Lets say you have two identical bicycles – one with treaded mountain bike tires and the other with smooth road bike tires. Which bike would you rather ride on the roads? Well, the easiest would be the one with road tires and here’s why - road tires will have less resistance meaning you’ll get further with each pedal. Basically you’ll be more efficient on a bike with road tires and therefore will be able to achieve higher speeds with less energy.
Now what do bicycle tires have to do with running? Similar to the road tires the more efficient your running stride is the less resistance and energy will be needed at any given pace and as a result that pace will feel easier. This is what’s call running economy – “the physiological and biomechanical factors that contribute to running performance, and is measured to quantify energy utilization while running at an aerobic intensity.” The more efficient you are the less energy you spend.
How can I get better running economy? There are a few ways to upgrade your running economy; adding mileage, running fast and/or include strength and plyometric exercises. Perhaps the quickest and easiest way is to include some short bursts of speed training on regular basis.
This becomes particularly important for anyone training for 10 miles and up. What happens to most adult runners is they get stuck in a routine of always training for the longer races, 10 miles and up, doing very little true speed work.
Here’s a workout that won’t take more then 10 minutes and if done on a regular basis will positively affect your running economy.
The workout: At the end of a run include a few short pickups at a pace anywhere from your 5k to mile race pace. If you don’t know your 5k pace, these shouldn’t be run all out but run at what I call a “comfortably fast” pace. Structure these short pickups as a fartlek (include link to definition) during the last 10 minutes of your run. For example, with 10 minute left in your run, run 15 seconds fast followed by 45 seconds easy and repeat this 4 to 10 times depending on your ability. As you get comfortable you can start to increase the time you’re running fast. For example 20 seconds fast followed by 40 seconds easy.
Beginners – Do 4 x 15 seconds fast followed by 45 seconds easy jog. Each week add one more topping out a total of 8.
Intermediates – Do 6 x 15 seconds fast followed by 45 seconds easy jog. Each week add one more topping out a total of 10.
Advanced – Do 8 x 15 seconds fast followed by 45 seconds easy jog. After a few weeks look to increase the fast portion to 20 seconds followed by 40 seconds easy.
When to Include: The ideal time to do these will be the day before a hard workout or long run. This may seem counterintuitive to do the day before a hard workout or long run however this is the best time to do these. These are short enough that you should felt tired or sore from them. If you find you’re sore or tired the following day you went to hard. Try backing off a bit next time.