What are you going to do differently this year to improve your running? We all make resolutions; to stick more rigidly to our training schedules, to do some core work or to get to more sleep, but do we ever stick to them?! So let's make 2017's a big one. This year let's stop complaining about being 'slow' and get running faster.
Fast running improves running economy benefitting runners across all distances and age groups. Training your body and brain to fire a wider range of muscles more effectively cannot fail to make you a more efficient mover.
Ethiopian runners sprint almost every day and their smooth gazelle like technique allows them to float over all distances and terrains. Just watch Haile, Kenenisa and Tirunesh Dibaba on YouTube and purr over their relaxed, efficient style. We can't run exactly like these 'superhumans' but that doesn't mean we shouldn't emulate them. So here's 3 simple things we can do to channel our inner Haile's and stop running like we are carrying a fridge on our backs.
1. Run Strides once a week
Strides are a simple, effective and easy way to include some speedwork in your existing training. Running them once a week towards the end of a short easy-paced run will make a huge difference over a series of week.
Find a nice flat uninterrupted path or park roughly 80-100 metres long. Run fast and smooth to the end of the course. Don’t go ‘eye balls’ out- instead aim for 85-90% effort. Focus on smooth, fast relaxation. Their primary purpose is to train the efficiency of neuromuscular pathways, so fatigue and tension will just sabotage the benefit.
Run 5 to 8 with a slow jog or walk back to your starting position after each one. Ensure you focus, don’t wear a rucksack, or headphones. Usain Bolt never seems to strain at his best so you shouldn't either.
2. Think about your technique
One major benefit of strides is they give you an opportunity to practise good running technique. Good technique is vitally important to improving speed at all distances. There are a few key principles you should follow whenever you head out for a run;
- Posture. Stall tall by holding your hips high, and leaning forward slightly from your toes. You should be able to draw an imaginary line which passes through your ears, shoulders, and hips.
- Minimise lateral movement at shoulders and hips. Imagine there is a set of headlights either side of your hips and focus on keeping the beams straight. Minimise torso movement by dropping shoulders and swinging arms like a pendulum from the shoulder joint. When running fast the focus should be on driving the arm backwards to power you forward.
- Keep a good turnover of steps. Your goal should be to shorten contact with the ground and to prevent over-striding. Long loping, heavy strides are bad, so aim for shorter faster strides, with a short fast contact with the ground.
3. Run some Short Hills. Up and Down.
Hills are the simplest form of speedwork. They’re easy to plan, hurt like hell and are over before you know it. They are a great workout for the glutes, and challenge your body's ability to cope with and process lactic acid - a key factor in improving speed. Running a hill session once every few weeks will bring huge benefits. To focus on speed find a nice challenging incline, and aim to run 6-10 x 30-45 secs climbs, talking a walk back down to the bottom of the hill after each one. Focus on driving up the climb with a powerful knee drive and short compact arm swing.
Downhill sessions are a hidden gem. Kenyan Runners often use downhill sessions to improve their leg speed and turnover. To prevent heavy jarring you really get the legs spinning to prevent overstriding. Find a less aggressive incline and try 6 x 30 sec runs with a jog or walk back to the top after each one. Focus on posture; standing tall and leaning with the hill. Get the legs turning over pick the heels up quickly and employ short fast steps, making contact with the ground soft, light and fast.