One of my biggest dilemmas with this article was the title - should you run slowly fast or should you run fast slowly. Either way the outcome is the same.
Do you ever wonder how marathon runners can run at 3min/km pace whilst you struggle to run faster than 5mins/km ? For most people to speed up, their strategy is to speed up their stride - their run cadence. This is a similar logic to going faster on the bike ie pedal faster..
But cadence when running is finite so what happens when you 'max' out your cadence (the typical maximum is 200 steps per minute) and you are still no where near a marathon runners pace ?
Here is a simple exercise.
Run on a treadmill at what could be described as tempo pace. This may be your 10km pace or what is sometimes called 'comfortable, uncomfortable' pace - a pace that is uncomfortable but you can maintain. For me, who runs at a marathon pace of around 4:20min/km I use 16kph.
Now, running at that pace, slow down. Before you reach for the speed control I am not asking you to change the speed on the treadmill - I am asking you to run slower at the same speed. This sounds counter intuitive but is actually quite easy to do when you try.
So what are you actually doing ? If your speed is the same but your cadence has slowed then one other thing must have changed. That factor is stride length. If you were to place a mark on the treadmill mat where the foot leaves the mat and another mark where it lands these marks would be further apart - this is stride length.
Now, lets apply so geometry to this.
Our run stride, when done properly, is a circular motion. When a foot leaves the ground, travels in a circle and then strikes the ground (aka stride length) this path is called the circumference of the circle. For those of you that stayed awake at high school you will recall that circumference is equal to the size at the widest part (the Diameter) multiplied by a constant called Pi.
So if we want to increase the circumference (stride length) we simply need to increase diameter ie we need to make the circle bigger. This is achieved by controlling how high we lift the knee - simple.
Note the word 'lift' in terms of the knee. We are not pushing off the ground as any force that moves the body upwards is a wasted force when our goal is to move forward. One of the things I noticed when watching Sally McClelland win the Gold Medal in the 110m Hurdles at the Olympics was that she didnt jump over the hurdles - she simple appeared to lift her legs up from under her without changing the height of her upper body. So make sure you focus on lifting the knee to increase the circle. Your calves will tell you then next day if you have got this wrong...
Stretching, drills, plyometrics all help with improving stride length but I find the practise of running fast, slowly as described on the treadmill helps create the proprioception for doing this the best.
Or is it running slowly, fast.......