The first thing we need to establish when we talk about “running strides,” is that it’s different than using the term stride to describe a runner’s unique biomechanics. So “She has a beautiful stride” or “He has the perfect stride for the marathon” is not the way we’re using the term. In this discussion strides are short distances run at race pace or faster. Strides can be done the day before a workout, done in the final minutes before a workout or done in the final minutes before a race.
It’s worth noting that one of my coaching influences, sprint coach Vince Anderson, never uses the term strides with his sprinters because he thinks that sprinters hear “strides” and they interpret it as “loaf.” So the term may best be used stride for distance runners, for whom the term stride means running a short distance at race pace or faster.
Strides are typically 100m to 150m in length, but they can also be assigned as a duration of time. When using time you could say 4 x 30 seconds at 5k pace with 60 seconds of easy running between the strides. So that’s 30 seconds run at 5k pace, 60 seconds of jogging, 30 seconds at 5k pace, 60 seconds of jogging, 30 seconds at 5k pace, 60 seconds of jogging, and finally 30 seconds at 5k pace. This is the assignment I give most of my adult runners the day before a workout. Why? Well, most of these runners are training for the half marathon or the marathon and when they run 5k pace their neuromuscular system is reminded that it can work at paces faster than half marathon and marathon pace. There is a greater neuromuscular demand – more motor units are called upon – and and there are biomechanical changes, either in stride length, stride frequency, or both Many adult runners become metronomes who can run marathon pace all day, yet can’t run a 5k that correlates to their fitness (see if your PRs correlate to one another). With adults I like them to simply do these strides in the last third of their easy run. So if they run 45 minutes for an easy day, then they do these four strides sometime after the 30 minute mark of the run. Strides are also important for workouts and before races. I like 3-4 strides to be the last part of the warm-up before a fast workout and I definitely want to see people doing 3-4 strides in the final minutes before a race. Again, you want to “wake up” the neuromuscular system, making sure your body is ready for the demands of the race.
My college coach liked to talk about Basic Proficiency Maintenance days, or BPM days. This was a day where you ran an easy aerobic run to maintain a general level of aerobic fitness, but also a day where you ran some strides to maintain a basic proficiency at race pace. For example, a 1,500m runner may run 5 x 100m at 1,500m pace (with a 300m jog) just to make sure that they will be able to not only workout at that pace, but be able to run that pace during a race. For the high school track athlete or the collegiate track athlete strides should be done on the track and timed. There is not a 150m mark on most tracks, so coaches will need to use a measuring wheel and mark that spot inside lane one.
How do you run strides properly? You should be running with good posture, meaning a 1-2º forward lean. Your ankles should feel “poppy” and your arm action will obviously be more active compared to your slower running paces. For most runners a stride feels like a fun, efficient experience. And there is some research to show that running at race pace will improve your stride and improve your efficiency. You can read more about this in Matt Fitzgerald’s book Run: The Mind-Body Method of Running by Feel for more information. It’s a fantastic read.
Those are the basics of how to run strides. The strides that adult marathoners should be doing and high school 1,600m runners should be doing are different and I’ll go into detail in future posts.