- This was printed in June of 2015 in The Madera Tribune, a newspaper in Madera, California. This was the 106th installment of my weekly column, Mind Over Miles.
It’s the question that I get asked most often regarding running: how do I get
I have read dozens of articles over the years in Runner’s World magazine
alone on the topic, including “How to run faster”, “Two training techniques
to get faster” and the most recent “Three ways to get faster in a single
I even offered these four steps to running faster in a January column: Make
your hard training days harder, make your easy training days easier,
incorporate surprise speed work during moderate-paced or long runs, and
Something happened last week that made me revisit the topic. A woman
— who had a baby just three months ago — joined our running team and
left every last one of us in her dust.
The mom of two, a professor in her late 30s, recently moved to Fresno and
is a member of the San Francisco-based Impala Racing Team, an all-
women’s elite group that competes in track, cross country, road and trail
A moderate training pace for “Impala” is easily faster than 7 minutes per
mile, which leaves me and even the fastest men on our team trailing
behind her. When she cranks it up a notch for speed work, she disappears
from our view.
I am thoroughly excited to have someone to chase, because I know it’ll
only make me faster as I try to shorten the gap between us.
In addition to my tips from earlier this year, I’m going to incorporate specific
exercises to improve my cadence and stride length. Here’s my plan:
1. Increase cadence
Speed is a combination of cadence (how often your feet hit the ground)
and stride length, according to experts. To get faster, a runner must
increase one or both.
The average runner has a cadence of 150 to 170, meaning they take that
many steps per minute. Elite runners touch the ground 180 times or more
To determine your cadence, count the number of times your right foot hits
the ground during a 30-second run. For example, an elite runner might
count 45. Double it (90) figure out how many times the right foot would
touch the ground per minute, then double that (180) to account for the left
My nifty Garmin Forerunner 920XT GPS watch measures my cadence for
me — usually 175 steps per minute.
To increase one’s cadence, practice makes perfect. Experts recommend
running for 30-second intervals at the goal cadence, focusing solely on
quick leg turnover. Increase the number and length of intervals, and
gradually your normal cadence will speed up to your goal cadence.
2. Increase stride length
I’m 5-foot-2 and have short-ish legs, but I can still increase the length of
my stride, or the equivalent of two step lengths.
Stride length isn’t just picked up in front of you, experts say, but also in how
far your legs kick back behind you. Reaching your legs forward and
landing in front of your center of balance can actually cause injury.
So how do you lengthen your stride? Put as much ground behind you while
“in flight,” or when both feet are off the floor.
To “fly” farther, you need to increase the explosive strength that will propel
you forward (not upward), while decreasing the amount of time your foot
spends on the ground with each strike.
3. Incorporate explosive strength drills
Working on explosive strength doesn’t just come from running, but from
conditioning muscles and tendons through drills to make them more
I plan to start with 10 minutes of jumping, squatting and skipping exercises
two days a week to get my legs ready for a longer stride length and faster
See my “explosive strength workout” at right, but take caution; trying these
moves before you’re in good condition can cause injury.
Farin Montanez is a 27-year-old ultramarathoner and mom of two who runs
for the San Joaquin Running Team. With her column she hopes to inspire
others to lead healthy, active lifestyles. She can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Instagram @mind_over_miles.
Explosive Strength Workout
10 jump squats: Start in a squat position, jump as high as you can, both
feet coming off of the ground, then land with knees soft and lower quickly
into another squat for one rep.
One minute of high skips: Skip, focusing on propelling yourself upward.
One minute of distance skips: Skip, focusing on propelling yourself
One minute of speed squats: Squat so that thighs are parallel to the
ground and back is straight, then stand, squeezing glutes. Repeat as
quickly as possible while maintaining form.
One minute of speed calf raises: Stand on a step a few inches high, on the
balls of the feet. Raise up onto toes, then lower until heels dip below the
step. Repeat quickly.
Repeat all moves, for a total workout of about 10 minutes.