Sunday, May 22, 2011

Getting my stride back in a 5k race

With running, one thing I'm sure about is that I never possessed the wonderfully flowing stride of a Herb Elliott or a Catherine Freeman, but there was a time (last century) when I at least ran with the feeling that I was 'striding out' and not shuffling along. My 5k race on Saturday afternoon was something of an epiphany in that at last I felt like I was moving well. Now I know that running is a numbers game, and the raw numbers from the race are nothing extraordinary: 35th place in 23:06 — 1:20 slower than my best time on the course from 2008. The thing is, my excitement about the race has nothing to do with numbers. It's because of how I felt about my movement whilst I was running. And that was a good feeling.

There was a beautiful study by Pete Larson of high-speed (slow motion) videos taken at this year's Boston Marathon: Gait Variability Among Elite Runners at the 2011 Boston Marathon. It contains a table showing the variability of different stride 'components' amongst some elite female and male runners. For example, 'step rate' (stride frequency) varies between 173.9 and 188.5 strides per minute for the men and 181.8 and 194.6 for the women. What has this to do with real-world (particularly aging) runners? I'm interested to hear your thoughts. I think it's easy enough to run with the same stride frequency as we age. An 81-year-old lady can race with the same number of steps per minute she used when flying over the ground in her thirties. What changes as we age is stride-length.

Rick reminded me about Pete Magill's article in Running Times: Solving the 5K Puzzle. The first piece of the puzzle is Stride Efficiency, so that's why I'm happy my stride felt good on Saturday (even though I'm yet to commence the drills and short hills that Pete recommends in the article). The only thing I've been doing thus far is running less mileage (50 to 60 kilometres per week rather than 90 to 100) and running faster (while concentrating on form) during these runs. I'd like to build the weekly mileage to something higher and assemble the other puzzle pieces over coming months.


Blogger Luckylegs said...

I like this post, Ewen!

The last two sentences, first paragraph, strike a familiar note! Exactly right though. Stride length shortens, stride frequency remains pretty constant.

At 81 I run (sometimes with a metronome) at a cadence of 175-180.

This morning in my long run I felt, as you did in your 5k race, the excitement of running with a 'good feeling'. And, for an aging runner, some of that felt as if I was flying, and that was a good feeling!

8:17 pm  
Blogger Jog Blog said...

Well done on your 5km race Ewen.

Given how good you felt and how your race time was decent, I'd suggest sticking with your lower mileage, moderate-high intensity training rather than higher mileage and lower intensity; particularly given your goal of faster times over 5-10km.

As for your other hypothesis/question .... as a forever metranome runner I can vouch that as you get older the steady pace remains (regardless of pace - ie, training pace, race pace ...), but that stride length definitely decreases. C'est la vie. It's a fact of ageing running.

8:19 pm  
Blogger Thomas said...

If your stride felt right, chances are it was right. Now the hard bit, try and keep the good feeling going.

As for the elites' study, I'm always a bit skeptical what the likes of us can take directly from the super elites - the differences are so big, and by isolating one single variable (stride rate in this case) it is very easy to miss the big picture entirely.

8:32 pm  
Blogger TokyoRacer said...

Good race, Ewen. I agree that feeling good about your running form is very important. I also agree with the poster who recommends lower mileage, higher intensity for 5k training. Get those legs moving fast!

9:40 pm  
Blogger Andrew(ajh) said...

Thanks Ewen, I enjoyed your post and the "Solving the 5k Puzzle" article. Good race result mate, I haven't had that "goodcfeeling" recently, running is a bit of a slog at the moment.

10:06 pm  
Blogger rinusrunning said...

Goor running and time and e nive video.

10:34 pm  
Blogger strewth said...

Way to go Ewen! You looked good out there, comfortable, relaxed and very happy afterwards with a positive smile on your face. That is the sort of race we all like to do. Well done. You're obviously doing something right!:)

11:15 pm  
Blogger RICK'S RUNNING said...

Great to hear you felt good and enjoyed racing again :0]
On the subject of ageing and stride length, yes it is very true that if you don't work on dynamic range of movement and strength and speed work as well as massage to break down scar tissue and restore full range of movement your stride will turn into a shuffle!
Earl Fee shows whats possible, just compare his long flowing stride to the other runners
Stride length is also a result of speed, as the foot lands it stops on the ground for a moment while the rest of your body keeps moving forward due to momentum, the faster your moving the more your leg is stretched out behind you!
So you also need a very good engine to power you along!
So hill sprints for power.
Downhill strides on grass to improve speed.
Weight training and plyometrics to regain strength and elasticity lost since youth, will all help.
I'll be putting that Earl Fee video on my bog again along with a link to his book, where you can read a preview!
happy running with a long flowing stride.

4:15 am  
Blogger Girl In Motion said...

This is extremely exciting! Though it's natural to judge things by time (they are races, after all) I understand exactly what you're talking about and how important it is. These are the breakthroughs that carry us onto the next level. I won't offer any advice except to say your instincts are taking you in the right direction, so keep listening and obeying! :)

8:48 am  
Blogger Jaymee said...

This is great, Ewen! I'm excited for you that you're getting the carefree stride back. Remember that feeling and keep at it.

3:59 pm  
Blogger Ewen said...

That's great Luckylegs. Keep the 'good feeling' going!

Thanks Jog. I'm very driven by the goal of a faster 5k. Good suggestion re the training.

Thomas, yes, I want to bottle that feeling. Larson was going to dissect the strides of non-elites. I know stride rate is one variable. The difference in form between runners running at basically the same speed was interesting. Davila's stride for example would be shorter than those of the other women.

Thanks Bob. I plan to get the legs moving fast. Don't want to shock them too much, so a gradual introduction to speed I think!

Andrew, I think part of your slog-like running is due to the mileage increase with the HM plan. I'm sure you'll get used to it.

Thanks Rinus!

Thanks Strewth. A positive change from my usual grumpy self ;)

Rick, great example with Earl Fee. He has a fantastic stride for an old bloke. I know a PT who's going to help me with the weight training and plyos.

Thanks Flo. I'll obey! I'm confident faster race times will come if I can get the body to memorise how it felt on Saturday.

Thanks Jaymee. Remembering a good feeling stride is a bit like learning the correct way to do drills (or any body movement for that matter).

7:32 pm  
Blogger trailblazer777 said...

Great 5k Ewen! Well done! Good to hear that you have some flow back again. If that continues the times will come down again real quick. Go for it.

I think men tend to be taller so generally have longer strides so generally have smaller number of steps as a result, which is why womens cadence is faster, due to their longer stride length...

8:03 pm  
Blogger Black Knight said...

A very good race, you ran fast. The feeling during the race is important, if the mind "doesn't think" we can achieve an important performance. Yesterday my thoughts were bad and I got a "positive split", no matter if I was not ready to race.
Perhaps for this reason many runners use the i-pod.
I think that the cadence remains the same with the age.
As usual an interesting post.

2:35 am  
Anonymous twocatz said...

I sense good things are coming soon Ewen, having that goodnfeeling back makes all of the difference

9:37 pm  
Blogger Robert James Reese said...

I have to focus on stride a lot during training runs because mine natural stride is pretty lousy. Sometimes, though, I get to that place you mention where it feels like I'm running smoothly and that's a great feeling. Hopefully the newfound stride will lead to the times you're looking for.

12:24 am  
Blogger RICK'S RUNNING said...

Got a really good tip from Earl Fee's book.
Posture; lead with the hips and chest!
found this really good for landing closer to my C.O.G. which reduces braking forces and seems to allow the stride to lengthen behind, tried this a couple of times in training now and when I get it right I really start to flow along!
Imagine that the front of your hips and chest are pushing into a wall as you run.
You should get a feeling of almost being pulled forward!
Give it a try :0]

1:13 am  
Blogger Ewen said...

Thanks TB. Yes, stride-frequency and height (leg length) tend to be interrelated. Shorter runners often run with higher step rates.

Stefano, good observation about the influence of the mind. Often all it takes is one good training session (or race) for the momentum to build.

2C, thanks. It's been a while!

Robert, you're running well, so I'm guessing you're in that smooth-running place more often than not. Remembering what it feels like and practising that movement while running is a key thing.

Rick, thanks for that tip from Earl's book. I'll try that on my run tonight!

4:20 pm  
Blogger Sling Runner said...

Thanks for the stride article !

Very timely because I just purchased a Garmin footpod to measure my cadence. I was surpised to discover that I am already running at 180 during slow jog and about 195 whilst doing tempo runs.

I think I need to do strength training (as Rick mentioned)in order to increase my stride length to get faster.

1:13 pm  
Blogger Ewen said...

No worries Sling. Your cadence is fine (sufficiently high), and as that web-page shows, there's quite a variation (no such thing as the perfect cadence). For pure marathoners I think the #1 need is aerobic ability and endurance. Still, a good stride and speed at shorter distances can't do any harm.

7:32 pm  
Blogger Lize Brittin said...

Congratulations on the race! I don't think I can add much that hasn't already been said, so I'll just add that I hope things keep feeling right for you. :)

7:18 pm  

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