The spectrum of running speeds is as broad as a rainbow. Most of the time you're running in green, yellow and blue. The aim of this series is to get you running in the red, orange, indigo, violet and sometimes even ultra-violet and infra-red. To touch upon speeds that you usually wouldn't see and hence give you a substantial advantage. Learning how to run at the lactate threshold will give you a big advantage and there are many stories from athletes who come off a period of just running easy miles and tempo runs and claim that they're in the shape of their life. This may well be true and aerobic ability is the number one component in endurance running but you also need to look at improving your running efficiency and giving your legs the mystical "zip" that track runners seem to have that road runners are accused of lacking.
What Are They?
Faster paced 100m accelerations done with full recovery.
The TheoryWorking on from the aerobic theory developed last time we can look at how these affect our three variables, VO2 max, RE and LT. Strides are almost entirely based on improving the running efficiency meaning that for a given pace you are running you will be using less energy and oxygen to do so as you get more accustomed to running faster. They have a minor effect on VO2 but it is minimal and little to no effect on the LT - aside from the fact that they do train the body slightly better to clear lactate from the blood but given the length and pace of the strides they are mostly alactic. What is perhaps most interesting about them is that they allow you to work on your stride length and rate as you strengthen the muscles and loosen the legs. They also prepare you exceptionally well for the minor but important surges, hills and tactical moves that may arise during a race.
Strides are a fast-paced acceleration of approximately 100m but can really be any length from 60m to 120m. After completing one you can jog or walk back and start the next one but ensure that you are fully recovered.
You want to be focusing on a fast, efficient turn-over. More important than the speed you do them at is keeping your form as close to flawless as possible. Remember watching Haile Gebresellasie run and marvelling at that bolt upright, long striding step- try and copy it. You want to keep your arms parralel and swinging in a controlled but relaxed fashiong with wrists strong. You want to be as "up" as you can be with a lifted pelvis and allow your legs to almost flow under you. Don't overstride but ensure you feet land under your centre of gravity and concentrate on a fast and fluid turnover.
The pace is almost irrelevant here- I personally do them at something around 800 pace I think when in full hard training but 1500m pace is equally fine. The aim is to not strain. This is probably the overriding concept of this series; train don't strain. This isn't a sprint race it's a relaxed stride out. If you watch at your local race you'll see many of the local elite doing these before the race. If you feel yourself getting substantially out of breath then take your recovery as a walk not a jog back and do the next one slower focusing on driving the arms and a fast toe-off. You also don't want to feel any sort of lactate flowing into your muscles- stay loose and relaxed.
Within a session you'll generally want to do something from 6-12 but usually 8 is sufficient and any more and you'll be looking at a more serious session.
Now looking at how to incorporate them. There are two main ways of doing this and both have their merits.
The method I usually use is to do it in the middle of one of my runs- say I'm doing an hour run- I'll run out for 25 minutes, then do 10 strides with jog back recovery using a bush or the like as a landmark each time timing myself for 18-19 seconds for the first to set this landmark, then jog back 25 minutes. by doing them concurrently you can focus on each one on a different aspect of your form which I find very beneficial and helps me isolate different elements very well. The potential can arise however for it to devolve into a challenge and the risk of sprinting arises.
The second method is one which might be suitable if you do end up up running them too hard- the aim of these runs is to be alactic (without lactate) - then rather than do all of them in one go then split them up into your run. Do a 15 minute warm-up and then do a stride and carry on jogging. Every 5 minutes do a stride-out and carry on jogging until at 45 minutes when you stop and jog the 15 minutes left to get home as your warm down- you've done 6 strides during your run. This has the benefit of doing your strides over slightly different terrain but is harder to accurately judge pace- it forces you to get the "feel" right.
Some suggest doing these at the end of your run- I don't advocate this because it tempts people to sprint too much and you're running fast on tired legs and generating some lactate into the legs which isn't being cleared out.
In the first week (the second week of your tempo runs) incorporate these runs into one of your easy runs with a warm-up, strides and then warm-down lasting the length of your usual run. Aim to do 4 strides the first week, then 6 then 8. Once you've done 8 you've hit the total you need to be doing! I generally find that an 18 or so second stride and then a 100m jog back takes roughly a minute but if you need longer recovery then definitely take it but make sure you slow down your strides as well.
So right now we have a weekly schedule that looks like...
4 x 40-60 minute easy runs
1x 20 minute warm-up, 8 minutes strides, 20 minute warm-down.
1 x 15 minute warm-up, 20 minutes @ threshold, 15 minute warm-down
Weeks 1-4 - Get used to running 5/6 times a week
Weeks 5-8 - Incorporate threshold running and strides into your schedule.
Week 5: 2 x mile at tempo pace
Week 6: 15 minutes tempo, 4 x strides
Week 7: 20 minutes tempo, 6 x strides
Week 8: 20 minute tempo run, 8 x strides
In the next part we look at something a bit different- Recovery Weeks. I'd suggest undertaking this after finishing off getting used to Threshold and Strides.
Right - that's it for now. Catch you on the trails.