Every day, kids come home from track practice with instructions to lengthen their stride.
Perhaps they are tired on the home stretch of a tough race, or perhaps their coach has a vision of a long-legged world class distance runner that seems at odds with the person trying to run in front of them.
Many well meaning parents encourage these kids (or often themselves) to take longer strides in order to cover more ground. Makes sense, right?
Two things are true about taking long strides. When in the air, you're slowing down. Unless encountering an enormous gust of wind, once you leave terra firma, the force you just generated will be dissipating, and quickly.
Second, longer strides equal harder landings. In addition to the stresses this causes on your joints and muscles, big landings also make it hard to take off again quickly. Which is a fundamental need for an athlete trying to get from point A to point B.
What looks like long strides on an Olympic miler, when timed, are actually more powerful strides occurring at a fairly rapid rate.
Increasing the cadence or stride rate, means you will have less stressful landings, more pushes off the ground (where the pace is generated), and typically, a more efficient body position, stretching from your ankle to your shoulders without big bends or angles. Your body will have an easier time staying directly over your feet, instead of behind your foot strike as if often the case with long, bounding strides.
When you're tired or need to reset with a more efficient stride, spend 60 seconds consciously trying to create a quicker rhythm in with your mental metronome. Pick a fast paced song on the ipod if the rhythm change will help. With practice, you may not always be able to maintain the quicker cadence throughout an entire run, but you will at least have practice for the times when you want to speed up or kick for the finish line.
Coach Dena Evans leads the Silicon Valley-based Strava Track Club.