During these times of self led runs and workouts you may have noticed a drop in your speed of long runs and workouts. You may be attributing this reduction in speed to a loss of motivation without the support structure of group workouts and races. However there may be a different reason for your loss of speed; reduced leg power from fewer strength and running drill workouts. Is your running technique sliding and you are shuffling more? A one percent decline in stride length can lead to a 20 second slower 5km and two percent leads to a 40 second slower 5km. As runners we find it easier to go for another easy 10km run rather than focusing more strength and stretching.
Running technique is closely related to muscular strength. Over time master runners (over the age of 35) find muscular strength declines which has an impact on their running technique, stride power, and stride length. The good news is that you can reverse the effects of aging by adding or increasing your strength training; especially “run specific strength training”.
Running speed is reduced as a runner ages. Video analysis of a cross section of different age groups of runners has shown that the primary cause is reduced strength and flexibility. Cadence, the number of steps per minute, is maintained by master’s runners but the stride length is reduced. Running drills, strength exercises, and flexibility can counter this and help to maintain speed over the years. However, greater emphasis is needed on strength work with aging.
For example, with aging, the foot does not power off from the ground as fast as in previous years, and more time is spent on the ground which reduces your pace. As an anti-aging measure, double leg hops and feet strengthening exercises will improve power and improve pace.
The decline in stride length is also caused by a loss of range of motion of ankles, knees and hips. Stride length can decline by 40 percent over time due to a loss of range of motion. There are several hip flexibility stretches, such as the runners lunge, that can improve your range of motion. Knee flexing is improved through stronger hamstring, quadriceps and hip flexors. A (high knees) and B (high knees with foot extension) running drills are especially effective in improving knee flexion. Rolling will help loosen tight quadricep muscles and C (back leg lift kicks) running drills allow for better knee flexion and toe off.
You can increase speed with anti-shuffling exercises. You can concentrate on your running technique to improve your stride power. Run tall, push your hips forward and use your glutes more as you toe off. How many runners have been injured in the knee, I-T band, hips, back and have been told they have weak glutes? Lunges and elastic band exercises improve glute strength.
How many strength, running technique, and flexibility exercises sessions per week do you need? All ages will improve,but it’s clear that over time especially after age 35 there are great benefits. You should work on strength and flexibility at least two times per week. You can find the time for running drills by adding them to your pre-workout warm-up or after work-out warm-down.
If you are following the three run per week program what is more valuable to your running speed? Another easy 10km to 15km run, or, 45 minutes of strength and flexibility to improve your stride? As runners we find it convenient to go out for another easy pace run (an easy paced run is defined as, marathon pace plus 20 seconds per km of slower) than strength training, running drills, stretching and range of motion. What will help you improve and maintain your paces the most, and keep you injury free?