Emails to My Team: Shorten It Up!

Posted by Jeff Knight, coach of Team Rogue El Jefe, program director of Marathon High, running nerd (mostly nerd) and adamant believer in the use of parentheses in his blogs (can’t help it). 

As a coach for Team Rogue I get the opportunity to work with some pretty amazing athletes from across the spectrum. Some are serious age-group runners at the community level. Some are super hobbiest. Some are race-a-holics. And some are World-Championship Team Triathletes.

This past week I had a back and forth (email war!) with one of my athletes (well…..triathlete) regarding stride rate.  Stride rate is the number of times your feet hit the ground per minute. For the newbies, stride rate  is one of those things, if addressed early, that can help ensure you become a run junkie (aka, a ROGUE). If your a pretty experienced runner, stride rate is one of those things that can help smooth you up and make sure you’re running with good form.

guy_running_cold

The man on the right is what appears to be a Rogue in its rarest form (Roguerus Maximus). Working on your stride rate will help ensure that you too will someday run shirtless in the snow.

The email stemmed from watching this athlete run bound her way through a workout and I thought I’d share it (don’t worry, I got her consent!). This athlete is a classic “over strider”, meaning her strides were extremely long (and slow) given her size.

“Ok, more on the stride length conversation from this morning.

There are a few ways to practice shortening your stride length but before you do that, I want you first to count your current stride rate.  This is how you should do it:

1) While running on a FLAT, straight road (not townlake or a track),

2) set the timer on your watch for 1 minute.

3) start the timer when your right foot hits the ground.

4) count how many times your right foot strikes the ground within that 1-minute period.

5) multiply that number by 2.

I’m guessing your stride rate will be around 160-170.  What is considered the “gold standard”? About 180 steps per minute (thats 90 right-foot falls during a minute). Why is this considered gold standard? Similar to cycling, its probably about the rate at which we recruit our slow-twitch muscles most effectively. As a result we run most with the least amount of energy output.  Furthermore, running is all about inertia  (surely they talk about that at Stanford).  What I mean is, along as you don’t hinder your forward momentum you’ll keep moving forward.  What hurts our forward momentum in running?  Wind resistance?  NOPE.  The answer is ground contact time.  When your feet are on the ground they are actually “braking you”.

DownloadedFile

Awww…..stop-and-go traffic on I-35. As blissful as sunbathing in hell, yet an unfortunately a good metaphor for the physics of running. (photo via utexas.edu)

Think about driving your car down I-35 at 5:00pm (I know what your thinking…. “why the hell would I torture myself like that?” ….but bare with me, its a hypothetical situation). Traffic is stop-and-go at best. So when it is stop and go, which is worse, tapping your breaks for half a second in between accelerations or pressing your break for 2 seconds between accelerations (Hint: skipping the drive for Happy Hour at Trudy’s is not an option)? Well, tapping your breaks for half a second is way better.  The car feels smoother and you keep way more momentum (and I’m sure your gas mileage would be way better).  Running personifies this hypothetical situation. (Yes, running is unfortunately a lot like stop-and-go traffic on I-35.) We accelerate when our feet leave the ground and we tap the breaks when a foot hits the ground. So like a car, we want this brake tapping to be as short as possible.

With this in mind, a shorter, more frequent stride should shorten up your ground contact time and thus help you maintain your inertia.  Will it feel this way at first? Heck no!  It will feel harder….like inertia is fighting back…but, it won’t feel like this forever.  Is 180 steps per minute a uniform rule across the board? No, not necessarily.  For every golden standard there is an outlier.  Thus, you might be the outlier……but then again, you might not  😉

 As a result, I want you to give it a chance. I want you to increase your stride frequency for a few weeks.  You have to do it for at least a few weeks so that your body can “learn” what this stride rate feels like and get over that initial awkwardness.  If after 3-4 weeks this stride rate still feels harder, forget about it and go back to what ever is your norm.  (But if I were a betting man, I’d bet you won’t go back.)    Here’s how I want you do this:

1) Do this on an easy running day, not during a workout.

2) On a flat, straight stretch of road (not track or townlake),

3) set your watch timer for ten seconds.

4) start your timer when your right foot hits the ground,

5) and count how many times your foot hits the ground during that period

6) Now run for a second and then repeat steps 3-5 but this time try to force your right foot to hit the ground 15 times during that 10-second period (15×6 = 90 steps with your right foot. multiply that by 2 and you get the total number of steps for both feet or 180)

7) do this periodically through out your run to check your stride rate

8) you should get into a rhythm of 180 steps per minute by the end of the run

Repeat this every time you do and easy run, or during parts of your long run, to learn this rhythm.

alternatively you can try this if your run with an iPod:

1) Do this on an easy running day, not during a workout.

2) On a flat, straight stretch of road (not track or townlake)

3) put on a song that has a beat of 90 beats per minute (you can just google this–there are entire websites dedicated to this) like Jack Johnson’s “Crying Shame”

4) Simply synchronize your right foot step with the beat of the song.

5) Your left leg will fall in perfectly and yield 180 total steps per minute.

Make sense?  Give it a shot and let me know what you think.

~El Jefe”

I know what you are all thinking….did I get her stride rate correct? Of course I did. Nailed it, in fact. 162 foot falls per minute.  I’m not overeducated for nothin! Just for the record, my athlete is now experimenting with shortening her stride a bit.

Just to reiterate, this is no magic bullet nor is this reminiscent of Alberto Salazaar micromanaging Dathan Ritzenhein’s stride like germ-a-phobe manages . Am I saying that everyone should go out there and start counting stride rates and totally change your running because you run at 176 steps per minute? No. Instead, this is a reminder that despite the simplicity of our sport, it is a very intricate physical process and that we are, in fact, control of part of this process. And, as we progress we should continuously challenge ourselves at every level so that we can…..well…..kill our age group in the Austin Distance Challenge 🙂

dathan-ritzenhein

This is Dathan Ritzenhein. Dathan. He most likely wishes he spent more time training and less time worrying about the angle of foot eversion at ground contact.

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One thought on “Emails to My Team: Shorten It Up!

  1. Pingback: Emails from my Team: [Insert Runner’s World tagline about setting PR’s by running less] | The Rundown

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