I've been having some amazing tempo runs lately. Now that my Fall marathon season is over, my general fitness level remains really high. It's kind of exciting! Part of the success I'm having with my speedy tempo workouts is because I continue (slowly) to get better with my running technique. In particular, my stride and turnover rate.
For a long time I fell into an easy trap with my running. When I wanted to run faster, I dug deep, pumped my legs, and stretched out the length of each stride. It's a natural inclination: to go faster, you run harder and take longer steps, right?
Well, no, actually.
It took me a while to understand this, because it is, kind of, counter-intuitive. I read about it frequently, but it just didn't sink in: to increase your speed, you must take slightly shorter strides and increase your turnover rate (your "turnover" being the rate at which you pump your legs back and forth.)
If you lengthen your stride, you are actually decreasing the number of times that your foot is in contact with the ground over the course of a mile. Longer strides equals more ground covered with each step, which equals fewer footfalls per mile, which means the number of times your foot is in contact with the ground and pushing your body forward is also decreased, which means you must do more work with each push-off and you get less result in return for the effort.
Often, people who lengthen their stride to try and run faster, actually slow down. This is especially true because we are prone to lengthening our stride when we have already run a while and are beginning to tire.
I think it was, maybe, 18 months ago when it finally sunk in for me what all that really meant. The next day, I went out and tried it. Instead of the slightly loping, "easy" pace stride I normally used, I focused on maintaining short, quick, strong steps. I instantly cut 30 seconds off my per mile pace. But here's the thing that really amazed me: I did it with minimal increase in effort.
I was pretty much a full convert after that one workout.
I don't use it for every run. I still allow myself the "easy" workouts; I don't really need it so much to hit my goal times at those easy paces (i just want those to be "efficient"). But when I'm on a long run, a tempo run or just a little speed work; short, quick steps are foremost in my mind.
As the technique gradually becomes more second nature to me, I find that my speedy workouts get more and more fun. I keep my body tall and straight, lean forward slightly and motor along like the Road Runner on a length of Southwestern asphalt.
I've made one other little change lately, too. Instead of wearing my usual road shoe trainers, I've been pulling on feather-weight shoes instead. In spite of all the running shoes I own, I actually don't have a pair of racing flats. But I do have a couple pairs of New Balance 790s, which are designed as feather weight shoes with a trail shoe tread. The outsole is not overly pronounced, and there is a lot of dirt to run on beside the lakefront bike path, so it works out fine. And it feels so good to speed along in the feather-weights.
It's pretty much convinced me that I need to buy myself a real pair of road racing flats early next year. New Balance makes a racing comp that is actually 4 ounces lighter than my 790s. I admit, I'm drooling at the thought...