ground is the primary factor in how long your stride is.

So how do we develop a longer stride by covering more distance while airborne? By getting stronger. The more force you can push off with, the more distance you can cover.

It’s easy to think of strong calves and they are very important. However, don’t forget to go even higher. Your hamstrings, quads, glutes, and of course supporting muscles also are critical in applying more force to the ground. In addition, a strong core gives you the strong base to anchor the forces you’re applying through your legs.

Exercises like heel raises, lunges, and step-ups are the place to start. Develop the strength to control your body and move your body through space and you are developing the strength to propel your body through the air while running.

Remember

Don’t forget, though, that covering more distance per step is only half of the equation. We also want to do so without slowing down our stride rate. A long stride is good but not if it means you’re bounding with a slow stride rate instead of running. I’ll cover that part of the equation next week.

Again, as I pointed out last week, remember that in the end you need the fitness and efficiency to be able to hold your effort through the duration of your run. Developing the strength and mobility to be able to have a long stride is an important step but doesn’t help without the conditioning to hold that long stride for the duration of your upcoming race.

Note: This is part 2 of a 3 part series:

Part 1: Speed = stride length * stride rate. Period.

Part 2: Improving stride length

Part 3 Improving stride rate

Photo credit: David Rudisha by SNappa2006, on Flickr

Speed = stride length * stride rate. Period.

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

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This guy has both parts of the equation covered

Some time ago, I heard a very good coach who I greatly respect say there are three factors that go into speed. Stride length, stride rate, and ground contact time. I’ve heard a lot of similar comments from other runners and coaches.

I’m sorry and it pains me to say this about some people who I greatly respect but they are wrong. It’s even more simple. Speed, if we’re going to look at the pure mechanics of it, is simply based on two factors: stride length and stride rate.

In physics, we learn that speed is distance covered divided by the time it takes to cover that distance. A very straightforward equation, the kind I like.

In physics: Speed = distance / time

To apply that formula to running speed, we get a likewise simple equation: Speed is stride length (distance covered) times stride rate (1 / the time it takes to cover the distance).

In running: Speed = stride length * stride rate

What about the other factors?

What about those other things, such as ground contact time? Those things definitely matter but they are components of the two key aspects of speed. A lower ground contact time or less time spent in the air will lead to a faster stride rate as long as one doesn’t negatively affect the other. Covering more distance while in the air increases your stride length as long as it doesn’t mean you’re covering less distance while on the ground.

Why does this matter?

It matters because it helps us wrap our minds around things if we start at the highest level. If I want to run faster, I need to either take longer steps or take them more quickly. In addition, taking steps more quickly doesn’t necessarily help me run faster if they become shorter and longer steps don’t necessarily help if they are taken more slowly.

If we add other factors that are components of these two factors, we can overemphasize one factor to the detriment of the other. For example, if we say the three factors are stride rate, stride length, and ground contact time, we might focus more on improving our stride rate to the detriment of improving or maintaining our stride length.

Which is more important?

BOTH! Seriously, both are equally important.

Possibly without even realizing, we often see people focus on one to the detriment of the other. We’ve probably all seen the long striders, really working to extend the distance they cover with one step essentially by bounding. The problem is they slow their stride rates often by an amount that causes them to slow overall, even with the longer stride length.

Likewise, I once had a long discussion with a runner who wanted to improve his 800 meter time. Somewhere, he had heard that world record holder David Rudisha ran with a stride rate of 220 steps per minute so he thought that was optimal and tried to match that. He couldn’t understand why his repeats slowed when he ran at 220 steps per minute. The reason was because he was trying to take his steps so quickly that he was shuffling. If Rudisha was really running at 220 steps per minute, which I’m not fully certain of, he had the power to deliver an incredible force to the ground in an astoundingly rapid rate so he could take long steps while doing that. If we consider his world record of just under 1:41 and simplify our assumptions to make the math easy, we would come to the conclusion that he took roughly 370 steps to cover 800 meters. With some rounding error, that’s roughly 7 feet per step.

So what do I do with this information?

Good question. Over my next two Thursday posts, I’m going to cover what we can do to improve each part of the equation. Next week, I’ll focus on stride length. The following week, I’ll focus on stride rate.

In the end, though, we also have to remember that, for the distance runner, the most important factors are fitness and efficiency. If you expend too much energy on either or both of these factors, you can’t make it to the finish line. It’s still good to know about these factors so we can try to improve them efficiently. However, in the end, your fitness and efficiency are the biggest factors in how fast you will run at your next race.

Note: This is part 1 of a 3 part series:

Part 1: Speed = stride length * stride rate. Period.

Part 2: Improving stride length

Part 3: Improving stride rate

Photo credit: David Rudisha by SNappa2006, on Flickr