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Multisport Consultants / Race News  / What is the optimal time of day to run & talking about running stride rate – with MSC Head Coach Nick Croft
Nick Croft Competing in triathlon 70.3

What is the optimal time of day to run & talking about running stride rate – with MSC Head Coach Nick Croft

A few running related questions that I get asked frequently by athletes in my face to face coached squad or via distance and has been up for discussion at a Noosa training camp in the past as well.

‘Do you recommend run training at night or in the morning? I often run in the morning because of time commitments, but I actually always feel better in the evening when I run – so would prefer that’ 

The best time of day to run is a long-standing debate among runners and exercise experts.  It is actually not a coincidence that you do feel better running of an evening as the research indicates that the optimal time to exercise is when your body temperature is at its highest, which, for most people is the late afternoon, between 4 p.m. to 5 p.m.  Other studies confirm that exercisers perform better on physical performance tests between 4 and 7 p.m.

Like many athletes, fitting training time in around a busy work and family life find it most practical to run in the morning.  If that is your window and if you miss that window then perhaps that is the training gone for the day.  You may be more motivated to get that run in at the start of the day and adapting to the morning time slot can also happen over time plus if you are training for morning races (most are early starts) your body is used to running at that time. You’ll also get accustomed to the routine of wake up, drink, eat something light then run and come race day it will feel like normal so your runs in a morning are really practice for the race day routine.

Exercising in the evening may be better for the on the day training performance and higher oxygen uptake but can lead to not as good a sleep at night with a higher evening Heart rate then if you ran that morning.  It comes down to your preference and needs as far as time commitments.  Mixing up your runs may be the key.  Harder paced runs may be better for the afternoon for more blood flow and oxygenated muscles and longer runs for the mornings.  The main thing is to get your run in whether it be am or pm at the end of the day.

The next is to do with obtaining a faster and more efficient stride rate when running

It is quite common to hear from coaches in running and triathlon that most elite distance runners / triathletes (both men and women and talking age groupers also here) tend to stride at about the same rate: 180 or more steps per minute.  Less experienced runners often have a cadence of 160 to 170 steps per minute, which limits running performance – with the main drawback of a slower stride turnover is that the slower you take your steps, the longer you spend in the air, and the longer you’re in the air, the harder you hit the ground on landing. By increasing your stride rate, you not only improve your ability to maintain a faster pace more efficiently but may also reduce your risk of injury.

Experts have long suggested that in order to minimize over striding, lessen the impact on the legs, and have better forward momentum, you should always aim to hit that number.  But cadence does differ with pace.  Even the best distance runners and triathletes take fewer steps per minute when they run at slower speeds.  Your easy pace can differ by up to 15-20 steps per minute.  You will notice more efficient runners more upright and even seemingly jogging on the spot more so when they are running slower – but still with relatively fast leg turnover.

To find out what your cadence for your various training speeds is get on a treadmill.  Warm-up gradually over 10-15min then increase the speed by one minute per km until you’re at 5-Km race pace.  As you reach each training pace (easy recovery /10k / 5k, tempo, etc.), give yourself a minute or so to adjust to the speed, then count your steps for 30 seconds. Multiply by two, record the number, then accelerate to your next pace. You should see that as your speed increases, your cadence increases and you slight slightly further forward of you center of gravity.  You can also do this on the track using intervals of 800m.

One of the easiest ways to quicken your step is to run with a metronome to time your stride rate to.  Alternately you can just count or 15 or 30 second period every so often during your runs.  It will take time to break out your old habits so don’t expect it in just a few runs but you will find a new focus for every run working on your shorter more rapid stride rate.   Many distance runners do not train to improve leg turnover but below is an introduction to including a drill to add variety to your training to help increase your stride rate.

Striders are accelerations of about 70 to 100+ meters and are the classic workout to improve leg turnover. After a few of these workouts, a faster stride rate will feel more natural and take less effort to maintain.  A training session can consist 8 to 12 of these. Warming up well prior. You can also work these into a series of dynamic stretch and other run drills pre main set to ensure a total warm up and the legs are primed for a specific interval set.   Rest for at least 60sec between these or walk back recovery if want to start and run I the one direction.

The main things with these short distance striders is to accelerate smoothly up to full speed (not sprinting), and then hold without over working it. Because your arms and legs move in sync, you may find that you can increase your leg cadence by increasing the tempo of your arms. Focus on moving your legs and arms slightly faster, but not straining. To increase your cadence, it often helps to shorten your stride slightly and concentrate on bringing your foot down quickly with each step. After a few sessions, you will find that you can achieve faster leg turnover without shortening your stride.

Striders not only increase your stride rate, they also lead to improved running technique. Many distance runners have sloppy running form such as tension in the arms and shoulders, over striding or not getting power out of their glute muscles. Striders are an excellent way to improve running technique because running fast accentuates style flaws. Striders train you to run fast but relaxed, while focusing on good running form. To improve your running technique, focus on one or two aspects of good running form during each strider.

You will progress steadily by doing one or two leg turnover workouts each week, and striders can be included in your training program year-round.