by Janae Richardson
As runners we are always looking for ways to improve. We are content with a new workout or race PR for like two seconds and then we set our sights higher, hit the reset button, and start working towards a new goal. So what can help us get faster?
There are many contributing factors that make up the fitness level and performance level of a runner and one of these factors is a runner’s Running Economy. If you can improve your running economy then you can improve your running performance.
What is Running Economy?
Your running economy is a measure of how efficient you are at using energy while running. Runners with good running economy spend less energy and require less oxygen than runners with poor running economy. It is the same concept as how many miles per gallon a car can travel at a given speed. If your car gets better gas mileage than a truck at a certain speed then your saying your car is more efficient and can go longer at that speed than the truck. So if you have better running economy then you are a more efficient runner, you use less energy and effort to run, and can therefore run at faster speeds before you get tired.
How do I improve my Running Economy?
There are many factors that can have an affect on running economy (see chart below) but here are a few tips that can get you started in the right direction…
1. Speed Work and Strides –
According to Jack Daniels (a well-known exercise physiologist) speed work and strides help improve running economy by helping a runner decrease any unnecessary arm and leg motion, by recruiting the most desirable motor units while running at or near race pace, and by helping a runner feel more comfortable running at faster speeds.
–Speed Work: repeated runs of up to 2 minutes each at mile race pace with full recovery in between each; or repeated runs of up to 1 minute each at a fast controlled pace with full recovery between each. An example would be 12-20 x 200 meters at mile race pace with full recovery in between each.
–Strides: A stride is rapidly accelerating to a smooth, fast rhythm of running. An example would be 4 x 30 seconds of performing a stride with full recovery in between each stride. Can be done following a distance run 1-3 times/week.
2. Increase Stride Rate –
Stride rate is the number of steps a runner takes per minute. A runner’s stride rate can best be calculated by counting the number of steps a runner takes while running at a constant speed on a treadmill (this can be done running on the road too, but just try to keep your pace constant and consistent). Count the number of steps taken by the right foot for 30 seconds and then times that number by 4. Finding your optimal stride rate will help you develop better running form by helping you strike the ground with your legs more underneath you rather than reaching out in front of your body with your legs, overstriding, and wasting energy with the braking motion of a heavy heel strike. Focusing on increasing stride rate is more important for beginner runners who tend to have a slower stride rate than well-trained distance runners. A good range to shoot for is 170-185 steps per minute. The safest approach is to increase your stride rate gradually so try to improving your st ride rate by 5% to 10% at a time.
3. Strength and/or Plyometric Training –
Works by increasing the stretch/shortening characteristics of the muscle and/or by increasing the stiffness of the muscle-tendon system of the running legs. In other words, this type of training helps your body more efficiently use elastic energy from the tendons and muscles to propel the body forward.
Chart Source: Saunders, Philo U., et al. “Factors affecting running economy in trained distance runners.” Sports Medicine 34.7 (2004): 465-485.