Like a lot of people, I’ve seen my running times slow over the years. (My PRs for a mile and a 400 meter sprint are from 2013 and 2012, respectively.) My number of strides per minute, though, (right + left) has remained the same: 184. I suspected that my stride length had diminished, though it didn’t seem any different to me.
A few weeks ago, I met with Chris Hinshaw, an expert running coach who works with CrossFit athletes on endurance. He confirmed my suspicions, and noted that studies have shown that while stride rate often remains the same after 40, stride length decreases by 40 percent. Trying to compensate for a decrease in stride length by increasing stride rate is usually ineffective.
While the factors that go into this slowing are complex, the big culprit (according to a study of masters athletes) seems to be a loss in muscle mass, which causes the contact time between the foot and ground to increase, and the lift-off to be less explosive. Less air, less speed.
The good news? There’s a way to improve. Chris prescribed a workout progression, a combination of sled pull and push sprints, flat sprints, and hill sprints, all done at 95 to 100% effort. These, he wrote me, “will help to improve ground force, reduce ground contact time, increase power output, fast twitch muscle fiber recruitment, [central nervous system] efficiency, and range of motion.”
I’ve completed three of the workouts, and I can feel the effort from my glutes down through my Achilles. As I run, I envision my stride opening up, gobbling up the yards. These workouts hold the potential to not only make me faster for the Games, but keep me running strong for years to come.