2 In fitness/ running/ running 101

Running 101: Smaller steps = increased speed

Royal Parks Half Marathon 2012
Like the wind! ;)

Like the wind! 😉

It’s September. The kids have gone back to school and my brain is on the wavelength of learning.  When it comes to running I’ve specifically learned a lot about speeding up in the last year.

I think everyone who’s been running for a little while starts thinking about getting faster. Running slowly can be totally awesome and mind-refreshing but at some point every runner asks themselves the question of  “How can I get faster?

I’ve been running for 4 years now and even though I cannot call myself super speedy, I have learned a little bit about speeding up.  I ran my very first 10km race in 53 minutes and my current PB is 47:11, similarly my times for other distances have improved by about a minute every year. Doesn’t sound a whole lot but I consider a 53 minute 10km run already a good pace and since my starting point was quite good, I consider my improvement rate of a minute a year pretty decent.

There are many, many things that contribute to a runner becoming faster over time: loosing weight if that’s necessary, doing strength training, improving overall cardiovascular fitness, etc. but for me these things are mostly already taken care of so the other factors that have made me run faster are:

1. Running faster
2. Running with smaller steps

Let me elaborate on those.

Point 1 – “Running faster” – simply means doing at least one run a week that is shorter and faster than the others.

For example, I’m not training for a marathon this year so my long run these days is 10-14km at a pace of 5:20-5:30 min/km.  In addition I do a short 5-8km run during one lunchtime, trying to keep the pace around 5:00. I also do a weekend session where I sprint for one km, walk for a minute, sprint for a km, walk for a minute, etc. for up to 5km and keeping the pace to 4:20-4:50.

This is what works for me now, don’t use my pace as any kind of guidance for you, just find your easy pace and then try to up it a bit on your shorter runs.  Also, there are many ways to do speed training – longer / shorter intervals, longer / shorter rest periods, fartlek, hill sprints, etc.  Play around and find the method that you find enjoyable and doable.

Now about point 2 – “Running with smaller steps”. That one usually puzzles people because when I mention anything about it they say “Surely the smaller your steps are the slower you run?!?”

No, not true. The thing with large steps is that you tend to reach way forward with your foot and hit the ground with your heel full on. That means every time your heel touches the ground you actually put the brakes on.

When you take smaller steps, however, you’re not reaching as far ahead and you land not full-on on your heel but more towards the middle of your foot. By the time your foot hits the ground your body is on top of your foot or ahead of it (and not behind like with long steps) and that means that your feet push the ground away from you instead of putting on the breaks at every step.

Are you visualising it?  Should I draw pictures? 🙂

The main thing to remember is that you want to have your body lean forwards and your feet to work under your body as much as possible, you don’t want to be straight up or lean back with your feet reaching far ahead of your body.

If you have a fancy sports watch that measures your cadence (the number of steps you take in a minute), keep an eye on that number.  My average cadence for slow runs is around 173 and for my fastest runs it’s anywhere from 180-187. (When you start reading about cadence online you often come across the magic number of 180 but I don’t think everyone needs to aim for the 180, I think 170 is an efficient number as well)

Anyway, if you don’t have one of those fancy watches then do what I used to do, I used to aim for 3 steps in a second – you roughly know how long a second is and I just kept counting one-two-three, one-two-three, one-two-three, … while running (not out loud :). Pretty soon your body learns what that rhythm feels like and you don’t have to count anymore.

I have to mention that whereas I try to focus on my cadence and form on training runs, when  I’m racing I don’t think about it. I think races are for just running and having fun. When you start to overthink everthing during a race it sucks the joy right out of the experience.

The main thing is to run your slow runs at an enjoyable pace and once or twice a week push the pace a little bit, either for the whole duration of the run or for short spurts at a time.

The main MAIN thing is to always have fun. Because that’s why we run!

What has your experience with speeding up been? Do you pay attention to your cadence or your body position during running? Have you discovered something else that makes one a faster runner? Peanut butter? Bacon?


PS. You may be interested in one of my older posts: Running 101: Forefoot, midfoot, whateverfoot?

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