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How I Dramatically Improved My Running Pace Overnight

Running Faster, sort of like DC's The FlashYes, the title is true.  One day I was slogging along at 12 to 13-minute paces.  Then suddenly, I’m cranking out 9 to 10-minute paces!  It’s pretty exciting, and best of all, it’s actually easier to run faster!

Tonight I cranked out a 9:42 pace, versus a month ago, at the same distance, I struggled to manage a 13:03 pace for 3 miles.

So how did I dramatically improve my pace?  Sort of by accident, because I was forced to change my cadence.  Let me explain.


I’ve been running for a few years, and my development has been slow, for one reason or another.  But all these years, I was really running.  Pumping my legs, taking long, “gazelle-like” strides.  (Or so I thought that’s how it looked.)  It felt like I was running.

But I was sticking my forward foot way out there, landing on my heel, then pulling through and kicking off.  Actually, as I reflect back on it, I was generating speed via pulling through each step.

But as I was returning to running recently, I noticed that my knees were bugging me a bit.

Coincidentally, over the last few months, I just happened to have attended a few running form clinics.  In these clinics I learned that an optimal cadence was around three steps per second, and, heel striking while running, is effectively like hitting the micro-brakes with every step.

Even though I did not immediately take advantage of this information, it was in my head.

Then, jumping forward to present day.  My knees were starting to bug me and I wasn’t getting any faster.  So I changed up my approach to how I ran so I could land lighter on my feet and take the stress off my knees.  (That was the intent)

I started to take shorter, quicker strides and at the same time, tried to be as smooth as possible.  (Quicker steps is akin to using higher RPM riding your bikes.  It provides for quicker muscle recovery.)

In my mind, the first time I went out, I was going to take it very slow & mellow.  I was placing my feet under me and kicking back with longer strides than I had been, trying to match up to that three-step-per-second thing.  This forced me to take those smaller, quicker steps.

To create shorter strides, I focused on putting my foot down right below my knee or underneath my hips.  Something Laszlo Tabori used to yell at me about.  (I trained under him for about a year, many moons ago.)  And just take shorter strides.

It was a two mile run.  No ego, just running.  And it was the fastest I had ever paced that distance.  And I totally did not get it.  I was breathing easy and going, what I thought, was slow.

And ever since then, I’ve been setting PR after PR, with almost every run.  Even my longer runs.  It’s crazy.

But taking shorter, quicker steps trying to hit the ground 3 times a second, seemed to also give me a flat, or mid-foot strike landing.  Getting my feet on the ground more often helped my stamina stay up. My breathing while running was much easier and it all seems like it’s easier to PR.

Or, after changing to proper running technique, I was able to effectively execute more efficiently.


{ 2 comments… add one }

  • Steven February 15, 2014, 9:10 pm

    I enjoyed reading this blog. It reminds me of me for several reasons. First of all, I’ve been running regularly for almost 7 years. Historically, my pace improvements have always been sudden as opposed to gradual. October 2009 comes to mind because I remember very clearly how I literally transformed from 8:00/mi avg to 7:30/mi avg within a week! My father, a seasoned runner who started back in the 70′s, thought for sure I was gonna burn out since I was “trying to get a PR every run”. But I insisted that I really wasn’t trying that hard, times that seemed really hard to attain were becoming the norm. The trick: watching Ryan Hall’s form and attitude as he runs like a champ. So I adopted some of his techniques into my form similarly to how you altered your running style. Granted, a 30 sec/mi difference doesn’t seem to be all that significant at first glance. However, by that time I had already been running for quite some time and 8:00-8:15/mi was accepted as the norm for the majority of the two years preceding October 2009. I’ve also had other similar spurts of improvement since then. I remember having a 15 sec/mi improvement toward the end of 2011 and beginning of 2012 and even seem to be experiencing another one of these episodes right now! I moved to Florida last summer and also had both a groin strain and calf strain back to back last year, and my pace dramatically slowed as a result of the unfamiliar heat/humidity and the injuries. But this past week I have been all the sudden recording paces not seen since last summer! Point is, some runners experience gradual improvement while others can enjoy that feeling of “instant gratification” every now and then.

  • Bruce April 6, 2014, 12:05 am

    Steven, I hear ya! Improvements are fun, and they also freak me out, wondering when I’ll plateau. Just recently I bought some new shoes and have been busting out all kinds of Personal Records (PRs). It’s fun and nerve wracking. And I SHOULD go have my L knee looked at, but afraid to ruin my recent spate of improvements. Hey, it’s either going to fail, then I get it fixed, or I choose to… either way, I’ll probably lost my gains I’ve made.

    Thanks for coming by!

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