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Top Ten Ways to Run Faster
By Rick Morris
Distance runners are the best athletes in the world. To excel as a distance runner you need to a tremendous level of cardiovascular and muscular endurance, a lofty VO2 max, a towering lactate turn point, a fine tuned running stride and powerful muscles. There is also another need you need as a distance runner that is often forgotten – the need for speed. Here are our top ten ways to increase your running speed.
Build Stronger Muscles
For some reason many distance runners are afraid of building muscles. That anti-strength training group of distance runners believes that any added muscle weight will slow them down. It’s true that any non-functional body weight can have an effect on your running performance, but muscle is highly functional. Stronger muscles will give you more power, speed and injury resistance. So hitting the weight room is one of the best ways to improve your running speed.
Spend Less Time on the Ground
One of the most common differences between world class distance runners and recreational distance runners is ground contact time. Top level runners spend much less time on the ground. How do your decrease your ground contact time? Start by running with quick, light strides. Add some plyometrics or explosive strength training exercises to your weekly training routine. The explosive strength training will improve the resiliency of your muscles. Not only will you decrease your time on the ground but you will also improve your running efficiency.
Raise Your Toes
Dorsi-flexing your toes during your running stride will get your legs and body in proper running position and will also increase the energy return of your stride. Raising your toes will pre stretch your calf muscles so they are ready to instantly contract and return the energy you have built up. It’s a lot like cocking a gun. You will run faster, easier and more efficiently.
Increase Your Foot Speed
Your running speed is a function of your stride length and your stride rate. Improving your running strength and power through strength training and plyometrics will increase your stride length. Now, how about your foot speed? Does foot speed matter? You bet it does. Most top level athletes run with a stride rate of around 90 to 95 full strides per minute. Compare that to the average recreational runner stride rate of about 80 strides per minutes. Estimate your stride rate by counting every stride you take during 30 seconds of running ant multiply by two. Of course you can also count your stride in a full minute, but it’s easy to lose count during a full minute. If yours is less than 90 strides per minute try running with quicker, more fluid strides until you reach the 90 to 95 stride per minute rate at all running speeds.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but many distance runners concentrate solely on long slow distance training. If you want to learn to run fast you need to practice running fast. Do some fast interval training on the track as well as some post run strides during your cool down. The high intensity running will improve your neuromuscular conditioning, foot speed, VO2 max, running strength and running economy.
Do Pre Run Dynamic Drills
It’s become customary for distance runners to perform static stretching before a training run or race. It was thought that pre run static stretching would help prevent injuries and improve performance. Now we know that extensive pre run static stretching does very little to prevent injuries and not only doesn’t improve performance but may actually impair your running speed and performance. Running speed depends upon a certain level of muscle tension. Extensive static stretching can decrease muscle tension and create some joint looseness that hurts your running performance. A better pre run warm up is to perform a series of dynamic drills. The dynamic exercises will lubricate your joints, improve your functional range of motion and warm up your muscles without decreasing your muscle tension.
Perform Post Run Static Stretching
While dynamic drills are a superior form of pre run warm up, that doesn’t mean you don’t need static stretching. Static stretching is important for improving your flexibility, increasing your functional range of motion and maintaining your muscle health. An overly tight muscle is a slow functioning muscle. The best time for static stretching is during your post run cool down.
Go With the Flow
Have you ever tried to drive with one foot on the gas and the other on the brake? You can never build up speed that way. While driving that way sounds foolish, there are many athletes that run that way. If you over stride or land on your heel with your foot in front of your body, you’re putting on the brakes with each step you take. Just as with your car, you simply can’t build up much speed when over striding. Try to go with the flow of your running. Land with a more flat footed stride with your foot strike directly under your center of gravity. Use you forward momentum when you run. Keep building on the forward momentum with no braking effect and your will naturally and efficiently increase your running speed.
Mix It Up
A common periodization scheme is to begin your training program with long slow distance running before graduating to stamina building tempo running and finally some speed work for peaking during the final stages of your program. That scheme does a fairly good job, but the problem is you are ignoring speed for a considerable part of your training year. You are always trying to rebuild your speed. Instead, why not use a year round multi pace plan in which you do some sort of speed training every week. You will stay fast and get faster.
Take it Easy
Speed training is a good thing, but you can get too much of a good thing. Your muscles build in strength and power during rest and recovery. If you don’t allow your muscles time to recover they won’t maximize their strength and power gains. You will be cheating yourself out of a lot of running speed. Follow a hard/easy sequence during your training week in which you follow a high intensity run with an easy or rest day. Also take a few weeks of nearly complete rest at some point during your training year for both physical and mental recovery.
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