Does Good Form Make You a Faster Runner?
The definition of slow is subjective, of course. But regardless of your pace as a runner, you have a self-defined “slow” speed and it’s usually something you are trying to get away from. This is probably more common for folks that define themselves as slow. And one runner’s slow is another runners PR so let’s all keep that in mind.
I had a 4 x 800 session on my schedule the other day and instead of setting up my Garmin to
beep yell at me when I was running to slow, I decided to say “Fuck you pace!” and run each 800 with a new form focus. I had just taught a class on it (unplanned, of course!) so it was time to practice what I teach/taught and see if my results were consistent with my expectations.
You will note the time of day and that meant HOT SUN. But it was a busy Sunday and I knew that if I didn’t run it then, I wasn’t going to run it at all. So off I went. Heat is a factor in my running. Especially during speed work and I’ll point out where it kicks in.
First lap is my warm up. I decided to run around a part of town that I know is just shy of an 800. It’s flat and 1/2 of it is shady during certain parts of the day. Not at this hour! But it gave me a good target for my recovery. My warm up pace is determined by feel and cadence. I just want to be relaxed with a nice and quick turn over. My heart rate will usually spike to nearly the highest it will be during the first quarter mile of my warm up. (analyze that!)
Lap 2: .5 mile (ish) — Micro-focus
I ran with my music. I usually don’t but when I need to turn off the “I suck” voice in my head I use my tunes. During this 800 I just tried to think about all the different things I would be focusing on. Cadence…did I want to limit it? Pelvic tuck. Light knees, track straight, heel turn over, shoulders down. Just think about the differences between them all and how they tie together. I didn’t look at my pace or my cadence. And I didn’t look at my watch to see how much further I had to run. I knew when to stop. That’s the joy of running on a track or a known path. Recovery was a walking recovery in a patch of shade until my HR settled to 120bpm.
- Pace: 10:51 min/mile
- Avg. HR: 158 bpm / Max 164
- Avg. Cadence: 184
- Avg. Stride Length: .82 meters
- Time for recovery: 2:32
Lap 4: .5 mile (ish) — Cadence Focus
The song that happened to be playing when I was ready to run my 2nd 800 was REO Speedwagon, Roll With the Changes. Good tempo. It is actually a spot on 95 strides per minute! (Which is a high cadence of 190!) I flew! I just kept my right foot hitting on the down beat and bam! Away I went. In terms of perceived effort, I was pushing 90% there. I felt fast. But it felt hard. It was work. I didn’t feel efficient. My recovery was slower than the first 800, but not that long.
- Pace: 9:41 min/mile (this is wicked fast for me!)
- Avg. HR: 160 / Max 174
- Avg. Cadence: 190
- Avg. Stride Length: .87 meters
- Time for recovery: 2:35
Lap 6: .5 mile (ish) — Pelvic tuck
I’m guilty of not tucking my tail when I run. I get sloppy. The ass drags. It happens. This 800 felt efficient but slower than the cadence 800. It didn’t feel as hard. But I did feel like I was really focusing HARD to tuck my tail and my back was feeling it. I felt like I took that ball of hurt (that I seem to have somewhere in my body every time I run) and put it right in my lower back. Everything else felt fine! (Unusual) This was my slowest 800 and the easiest in terms of my perceived effort. My heart rate was pretty high though. And it took me much longer to recover back down to 120bpm.
- Pace: 10:19 min/mile
- Avg. HR: 160 bpm / Max 172
- Avg. Cadence: 186
- Avg. Stride Length: .84 meters
- Time for recovery: 2:10 (didn’t complete recovery here)
Lap 8: .5 mile (ish) — Balloons on the knees, heels up, shoulders down…breathe dammit!
Last 800! These went fast running them this way! This one I focused on having knees that drove me forward with giant hot air balloons with rocket boosters on them. I thought about the heel coming up nice and in the back…making me look like I was really fast. I thought about keeping the stupid shoulders down…down…DOWN. I never thought about pace or cadence. I didn’t care. It was the last 800.
I wanted to faint at the end of this one! But it wasn’t my fastest! And this is where the hot sun and humidity kick in. After each interval, it takes my heart longer and longer to recover back down to 120bpm. This one really pushed the limit for me. But not because I was super fast! Because my heart was tired and had been working hard! One of the ways to measure your cardio fitness is to see how long it takes your heart to recover. This is what the “Recovery Heart Rate” is on your Garmin. The bigger that number, the fitter your heart is! And honestly, isn’t that key? Maybe person X can run a 6 minute mile for a whole marathon. But if my heart recovers faster…who is fitter? Hmmmm…..? Another metric to learn about and understand!
- Pace: 9:42 min/mile
- Avg. HR: 167 bpm / Max 179
- Avg. Cadence: 182
- Avg. Stride Length: .91 meters
- Time for recovery: Unknown as I went right into my cool down jog…but I was hurting!
So what does all this tell me? Well, it tells me that I just did a wicked hard 4 x 800 speed session and I didn’t cringe. I didn’t “save something” on my 800 #2 because I knew I had 2 more to run. I didn’t dread the stupid beeping of my Garmin telling me to speed up! I have some interesting data to look at. My 2 fastest 800’s were the ones that hurt the most (expected). But look at the difference in the cadence! On 800 #2 I was a solid 190. On 800 #4 I was a slow 182. (comparatively) But look at the stride length between the two! My last 800 had an average stride length of nearly 3 feet per stride! Hot damn! My 2nd 800 was about 2.85 feet per stride. Almost 2 inches shorter. You may think that isn’t very much, but over the course of 13.1 mile or 26.2 miles it ADDS UP.
This is why I use my Garmin and all my gadgets when I run. Even if I’m not looking for a certain pace or distance, these tools will help me see exactly what was going on. And from this data I can plan my next track session and shift the order of what I focus on. If I do a cadence focus 800 last and fall apart, then I know the high cadence drill might be too high for me and bring it down a bit. I can also look at stride length and see if trying to increase my length is better for my NATURAL running style. Or maybe not! All the data I can gather…Heart Rate, cadence, distance, pace, stride length, temperature, etc…will help me focus on what makes me a more efficient and happier runner. Screw Pace. I’m not going to get faster until I get more comfortable!
Tools used: Garmin 910XT, Mio Link Heart Rate Monitor, Garmin Foot Pod, Newton Gravity