A couple of weeks back, Rich posted a blog entry about HR (Heart Rate) zones, and calculating your MHR (Maximum Heart Rate) using generic formulae that will be pretty accurate for many folks.
However, never one for being average, these calculated methods have typically been way off the mark for me.
In response to that post I commented about the fact that I seem to have a naturally fast HR, and even slow to medium paces would see me in zone 4, finding it nearly impossible to exercise in zone 3 or below (discounting walking).
I’d kind of resigned myself to this being just a part of my genetic make-up.
Well, since then, in an effort to increase my pace, I decided to focus on my running efficiency.
Like most people, I’ve never been taught how to run ‘correctly’.
You just lace up your shoes and leg it right? Apparently there’s more to it than that!
Having a high aerobic capacity helps (and at least I’m no longer crippling myself in this respect by smoking!) but is for the main part inherently limited by your genetic make-up.
Paula Radcliffe measured her VO2 max over a period of five years, and it was observed that she exhibited an 8% decline in her VO2 max. Yet over the same period her pace improved (to the extent of improving her 3000m time by 46 seconds!!). How did she manage that?!
Well, all becomes clear once you learn that over the same period, she became over 10% more efficient in her running.
As I understand, the two most important factors are to reduce wasted energy through vertical movement, and to reduce braking forces exhibited during the foot strike.
This analysis of 3 runners from the 2008 NY City Marathon is pretty insightful.
I was surprised to see such differences between these elite level athletes.
This reinforces how Paula Radcliffe has been able to become a faster running despite her aerobic capacity declining.
So, back to me…..apparently (according to studies conducted by folks like Jack Daniels (not of whiskey fame) for distance running, the optimum strike rate / cadence for maximal efficiency is around 90 paces per minute.
Not yet having a foot pod for my new Garmin FR610 (mini review to come), I had no idea what my cadence typically is, but I knew that it wasn’t near that optimal figure of 90. Turns out (just from counting) it was typically between 70 and 75.
So on the last couple of runs, I’ve tried to keep a higher cadence.
I haven’t really pushed for increased pace, as these have been (for me at least) fairly long runs of between 8 and 10 miles. Yet despite that, my pace has increased. But most notably, it’s been easier to maintain that improved pace.
Instead of running 12 minute / mile pace at around 160 bpm, yesterdays run averaged 9.42 minute / mile pace with my HR average being 158: http://www.endomondo.com/workouts/25576416.
I’m pretty chuffed with that!
Another benefit of efficient running style is reduced risk of injury – when you’re racking up the miles this is an extremely important consideration – next year I’m looking to do my first half marathon, and later on a full marathon – the last thing I want is to train for weeks only to be unable to compete due to injury….so I’m going to continue to work on running the right way. Of course it’s no guarantee of remaining injury free, but anything we can do to improve our chances has got to be worth trying, especially with the associated performance benefits.
For a funny video on (in)efficient running styles check out this recent blog post from Rich