So you want to run fast? Can’t blame you. We all do. I’ve talked about this before but I’ll make a point of it again:
The mistake most people make when they try to run faster than usual, such as in speedwork and in races, is to a) run physically harder, as in put forth more effort, and b) to reach farther with their steps and try to cover more ground with each step.
All the above serves to do is tire you out more quickly, and while this may be great for sprinters who need only maintain this effort for a few seconds… this is not a good way to run a race farther than, say, 400 meters. And pretty much every race you pay to run is a lot farther than 400 meters.
What you want is to maintain efficiency, while repeating your most efficient running motion faster than usual.
In fact, most people’s regular running stride is too long. They could serve to shorten it up a bit and focus more on repeating a shorter step more quickly, in lieu of physically reaching farther.
See, an elite runner can clear 5-6 feet of space per step. They’re not covering that distance by reaching their front leg as far as they can. In fact, their steps are landing directly underneath their torso. Their legs are not reaching particularly far at all.
What’s happening is that their push-off from the back foot, combined with the momentum of being in motion, is what’s propeling them all that distance. They’re not pulling themselves 5-6 feet forward. Each step touches the ground and then pushes them 5-6 feet forward.
If you want to get faster, you don’t necessarily need to focus on making your stride longer (though over time, if it lengtens, it can help a bit). You need to focus on your plant foot providing a strong base from which it can comfortably push off longer and longer distances.
This does not mean do a bunch of calf/leg presses. The physical strength of your legs and lower body are only part of it. The other, equally important part, is quick turnover aka cadence.
Quick steps not only mean you cover more distance per minute from, well, more steps… but quick steps does more to build momentum and velocity, and THAT as much as anything is what propels you several feet per step once you’re up to speed.
However, straining and going hard doesn’t help move you faster. The tightening up that results actually inhibits your ability to move quickly. To move your feet quicker, you also in a sense have to relax your lower body and move lighter, easier. The momentum builds from the rapid fire steps that result, rather than from the brute strength of your muscles.
You also need to make sure your weight is directed forward. Do not slam your feet into the ground, where your body’s energy is being directed down, rather than propeling you forward. Obviously, light steps are not being slammed into the ground. Contact with the ground should not be heavy.
Think of something a bit stronger than a tiptoe, where you’re trying to step as lightly as you can. Your foot connects with the ground, then pushes back to drive you and your body forward to the next step. This will take practice, and in time it will make more sense and feel easier.
This above all else is how you run fast, let alone faster than you’re running right now.
When you go to the track to run intervals or repeats, or you go out on the road or trail to do tempo work… you want to focus on economy, aka efficiency. Focus on turning your feet over as quickly and easily as you can, more than pushing yourself to grind out a given pace.
If you step as fast and quick as you can, you may be surprised at how easily the pace comes.