Yesterday, a conversation took off on Twitter about what a “Stride” is and how it should be approached. @SeanBrown said: Q: What, exactly, are strides? Coach: “Do 8 miles, moderate pace, finish with 4×15 sec strides.” And I think there are as many approaches floating around as there are runners, so let me explain how I want my athletes to run strides, when they’re appropriate, and what they are for. Thanks to Sean for bringing up the topic!
How to Run Strides: My quick response on Twitter was “Basically just short pickups of speed. Focus on turnover, not running ‘hard.’” Essentially, a stride is a short bout of running at a faster pace, generally 30 seconds or shorter. Here’s the very important part: THESE ARE NOT ALL-OUT SPRINTS. In my opinion, if you are running strides at 100% effort, you are not getting the intended benefit (see below, Why to Run Strides). The “focus on turnover” aspect is the key for me. You should focus on running tall with relaxed shoulders and arms, and imagine that your legs are being pulled along by a fast-moving treadmill belt. Often times, I pick a point up ahead on the trail, and make sure I focus my gaze past that point. Don’t put your head down and run hard, instead keep your eyes forward and run light and quick. You can let your speed progress a little bit during each stride, then when you get to your prescribed time, slow down gradually into easy pace (i.e. don’t abruptly put on the brakes). The whole process should be an exercise in feeling smooth and efficient.
When to Run Strides: Strides have their place in a number of different situations. I tend to put them on my athletes’ plans:
- At the end of an easy run
- At the end of a warm-up routine before hard work (intervals or race)
- Intermingled with easy miles during a final taper week
Remember, these aren’t sprints, which have other uses at other times.
Why to Run Strides: Strides are added to the training plan to recruit different muscle fibers that are needed for fast running, but often get neglected during a bunch of easy miles. When placed at the end of easy runs, strides force some recruitment of fast-twitch fibers in a non-damaging way that helps build an efficient stride (if you run them right!). Placed before hard work, strides help transition the body from a resting state to a fast-moving state so that you can safely run fast without causing damage to those fast-twitch fibers. And during a taper, strides provide an opportunity for the fast-twitch fibers (that will be needed to race well) to do some work so they don’t go into a hibernation mode (which makes them harder to recruit during the race).
Here’s a mental prompt to remember for strides: “Set the stride, run the stride.” That’s a reminder to focus on form first, and once you have that turnover set, you can run your stride with some speed. Happy striding!