A hard effort in training doesn’t always have to be a session of repeats on the track.
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Speed training comes in a number of forms, some of which are more simple than others.
Strides are short accelerations that last only 10 to 30 seconds yet are a great way to develop speed while also improving your running form and efficiency. Strides are also an ideal way to enhance the brain’s ability to efficiently send a message to the muscles to recruit muscle fibres to contract and relax (i.e. to run fast faster).
Many coaches advocate adding strides to the end of easier runs at the point when you’re already just a little bit tired. This will force you to pay particular attention to your form. You can either complete the strides within the last few kilometers of your run or do them separately after the run is done, and preferably on a softer surface like a track or grass field. You could start by adding six 20 to 30 second strides near the end of one or two easy runs each week and then gradually build up to 10 to 12 strides over the course of a few weeks.
Strides shouldn’t be all-out efforts or total sprints. Instead, you should accelerate to a very quick speed (about 5K pace or faster) in the first half of the stride then hold that pace for several seconds before slowing back down to a walk or jog. Take about a minute to fully recover and catch your breath between each stride by walking or jogging slowly.
Strides are also a useful tool before beginning any workout. Complete four to six strides before your usual interval or tempo workout in order to prepare the body for the stress of running fast. These will help to increase your heart rate and pump more blood to the working muscles. You should also consider adding strides before a shorter race like a 5K or 10K.
Aim to add strides to one or two of your weekly easy runs plus before any hard workout or race. Over several weeks and months, the time doing strides will really add up and should pay off with faster and more efficient running.