-- Marathon Running Information, Coaching and Advice from Coach Joe English

Lessons from Elite Track and Field Runners #running

running-advice-bugAs we gear up for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, the fastest American runners are preparing to take on the world’s best competitors. At this past weekend’s USA Track & Field Indoor Championships, I got a glimpse of just how good, and how very fast, some of our talented American athletes are. Here are four ways they got so fast – and how you can boost your speed, too:

1. Build muscle.

Photo: Joe English, (C) 2016

Photo: Joe English, (C) 2016

The first thing you may notice about track and field athletes is that most look extremely strong and lean. You might think this is because they have to wear those tiny bun-hugging shorts; but in reality, their strength leads to their speed. A stronger body means more power. Sprinters, for instance, grip the track with spikes in the toes of their shoes, which pulls their front legs backward. Meanwhile, their back legs push their bodies into the air, making them literally leap forward. The greater the strength in their legs and cores, the more powerful these motions become. Generating more power means they go further with each step.

Coach Joe’s get quick tip: To make your legs and core muscles stronger, incorporate strength workouts – think weighted exercises, classes like CrossFit or hill running – into your running routine one to two times each week. By augmenting your runs with exercise to make your muscles stronger, you’ll be a more powerful machine when it comes time to push harder.

2. Quicken your cadence.

When you watch runners on a track, you may immediately notice how quickly they turn over their feet. In fact, most track athletes do so at almost exactly the same rate. However, unlike the cartoon character “The Roadrunner,” these runners’ legs don’t just disappear into a blur of dusty circles. That’s because there’s a limit to how quickly we as human beings can physically turn over our feet. High-level track and field runners tend to run at that limit. Almost all of the rest of us, meanwhile, could stand to improve in this area.

Coach Joe’s get quick tip: Focus on picking up the pace of your foot turnover during one to two runs per week. In order to quicken your cadence, you’ll need to shorten your stride a little – especially at first. Count your steps in a normal-paced run and focus on boosting that number when you’re running foot turnover drills. By increasing your cadence just a bit, you’ll improve your running speed quite dramatically.

3. Lengthen your stride.

After you look at the speed of track runners’ foot turnover, you’ll next notice that they also take very long strides. The combination of taking long steps and taking each step quickly is a recipe for blinding speed. But you can’t just will yourself to increase your stride length. Doing so takes more muscular strength because your leg muscles have to be stronger to support your body when your legs are extended in front of you. The leg is a lever and, as the lever becomes longer, it takes more strength to support it and pull against it. So, once again, you’ll need to be strong to lengthen your stride.

Coach Joe’s get quick tip: Once or twice a week, usually during the same workout you do your foot-quickening drills, work to increase your stride. To do this, you’ll need to slow down your foot turnover and work on extending your front foot out and pulling it back smoothly and powerfully. Stair-climbing is also a good way to increase the leg strength necessary for a long and powerful stride.

4. Practice racing.

Track and field athletes race a lot in tight groups. Not only does the sport help develop optimal foot turnover and stride length, it also builds skills as a competitor. Races on tracks also tend to cover shorter distances, so recovery is relatively quick, allowing track runners to get lots of practice and race more frequently than longer-distance runners.

Coach Joe’s get-quick tip: Join a running group that works out on a track one or more times a week. Whether racing or doing speed work together, running on the track with other runners will push you to quicken your cadence and ultimately lengthen your stride.

Working on this combination of strength, quickness and stride length will improve your running speed over time. If you add in racing on the track, you’ll not only learn from track athletes – you may actually become one yourself.

Coach Joe English, Portland Oregon, USA and RUN Time

First published at US News and World Report:


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