How to Incorporate Strides into Your Running Routine
Striking out on your own after participating in structured school running teams can be scary for some, but exciting for others. I was definitely part of that second camp when I finished my last collegiate race. I realized I’d get to call the shots, which meant I could cut out anything I thought was unnecessary. The first thing to go were strides, which you might also know as striders, pick-ups, or build-ups.
I’d never particularly enjoyed doing strides and questioned whether they really did anything. Boy, was I wrong! I realized something was off during a 400-meter interval workout one day. I just couldn’t shift into a faster gear at the end of the intervals. It was almost like my muscles had forgotten how to do it.
I began to wonder if I should start doing strides again, so I tested it out. I began to do strides at the end of my easy runs about three days per week. Sure enough, my interval sessions got much better. Lesson learned. Strides make a difference.
But what exactly is going on here? As simple and silly as it sounds, practicing running fast gets your body accustomed to going fast. If you never increase your pace during training, it’s pretty difficult to all of a sudden make it happen during a track workout or race.
There are more benefits to running strides, too. They can help improve your mechanics, which may lead to an overall increase in speed. You can also use strides to loosen up stiff legs or to prime your body for a race.
How to Run Strides
The first thing I do is pick a stretch of sidewalk or flat grass that’s somewhere between 60 and 100 meters long. I spend the first 25 percent of that distance building up to the fastest speed I can run with good form, maintain it for 50 percent of the distance, then decelerate for the remaining 25 percent. You can either walk or jog the same distance to recover between strides.
My method is clearly pretty loose. I like to be flexible so I don’t have to worry about the exact distance or location. If you’re a stride newbie, you might consider taking a peek at this guide from Runner’s World.
Now let’s talk about some of the different ways I work strides into my routine. You can try all of these or just pick a few methods to suit your needs. As for how many to do, that’s up to you. I like to stick with 4 but you can go up to 8.
1. After an easy run
Adding strides to the end of easy runs is usually how I get started when I’m beginning to prepare for another race or just feel ready to start ramping up training. After I’m finished with my run, I’ll walk a couple of blocks to catch my breath and find an uninterrupted stretch of sidewalk. I try to make these strides especially speedy since they simulate the same feeling you have at the end of a race.
2. Before a race
I like doing strides before a race for two reasons. First, as I mentioned above, doing strides just before a race gets your body ready for the impending rigorous effort. Engaging your fast-twitch muscles signals to your body that it’s time to move.
The second reason I like doing strides before the gun goes off is really just to calm pre-race nerves. It’s easy to waste a lot of energy bouncing around or worrying. Strides keep me focused.
3. At the beginning of a challenging workout
The reasons for completing strides prior to a challenging workout are basically the same as doing them before a race. The real motivation for me, though, is to help simulate that race-day feeling. Doing strides as part of my routine prior to any rigorous effort makes race days feel less ominous.
4. In the middle of a longer run
Some days just feel a little, well, blah. Tossing some strides into the middle of a long, relatively easy run can help shake things up. I typically wait until I’ve run at least 20 minutes before starting. I’ll do 4 to 6 strides separated by about 90 seconds of easy running. I sometimes use this method a few days prior to a race as well.