Everyone wants to become faster at running but few people know how. Sure, we all know that you have to work at it. But what exactly does it take to get faster?
“To run faster, you have to run faster.” Well, that doesn’t help now does it?
If you’re thinking there’s got to be more to it than that, you’re right! You really need to know how. While simply running faster all the time can make you a faster runner, there is a much better approach. You might even say it’s a shortcut if you consider how many mistakes you might make if you didn’t know what I’m about to explain.
There are four fundamental factors to running speed that I call the 4-Cornerstones to Faster Running.
Here they are;
- Turnover, or cadence
- Stride length
- Pendulum Position
Your turnover is the total number of steps you take per minute. Most newbie runners have a turnover (or cadence) around 160 steps per minute. The more experienced runners have a much quicker turnover around 170-180, with some even higher. There are only a few things in running that can apply to virtually all runners but this is one of them. A high turnover close to 180 steps per minute is ideal and most efficient, with very few exceptions. So if you’re currently below that magic number, work on a quicker cadence. Try using a metronome app on your phone to pace yourself. Think about it, if your steps were converted to miles-per-hour, you would be racing along at 180 mph instead of only 160 mph.
Your stride length is simply how far you travel with each step. You might wonder how you can lengthen your stride at the same time as quickening your turnover. Well, it takes some practice but turnover and stride length are the two main ingredients to running faster. Each will obviously affect speed by itself, but you want to combine them to get the most speed possible.
"So with a fast turnover, all I need to do is add to my stride length, right?" Yup, pretty much.
Your stride length is a combination of a little bit of muscular power, a lot of elastic energy, your full range of motion, and your form. You can have lots of power but if you don’t effectively utilize the free return of elastic energy or your full range of motion, you won’t find the speed you’re looking for.
Imagine this: you ‘power’ leap through the air at your maximum range of motion and land on the other foot like a spring, storing elastic energy. As you continue to move forward with momentum, that stored energy is released as you extend to maximum range of motion behind you, while adding muscle power to the action. Collectively, all of this power, elastic energy, and range of motion are what makes up your stride.
But wait! There’s more! None of this is possible without good “form”. This good form is a coordinated control of your “core” that includes your hip flexors, adductor and abductor muscles, abdominal and intercostal muscles, gluteal muscles, lateral rotator group, neuromuscular coordination and so on. It’s not enough to merely try to make bounding leaps.
To improve your stride length you need to build strength (think stairs, hills, speedwork and core work), increase range of motion, and practice good form…which brings us to the third “cornerstone to faster running”, your pendulum position.
Think of your leg as a pendulum with the pivot point in your hips. That pendulum must swing directly under your center of mass. But since you’re moving forward, that pendulum will seem to swing slightly further behind you than in front of you. Remember that old “Keep on Truckin” character that walks with his feet far out in front of him? Many runners do just that. It’s referred to as running from “the back seat”. While some of them may be fast, they could be even faster if they made some minor adjustments. Now imagine the opposite; a runner who leans so far forward that his pendulum is swinging way behind him. You get the idea. Neither is very efficient.
If you maintain strong core control and good vertical posture (slight forward lean from the ankles), your pendulum should swing within the most efficient range, and under your center of mass. Your feet should land directly under your knee. Too much forward lean or backward lean will force you to use more muscle power and you’ll enjoy less elastic energy return. So even if you increase both your turnover and stride length, if you don’t have proper pendulum position you won’t be able to sustain a faster pace…which brings us to the fourth “cornerstone to faster running”, your stamina.
Most runners focus their effort on building endurance by running lots of slow, easy miles.
"Okay, I’ve worked on a quicker turnover, a longer stride and proper pendulum position, now all I need is stamina, right?" Yup, pretty much.
But consider this: if you use a slow turnover you’ll be forced to use more muscle power each mile. And if you use a short stride or improper pendulum position, you’ll be using even more muscle power.
Think about it: if you can hold a 10 minute per mile pace for an hour nonstop, imagine how much longer you could hold that pace if you used less muscle power energy. Or better yet, imagine how much faster you could run in that hour if you used less muscle power energy.
The whole idea is to become as efficient as possible. Better efficiency results in faster speed.
Get it? Got it? Good!