When I competed at Missouri State University, my track and cross country coach frequently regaled our team with stories of the world’s fastest runners. He’d recount how most are born and raised in the same small village in Kenya. According to coach, these runners supposedly ran strides after every single run. Every single run! Most of the team (including myself) assumed he was spinning another overdramatized yarn to get more buy in for his wild training ideas. Surely these Kenyan-born runners would be injured if they did so much high intensity turnover. Though I hate to admit it, this article is a shout out to my college coach and the one time he wasn’t pulling our leg.
That stride life
Strides are short bouts of fast running, typically performed 4-10 times for 15-30 seconds at approximately mile PR pace, or the max effort you can maintain without losing form or straining (think: zoomies!). It is best to run strides after the body is fully warmed up. For example, my DPR athletes complete their strides during the second half of their easy effort runs, 2-4 times a week.
Goal of strides
The primary goal of strides is to improve an athlete’s running economy. In the Journal of Sports Medicine, Sanders et al. defines running economy as, “...the energy demand for a given velocity of submaximal running” and states that, “runners with good running economy use less energy and therefore less oxygen than runners with poor running economy at the same velocity.” They continue with an important note, “There is a strong association between running economy and distance running performance, with running economy being a better predictor of performance than maximal oxygen uptake.”
So what does this mean in language we all can understand? Running economy is how efficiently we use the energy and oxygen available in our body to move us forward. The more efficient, the easier we can run at any given pace. To improve running economy, strides target the neuromuscular system to enhance running mechanics. The better a runner’s mechanics, the more efficient! To properly train the neuromuscular system it is vitally important to have ample recovery time between strides. I suggest running easy or walking 1-2 minutes. Strides should not challenge the cardiovascular system in any way. Instead, focus on mechanics: lean slightly forward, drive your knees and full extend through the back leg, while landing with light, quick feet.
Almost immediately strides make runs feel more energized. But, over months and years, runners begin to notice that easy and long runs average faster paces and that same effect cascades to workouts and races. More importantly, since strides are short in duration with long recovery periods, the risk of injury is low.
When and how to add them to your training plan
If my old coach and I have convinced you to add strides into your training plan, start with 4 x 20 second strides during the second half of your weekly easy runs. Complete each on flat ground with 2 minutes of light jogging or walking between each rep. Most importantly, have some fun with these! It’s best to imagine yourself at age 7, sprinting across the playground at recess: strong, light, fast, and first to tetherball!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Asher Kyger Henry, PT, CSCS, PES
Asher is a sports physical therapist, run and strength coach at Dasher Personalized Running. She partners with trail and road runners to create training programs that maximize joy and mitigate injury. Asher’s running accolades include a 5th place finish at the US Half Marathon Championships and four all-american honors in track and cross country.