Secret runners’ business: How efficient are you?

Secret runners’ business: How efficient are you?

One of the hallmarks of effective leadership is efficiency. The speed and quality at which you execute your own work, combined with the ability to enhance the performance of others, makes for a potentate management style. Runners are often looking for efficiency gains of their own: two main areas to work on are related to developing a bigger engine/fuel injection system and a stronger, more dynamic chassis. You have to work on both aspects because there’s a limit to how fast you can make Toyota Corolla go even if you kit it out with a Porsche 911 engine.

The endurance running pathway is one training tool that can be used to improve an athlete’s performance. Long, slow distance running was the hallmark of the coaching philosophy of the great Arthur Lydiard. He understood that to increase the athletic performance of his runners their bodies needed time to gradually adapt. Stronger heart muscles are able to pump more blood for every beat and denser capilliarisation, or “better plumbing”, can take more oxygen-rich blood deeper into the working muscles. This process takes years of patient and consistent training and is the foundation of most distance running programs the world over.

Often athletes try and short cut this process through altitude training, but this has a limited impact because it mainly increases the ability of the blood to transport oxygen. Unless you’ve done the years of hard work to build up the plumbing or fuel injection system, that oxygen-rich blood can’t reach the working muscles as well as it can for the conditioned athlete. Think again of putting richer fuel in the family runabout. It helps a little, but not a lot.

Working on your running chassis and mechanics is the other side of the efficiency equation. Stronger muscles and tendons allow you to use more free energy during running. However, just getting stronger won’t necessarily bring you the improvements you’ve been searching for. You need to work on your co-ordination to maximise the impact.

Running faster on a regular basis is the perfect way to do this. Well-conditioned professional athletes can generally get away with putting in solid blocks of base running without doing too much speed work until they approach the racing season. However, even they will do some run-throughs or strides to keep the legs ticking over during this period of relatively slower, high-volume training. For the rest of us with less than perfect biomechanics, some well thought-out speed work should be a feature of our training throughout most of the year.

To run faster you have to either increase your stride rate or stride length. For the best result you should practise doing both during speed work. If you only focus on turning your legs over faster you will not be able to effectively tap into the free energy on offer from loading the muscles and tendons. If you’ve ever done some running with an elite athlete (or even someone who’s just much more talented than you) you will get a feel for what I’m talking about.

When I run with my coaching partner Mark I can hear the difference:  when we run easy our stride rate is relatively similar, but when I run faster I can hear that Mark’s cadence doesn’t increase anywhere nearly as rapidly as mine. So while I huff and puff with legs turning over like the Road Runner, he’s still effectively jogging in maybe third gear at most.

The good news is that it is possible to improve and your ability to carry out controlled speed work at a slightly faster pace at a given effort is a good sign your mechanics and strength are headed in the right direction.


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