March 18, 2015 by scratchtype1
Some point during a tougher stretch of running that featured a wind trying to knock me over and backwards, going uphill to boot, I crossed over 100 miles of running this month. That by itself isn’t all that noteworthy to me anymore, although 20 months ago I think I had only ever had 2 or 3 months where I had run more than 100 miles. Nor is it the fastest that I’ve reached 100 miles in a month.
Most important about it is that this makes the 6th straight month that I’ve run more than 100 miles. I’ve got a good 6 month stretch of very consistent running. I’ve only had 1 or 2 weeks where I only ran 3 times and assuming I run at least a few miles tomorrow, I will have 26 straight weeks of at least 20 miles. The low mileage week in that time was the week after the half-marathon in Philly.
I’m definitely running faster than ever now. Most of the running I do is easy, with the only exception being sometimes when the legs are feeling really good, I let them decide the pace for some time and put in some faster miles. Well another exception is I try to do some hill sprint reps every week, but I’ve missed out on them some over the winter because I don’t like much the walking around between reps when it’s cold, windy, wet or somehow miserable. Also on hill sprint days I follow those up with some reps of 20 second sprints. That’s my speedwork, along with the 3 times this winter that I got a little crazy during longer easy runs and laid down a sub 8 minute mile.
I’m fairly sure that one huge area of improvement is that the glutes are doing a lot more work than they did in the past. Often now when I run, I can check through how the body parts feel and I can feel that sensation of the glutes pushing me along. I suspect that the hill sprints helped a lot with that. It’s important to understand the idea of specificity of training. Sometimes you’ll see people saying they improved their running speed with exercises like deadlifts, squats, kettlebell swings, etc. And that may work for some, work for those who already have decent enough neuromuscular coordination in their running stride that their glutes can take advantage of that strength. On the other hand, a couple of times in the past I’ve done deadlifting and worked my way up to where I was able to lift more than 2 times my own bodyweight. That’s not spectacular or anything, but it’s reasonably strong. You’d be hard pressed to go out randomly selecting people and finding all that many who could pull more than a 2x bodyweight deadlift.
But that strength didn’t transfer over to my running stride, because my glutes weren’t doing the majority of the work. They just rode along on the back of me while my quads and hip flexors handled much of the load. Because of that, I was miserably slow. Because of this, I very much think now that if I were to be asked to give advice to someone is a slow sort of runner, someone who sits at a desk job, someone who wonders how is it some people can easily run sub 10 minute miles for nearly all their miles, that that person needs to do hill sprints to build running strength in the glutes.
If you do that, along with running consistently week after week, you will get faster. This morning I was just amazed some when I heard the Garmin beep after the first mile and show 9:14 for that particular mile. It was 9:14 with some tough wind and with me being mindful to keep things easy. A year ago, that same first mile was often up somewhere around 9:50 to 10 minutes per mile.
Of course, I shouldn’t forget to mention that I feel barefoot running has been part of it. Barefoot running was a key early step to improvement because it taught me to run with a shorter but quicker stride. Instead of reaching out with my leg and foot, the leg bends and the foot lands closer to being underneath my body. That’s key because if there is one thing about the deadlift, you don’t do it by leaning back, you want your heels right underneath the hips so the glutes can pull properly. That’s why running shoes can interfere with a person learning how to run with good form. The padded sole makes it feel like you can run by reaching forward with your feet, but in doing so, you place the glutes in a poor position to drive you along while running. It’s for that reason I think it would be good if more people considered doing at least some barefoot training, it may be the best and quickest teacher towards good running stride. Of course, you need to be careful if you’re trying to do undo years of compromised movement patterns, but it can be done. Just patience, consideration, lots of miles and hill sprints, and one day you find yourself clicking off easy miles and those easy miles are the pace that used to kill you when racing a 5K.