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How can I run faster?

Posted by Dr. Gabe M. Medical Doctor

You cannot run faster by consciously trying to increase your stride length. When you try to take longer strides that feel unnatural, you lose energy and run more slowly. Your most efficient stride length is determined by what feels most comfortable to you.

Your heel hits the ground with great force. The tendons in your legs absorb some of this energy and then contract forcibly after your heel hits the ground so you regain about 60 to 75 percent of that stored energy. When you try to take a stride that is longer than your natural one, you lose a great deal of this stored energy, tire much earlier and move your legs at a slower rate.

When most athletes run as fast as they can, they run at close to the same stride rate. For example, a video at the New York City Marathon showed that the top 150 runners had the same cadence, taking 92 to 94 steps a minute. The difference between the top runners and the others is that the best runners took longer strides. The key to running faster in races is to make your leg muscles stronger so you can contract them with greater force so they drive you forward with a longer stride. Competitive runners strengthen their legs by running very fast in practice two or three times a week and by running up and down hills once or twice a week.

- Dr. Gabe Mirkin

Answers (1)
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Mirkin's comments about doing speed workouts two or three times a week and doing hills once or twice a week may be OK for young runners, but they are likely way too much for many older runners.

I think the most important thing to do to run faster is to get in an awfully lot of LSD (Long Slow Distance) miles. As a personal example, when I first started running, I ran at a 13 minute or so pace. I then forgot about pace and just ran for the enjoyment of running. One day, probably a couple of years or so later, I was curious about my pace, and I measured it at 8 minutes. After another couple of years I discovered that my LSD pace was 7 minutes and my 10K pace was 6:30. My increase in speed was a lot of LSD miles and time -- I did no speed work during those months. I was in my low 40s during this time, so I wasn't a young guy just out of college.

One you have a really good base of miles and have been running long enough that your body is used to your weekly distance, you can do speed workouts if you want. But, be careful, because speed puts a lot more stress on your body than LSD. Ditto for hills.


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