You need to do strides. You need to do them several times a week – running strides before your workouts and running strides on your maintenance days. Most runners I coach run their strides on Monday and Friday as part of their maintenance days. They work out on Tuesday and often they have strides before that workout. So that’s three days of strides each week.
What are strides? For adult runners it’s just running a touch under 5k pace. I like to see people do 30 seconds at this pace and then take 60 seconds easy. So it’s very easy, yet it’s a great way to check in with your body to see how it’s feeling. You might feel good running your normal easy run pace, but feel horrible on the strides. That’s a great indication that you are not recovered from the previous few days of training, and that you might need to adjust things moving forward. So that’s one reason to do strides – they are a window into your general level of fatigue. Hopefully you feel nice and snappy doing strides, but again, if you don’t, then you need to reevaluate what you have on tap for the next workout (perhaps skip the workout, move the workout back in the week, or water down the workout).
Strides are also important biomechanically. You spend the majority of your time running paces that are slower than 5k pace, and it’s easy to get your body into a groove where it only wants to run slow. You hear people talk about “opening up their stride,” and that’s actually not a bad term. When you do strides, your stride is longer than normal and you have different knee angles than when you run threshold pace and easy day pace.
Finally, strides, in a very subtle way, improve your Running Economy (RE). Running Economy is best described by this analogy: take two runners, both with the same aerobic fitness. But the first runner is more efficient (and technically, probably spends less time on the ground with each foot strike) than the second runner. It’s obvious that the first runner will race faster than the second runner, because they are more efficient, i.e. they have a higher Running Economy. For the novice runner, or the adult runner that never ran in high school or college, strides often improve RE, if only slightly. While strides are not nearly as effective as speed development workouts when it comes to improving Running Economy, strides still improve RE a bit and this is a good thing.
It’s easy to blow off strides on a recovery day, especially if you don’t feel great on the run. But 5 x 30 seconds at 5k pace with 60 seconds easy is not hard mentally, and you owe it to yourself to get in your strides.