RUNNING SPEED = STRIDE RATE X STRIDE LENGTH
To get faster, one or both components of the stride must increase. However, because stride rate and stride length are inversely proportional (as one increases, the other decreases), running speed can only increase if an increase in stride length is not accompanied by a similar decrease in stride rate or vice versa.
Stride length is more important than stride rate for increasing distance running speed. When you increase your pace from a jog to a run to a fast run, stride length increases more than does stride rate, until you’re sprinting very fast, when stride rate begins to dominate further increases in speed. Stride length explains much of the difference in speed among distance runners.
Research has shown that, up to about 3:50 per mile pace, running speed is increased by increasing stride length by the plantar flexor muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus) producing more force against the ground. At very fast speeds, the speed of muscle contraction is so fast that there is not enough time to produce a lot of force, and plantar flexor peak muscle force begins to decrease. (The force-velocity relationship dictates muscle force production; the faster the speed of contraction, the lower the force.) The primary strategy used to increase running speed faster than 3:50 per mile pace changes from increasing stride length to increasing stride rate. Specifically, the hip muscles (gluteus maximus, psoas, and hamstrings) become prominent players to quickly accelerate the leg forward during the swing phase.
Unless you’re a sprinter, don’t focus on increasing stride rate (unless you land with your foot far out in front of you, in which case it would be beneficial to take quicker steps), and instead focus on increasing stride length by increasing hip extension and applying greater force to the ground at push-off.
How do you decide paces for workouts? Although it’s convenient to use workout pace tables, you need to understand what’s behind the numbers before blindly following what they say.
For example, the VDOT tables of Jack Daniels and his former athlete and computer programmer Jimmy Gilbert are popular among coaches and runners. Those numbers are computer-generated based on regression equations. To come up with the workout paces, it’s assumed that every runner has the same running economy (which is not true) and that every runner is equally as good at all racing distances (also not true). I have found the paces to be more accurate for very good and elite runners than for recreational runners.
Let’s look at an example: For a runner who runs a half-marathon in 1:00:54 (4:38/mile pace), that equals a VDOT of 80 and a corresponding pace of 4:41/mile for threshold (tempo) workouts. For a runner who runs a half-marathon in 1:50:59 (8:28/mile pace), that equals a VDOT of 40 and a corresponding pace of 8:12/mile for threshold workouts.
For the runner who runs 4:38/mile pace for a half-marathon, I agree that threshold pace is 4:41/mile because threshold pace will be very close to or right at half-marathon pace for someone who runs a half-marathon in 1 hour. From my own lab research, I have seen that very good runners can maintain threshold pace for about 1 hour. However, the runner who runs 8:28/mile pace for a half-marathon will not likely have a threshold pace of 8:12/mile because that means he/she will be running for 1 hour and 51 minutes at a pace that’s only 16 seconds per mile slower than threshold. It’s difficult to imagine that someone who runs a half-marathon in 1:51 runs only 16 seconds/mile slower than threshold for 1 hour and 51 minutes, especially when someone who runs a half-marathon in 1:01 runs 3 seconds/mile faster than threshold (a 19-second/mile difference relative to threshold—16 seconds slower vs. 3 seconds faster).
Bottom line? Don’t just blindly follow a pace table. Acquire expertise about training and you can design workouts to fit your abilities and needs. Where can you acquire that expertise? I’m glad you asked. revo2lutionrunning.com
Workout Sunday: 800-meter reps at lactate threshold pace with 45 seconds rest between reps. With the World Masters Track and Field Championships 10 months away, I’m continuing with “Project High School” (my attempt to approach my high school track times) as my Achilles tendon heals and working on my aerobic strength before doing the anaerobic speedwork I’ll need later to get into 800-meter and mile race shape. Did 8 reps today.
Training tip: Never start workouts with a number of reps in mind. Number of reps is arbitrary and not as important as causing fatigue. There’s no magic in doing 6 or 7 or 8 reps. Do as many reps as it takes to cause fatigue, until you feel that you couldn’t do another rep without breaking the bank. Fatigue is what your body responds and adapts to. Give yourself the opportunity to adapt.
The other reason to do “Unlimited Reps Workouts” (which are a tenet of my coaching training programs), is to redefine your limits. If you focus on one rep at a time without any preconceived idea as to how many reps you’ll do, you may do more than what you thought you could do. If you decide before the workout you’ll do 8 reps (us scientist nerds call that “a priori” when something is decided before an experiment), guess what happens when you get to rep 7 or 8—you feel tired, because your brain thinks you’re close to the end of the workout. If you leave the workout open-ended, you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish. Same for tempo runs and other types of workouts. Reset your limits by not placing limits on your workouts. That’s smart training.
Hi! I’m hemoglobin.
I live inside red blood cells and eat all the iron in the fridge. I’m very attractive (see my photo attached). My shape changes as the number of oxygen molecules attached to me changes. The more oxygen molecules bound to me, the more attractive I become to oxygen, and the more oxygen wants to bind to me. When only one oxygen molecule is bound to me, I’m not so attractive. But when 3 oxygen molecules are bound to me, the fourth one can’t bind itself fast enough, so beautiful I become. (When I have 4 oxygen molecules attached, I can’t stop looking at myself in the mirror.) This change in my affinity for oxygen is important because it facilitates the loading of oxygen in lungs and unloading of oxygen in the muscles and other organs.
This change in my shape is how doctors and nurses know when blood’s oxygen saturation is low. You know that little finger clip they put on your finger in the hospital or doctor’s office? There’s an infrared light inside of that clip. When I change shape, I change how I refract light. So, that clip is “reading” how the infrared light is refracting because of my shape. If blood’s oxygen saturation is less than optimal (98-100% at sea-level), the light refracts differently because my shape is different. Pretty cool, huh?
How saturated I am with oxygen is determined by the partial pressure of oxygen in blood. The lower oxygen’s partial pressure, the lower my saturation. When you go skiing, hiking, or running at high altitude, the partial pressure of oxygen in the air decreases, which decreases the partial pressure of oxygen in your blood. Up to an altitude of about 3,000 feet, the drop in the air’s partial pressure of oxygen is minimal, so my saturation doesn’t change; it remains at 98-100%. But when you travel above 3,000 feet, my saturation begins to drop. That’s why it’s harder to do aerobic exercise at high altitude—because I have less oxygen bound to me as I travel through your circulatory system.
Now, tell me how beautiful of a protein I am. Want to learn more about me?
When I coached high school track and field, it was often difficult to get kids to focus on one event. With so many options in the sport, many want to run and jump and throw. I’ve tried to convince them that it’s better to be very good at one event than mediocre at multiple events. As adults, little changes. I often hear personal trainers say that they train all types of clients—weight loss clients, elite athletes, clients who want general muscle toning, seniors and so on. For their areas of expertise, they list specialties such as “weight loss,” “athletic performance,” “metabolic conditioning,” “senior fitness” and “post-injury rehabilitation” and obtain certifications for every specialty.
First of all, no one can be an expert in all of these areas. Secondly, you shouldn’t even try. That’s not the path to success. It’s tempting to train all types of clients because it seems that you could make more money with a broad focus than with a narrow one. Many of the high school athletes’ parents tell their kids to do many extracurricular activities to increase their chances of getting into college. Well, their parents are wrong. Successful people are not well-rounded. They don’t do many things. Successful people and successful businesses do one thing and do it better than everyone else. Choose a niche to specialize in and become as educated and as skilled in that niche as possible.
If you’re passionate about helping people lose weight, become a weight loss expert. Read every scientific study that has ever been done on weight loss. Open a biochemistry textbook and understand metabolism and hormones and everything that affects weight gain and loss. Volunteer for weight loss studies. Talk to scientists who have devoted their lives to researching weight loss. Learn how much, what type, and what intensity of exercise result in significant weight loss. Learn the documented habits of successful weight losers. Know the role that nutrition plays in weight loss. Know the data from the National Weight Control Registry as well as you know your parents’ names. How many trainers do you think know all this, yet still claim to be weight loss experts?
After you’ve done all your homework, become known in your community as The Weight Loss Expert. Speak to weight loss groups, give weight loss tips on TV, write a weight loss column for a local newspaper or magazine. When people ask about your services, charge a lot of money because you’re The Weight Loss Expert and they can’t get your expertise anywhere else. Riches are in the niches.
We’re told to do a lot of things softly. Librarians tell us to whisper in the library. Theodore Roosevelt told us, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Golfers are told to grip the golf club softly rather than strangle it. Even the hip hop group Fugees sing, “Killing me softly with his song.”
The advice I love the most is to run softly over the ground, like you’re running on eggshells, on ice, or on water. For some reason, runners, coaches, and writers on the subject seem to think that the best way to run is to strike the ground as softly as possible, trying not to crack the eggs. It seems logical, at first thought, that you would want to strike the ground softly, because striking it hard-ly would be bad, causing injuries from all that “pounding.”
But you shouldn’t always do things at first thought. When you dig deeper, into second thoughts and third thoughts and fourth thoughts, you begin to understand things on a different level. Better, quicker running comes from applying more force to the ground so that the ground reaction force applies more force to your foot, propelling you forward with each step. (Remember Isaac Newton’s third law of motion—for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction).
Running softly over eggs so as not to crack them prevents a runner from optimizing the propulsive force and increase running speed, because running speed is a function of the vertical ground reaction force—the greater the vertical force, the faster the running speed. To create a large ground reaction force, you must strike the ground with a lot of force—hard-ly instead of softly. And running hard-ly would crack a lot of eggs!
I often wonder if there are multiple training paths to success, or if there is indeed one best training path that makes a given runner the very best he or she can be. Since Olympic athletes in the same race all have different coaches and therefore don’t train exactly the same way, there are at least a couple of conclusions that can be drawn: (1) there are multiple ways to train to succeed, or (2) there really is a best way, but very few runners, coaches, and scientists know what it is, and the talent of the athletes is the real driver of their success, whether they are Olympians or good recreational runners.
I believe the second conclusion is the right one.
There are many ways to make chicken parmigiana, but there is a way that will make chicken parmigiana taste the best—by adding the precise amount of the right ingredients at the right times during the cooking process. Cooking involves chemistry—the way flavors interact with one another, how the heating process activates the flavor and the nutrients in the ingredients, and so on.
Training a runner also involves chemistry and is even more complicated than cooking because of biological adaptation. How do we know the precise combination of workout ingredients that will lead a runner to a physiological peak? How do we know what the best order of those workouts are? How do we know when in the training plan to do them? How do we know how much of a given type of workout to do? How do we know the right time to do another workout after doing a workout on Tuesday? How do we know what that workout on Tuesday (and then the next one, and the next one) should be?
These are hard questions for science to answer. The questions keep me up at night, because the scientist, coach, and runner in me wants to know the precise combination of workouts that make a runner reach his or her genetic potential. Some coaches try to answer them through years of trial and error. But most coaches and runners don’t pay attention to how they’re cooking the chicken parmigiana.